Road To NASCAR: Houff's rapid, yet bumpy, rise to racing success
Three years ago, Quin Houff was getting ready for the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at South Boston Speedway, where he'd share the track with the likes of Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.
At the time, it was his first taste of competing against some of the biggest names in stock car racing.
"I'm glad three years later, we're still racing," Houff said. "It's a dream come true."
After a steady rise in his career, a 19-year-old driver from Weyers Cave is set to make the biggest leap of his life. This weekend, he'll be driving at Bristol Motor Speedway, making his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut.
Two and a half weeks before the race, he was testing out his No. 46 Chevrolet Camaro at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va.
"To be able to come here, growing up, 14-15 driving full-size stock cars for the first time, I might not have done the best but it's great facility to do it at," Houff said.
Motor Mile is a familiar setting for Houff. The perfect spot to prepare for unfamiliar territory.
"If you had told me three years ago that we'd be talking about racing Xfinity at Bristol and Richmond, I would've told you, you're crazy," he said.
Houff has been crazy about racing since he was eight years old, when he would race go-karts with his dad behind baseball bullpens.
"I saw a picture in one of the places we were at that they would actually do real races and I bugged my dad for three years to actually get in a go-kart race," Houff said. "We started racing then and I never looked back."
He earned his NASCAR license at the age of 14. And after a successful career racing super late model events, Houff got the biggest opportunity of his life -- racing at Daytona.
In February, at the age of 19, Houff made his Daytona debut at an ARCA Series race.
"That's really a life experience. That's something a racer dreams about is racing at Daytona at any level," Houff said. "Driving thru the tunnel at Daytona and coming into the in-field. It's a huge facility. I'm a short track racer from Virginia. You go down there in Florida with a huge 2.5 mile oval, it's like jaw dropping."
Houff did more than just race. He led for 23 laps.
But his Daytona dream came to a crashing halt when his car got in a wreck with 14 laps to go. While his debut ended earlier than he wanted, he won the hearts of fans back in the Valley.
"To come back home and hear people say, 'I've never watched a NASCAR race before this past weekend but I watched you and I was jumping up and down screaming for you,' that right there just kinda hits home," Houff said.
"Just to be that inspiration and represent for those people very well is something very special to me."
As for what inspires him, you don't have to look any further than the paint scheme on his cars, which always have the color pink prominently displayed to raise awareness for breast cancer research.
"With everything I do, I want people to know what I stand for," Houff said. "It's awesome to have these cars as reminders, it could be worse. You got to be strong and fight through adversity."
It's a disease Houff and his family is too familiar with. His mother and grandmother each battled breast cancer twice. His mom is now cancer-free but "Mama BJ" -- as his grandmother is referred to -- passed away in December.
"I mean it goes beyond racing really. It just puts life into check," Houff said. "Being able to run those cars during both my grandmother and my mother's fight, that meant a lot to 'em."
Thanks to his success at Daytona, Houff's inspiration hits a bigger stage in NASCAR's Xfinity Series, where he'll race at Bristol and Richmond on back-to-back weekends.
"Two tracks closest to us at home and ones I grew up watching," Houff said. "To be one of those drivers climbing that car on Saturday is going to be a dream come true and mean the world to me."
Houff remembers going to both tracks as spectators growing up and watching drivers he'd admire. He specifically recalls watching Justin Allgaier win his first Xfinity series race -- then called the Nationwide Series -- at Bristol.
"That kind of sticks in the back of my head, to be that kid in the stands," Houff said. "And to now be one of those drivers coming into that car, I can only hope to do well and represent well and be that inspiration for another kid."