Some nicknames perfectly fit a driver’s style, while others are just alliterative. But one would be hard pressed to find a nickname more appropriate than Larry Wight’s. Since the day he first appeared on the DIRTcar scene, “Lightning Larry” has fit the super-aggressive Wight to the proverbial T.
It doesn’t matter whether he’s in his father’s big-block modified, the family 360 sprint car or Mike Heffner’s midget, which he put in the Saturday night finale at the Chili Bowl, prompting: “Who the hell is Larry Wight?” tweets from some of the sport’s biggest names. The 24-year-old is always on the gas and, more often than not, either on or over the cushion.
“I ran sportsman for a year when I was 14, then started on a big learning curve with the big-blocks in ’08,” Wight recalled. “I ran old cars that Pat Ward and Billy Decker had run for my dad, so I had good equipment. I raced as much as I could and we ran 95 races my first year.”
Many observers tagged Wight as a wild kid who wouldn’t last and he’s still described by one competitor as “a spoiled kid with unlimited resources.” But in general, he’s proven his critics wrong.
“I thought of myself as a ‘little guy’ starting out,” said Wight. “Looking back, I was a little gung-ho, trying to win every race on the first lap. The mentality I had was that Billy and Pat were winning and I had to follow in their footsteps.
“The last three seasons, maturity has set in and I’ve calmed down,” Wight continued. “I figured out that racing is an attrition thing where you have to survive and be fast at the end. Now I know how to apply that aggressiveness. I can be smooth on slick tracks, but when it’s a heavy, hammer-down night, I can still use that lane above the cushion. We’re running for points and no matter how the surface is, every position counts.
“Actually, I’ve won quite a few races at Brewerton and Fulton running around the bottom,” he added. “Early on, I ran the top because I was always bending front axles on the tires in the infield, but now I don’t mind the bottom. I’ve even gotten so I prefer tracks that are black and slippery because Scott and I have our cars working well there.”
That’s Scott Jeffery, who became Wight’s crew chief when Decker was released from the Wight team.
“He’s brought my program up 200 percent from before with his maintenance program and knowledge of these cars,” Wight acknowledged. “He knows what works on the tracks we see once or twice a year on the series. And he’s hit me in the head a couple of times and told me to calm down, too.”
Two topics generally surface in conversations with other drivers regarding Wight — blame and resentment. Wight knows that and graciously addresses the issues.
“I’ve been blamed for a lot,” he said. “Everything in racing is give and take and at times, the trouble was my fault, but sometimes not. You get a reputation and people hang things on you without knowing what happened. That’s why I don’t pay attention to the media and internet forums.
“And I can understand why some people resent us,” he continued. “We have good financial backing and my dad owns two of the tracks we race at. But we don’t practice at the tracks, because the neighbors and the town wouldn’t stand for it. And while we’re well financed, we’re not stupid with money. We build our own motors, which is a big savings and most of our effort goes into getting the car hooked up to the slippery tracks.”
“He’s always been fast,” offered longtime star Jimmy Phelps. “Now, for the most part, he’s racing smarter, too, which makes him a lot harder to beat.”
Another veteran, Frank Cozze, adds: “He’s still a kid. I’ve never had a problem with him, but I race at Grandview, which is rough and tumble, so I can race with anybody. Some guys have a problem because his dad has money, but why blame him? That’s what it takes to race today, a father with money. No matter how good you are, you can’t race without money.”