Jack Lehner is looking for one thing when the Super DIRTcar Series returns to Volusia Speedway Park in February—redemption.
The Saratoga Springs, NY driver led 2023’s Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals finale until the final lap when Mat Williamson snuck by him in traffic, dropping him to second. It’s a heartbreak that lingers with Lehner. And one he hopes to put it behind him when the Series returns to Volusia.
“I still have nightmares about it,” Lehner said. “The biggest thing going down there in my mind is redemption. Obviously, we hope to have a good week, but my number one goal is to come home with a gator. Just being so close last year, I really want to seal the deal.”
While he narrowly missed his first Super DIRTcar Series Feature win, that runner-up finish lit a fire in the “Ginga Ninja.” He had his best points finish in 2023 (seventh) on the strength of two top fives and eight top 10s.
With those finishes, he’s confident he can compete for a win every night.
“I’m always motivated to try to work really hard and do everything we can to try and win races,” Lehner said. “Being able to get the lead, lose the lead, and get the lead back in lap traffic, and go back and forth with [Williamson], it wasn’t like I was hanging on. We had the speed to be there, it was just a miscue on my part in lap traffic on the last lap.
“But it kind of gave me the confidence that if we have our stuff right and we’re rolling in the right direction, we can run with these guys. If we do our part and do what we’re supposed to do, we can run with them, and we can beat them. Then it just comes down to making sure that all of the pieces in the puzzle are in the right spot.”
As Lehner improves his points ranking year after year, he enters 2024 with confidence that the gap between he and 10-time Series champion Matt Sheppard is closing, he said.
“I still feel like I’m not necessarily a rookie, but one of the younger guys with less experience,” Lehner said. “So, I feel like experience is the biggest thing that stands between me and those guys. Whether that be as a driver or crew chief, setup, making calls on tires. I think that’s where they really get us.”
“They’ve been in these situations more than I have, so they have a better idea of what to do. But as far as sheer speed, we’re getting pretty close. Especially on the nights we’re pretty good; we’re right there. And we can beat them. It shows the work that we’re doing is working and definitely a big motivator for me.”
Lehner will take that motivation into DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, Feb. 14-17, hoping for a fast start to his 2024 season. Especially since “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” is more like New York tracks than people think, Lehner said.
“Everyone used to always say what you learned at Volusia never really translates back home,” Lehner said. “But I feel like that’s not totally the case anymore. Lately, it’s gotten similar to our northern tracks, not quite as slick, but it’s gone that way. It reminds me of like our faster tracks like [Albany-Saratoga Speedway].
“There’s certainly some things setup-wise that translate to back home. But if you don’t go to Volusia, I feel like you’re on the back foot when we get rolling at the end of March. Where if you do go, you get to knock some of the rust off, try some things you came up with over the winter, and get the whole program driving again.”
Lehner hopes to knock the rust off and get his redemption, reaching Super DIRTcar Series Victory Lane for the first time at DIRTcar Nationals. However, while he’s focused on the checkered flag, it isn’t the only thing on his mind.
“It’s like a good warm-up for everybody, and for me, it’s one of the most fun weeks of the year,” Lehner said. “That’s one of the most fun weeks I have racing, so I look forward to going there.
“Volusia is a track we just seem to run well at. So being strong all year long heading into February has me pumped and looking forward to having some good finishes.”
Lehner and the Super DIRTcar Series officially kick off the 2024 season at Volusia Speedway Park during Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals, Feb. 14-17. For tickets, visit dirtcarnationals.com.
If you can’t make it to the track, watch all the action live on DIRTVision, either online or with the DIRTVision app.