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Justin Whittall in the cockpit of his sprint car at Williams Grove Speedway. (Jack Kromer photo)

A South Jersey Sprint Car Racer

In southern New Jersey, they grow juicy tomatoes, blueberries and other succulent things that end up at the region’s roadside farm stands. Producing winning sprint car drivers usually occurs elsewhere.

Draw a 100-mile loop around the Philadelphia region and every speedway inside it runs some form of upright, center-seat modifieds as its lead division. For 410 sprint cars, the field of combat is a few hours west in central Pennsylvania.

So to some extent, 22-year-old Justin Whittall is a fish out of water. But he’s also a second-generation driver from a South Jersey family that had already planted roots in open-cockpit racing well before he first slid into a quarter midget at the age of 7.

Down the long road since then, on pavement as well as dirt, Whittall has emerged as a highly promising young star in the white-hot world of central Pennsylvania racing. Against some of the fiercest weekly competition in the sport, Whittall owns an outright feature win on the hallowed dirt at Williams Grove Speedway. That victory was the culmination of an improbable journey that has taken him through quarter midgets, an array of lower-displacement sprint cars and even to USAC.

Justin Whittall hot laps the No. 67 sprint car at Port Royal Speedway. (Christopher Hockley photo)

The first challenge his team faces is simply getting to the races. Whittall hails from Vincentown, N.J., about 25 miles east of Philadelphia. He and his father hit the road by early afternoon on Friday to beat the gridlocked rush-hour traffic going through Philadelphia. Then, they meet most of their crew in the pits at Williams Grove.

After the races, it’s an overnighter in the parking lot of their engine builder. Saturday morning means a maintenance session in the parking lot, followed by a tow into the mountains to Port Royal Speedway. After the Port Royal show, it’s a long overnight journey back to South Jersey.

“Before my dad had kids, he ran micro sprints and URC, and he sold everything when I was 7,” Whittall recalled. “That’s when he took me to Atco Speedway to watch the quarter midgets. We watched, and he asked me if I’d like to try it, and I said, ‘Yes, I’ll give it a shot.’ And ever since then, we’ve been racing. My goal is, honestly, just to race.”

To that end, Justin Whittall Motorsports has a fleet of eight 2023 Maxim chassis with 410 engines supplied by Rider Racing Engines of Mechanicsburg, Pa. Their race-day crew chief, Brandon Weibley, is a Rider employee and the son of former Williams Grove 410 stalwart Brook Weibley. During the week, Weibley helps the team with setup and scaling advice via phone and text. The other crew members join in once the Whittall team clears the sign-in line on Friday nights.

“I never thought we’d ever be doing what we’re doing now,” said Justin’s father, Tom Whittall, who manages the team when not working at the family’s auto-body shop in Medford, N.J. He adds that it was nearly a foregone conclusion that Justin wasn’t going to take the stock car route, where, as Justin put it, “We’d be banging out panels every week.”

Instead, the younger Whittall has followed the family tradition of wheeling race cars without fenders.

Tom Whittall’s experience is integral to the team’s growth. He raced micro sprints before starting his family, eventually moving to sprint cars with URC.

“I realized I was in over my head; my family started and I ended up getting out,” Tom Whittall said. “I’d kind of got the bug for big cars through Midge (Miller). I sold all my stuff, raised my kids and ended up taking Justin, the youngest, to Atco. That’s how we got started.”

As a youngster, and as a teenager, Justin Whittall took a very deep dive into the learning process for aspiring sprint car racers. He became a micro sprint rookie in 2008, moving from tiny tracks in and around Pennsylvania. By age 11, he was running on pavement at quarter-midget tracks. It was then that a friend convinced Tom Whittall to buy a USAC midget and take his son racing in the Ford Focus series.

That was in 2012, when Justin was 11, with the Ford Focus tour taking him to tracks in Michigan, Ohio and into the Carolinas. Despite his age, Whittall acquitted himself solidly during a major USAC meet in Concord, N.C., which prompted Tom Whittall to sell the quarter midgets and go USAC racing full time. They did two years, until 2012, when the team again took up 600cc micro sprints.

“I have to think that the midget, with its speed and tire wear, helped me learn on slick tracks to save my tires, to be calm and patient and to try not to push the issue too hard,” Justin Whittall explained. “I was actually 12-ish when I started in the micros at Hamlin, and the year after that, I moved to Linda’s and Lanco.”