SHAMPINE: Former Crew Chief Is Now Top Shoe

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CORNELIUS, N.C.

Five years ago Jeff Locke was in the process of paying his dues as a rising crew member on the demanding NASCAR Nationwide Series tour.

In fact, one could argue that Locke already had paid his dues. As a winning car chief in 2005 for the Greg Biffle-driven Brewco Motorsports No. 27, Locke appeared headed for a successful career behind the pit wall for teams in NASCAR’s top series.

But after the ’05 season, Locke’s career veered in a different direction. The Raymond, N.H., native turned his back to a thriving career as a road warrior in the world of NASCAR, packed his bags and moved back to New England, citing a growing resentment toward the limited amount of time he was able to spend with his family, a wife and two children.

Locke headed north to work for his father’s new Locke Crane Services outfit, but having been brought up wrenching on Ed Shea’s Massachusetts-based supermodifieds, he wasn’t about to leave the sport.

“I was getting to know a lot of people and was pretty stable in my position,” Locke said, speaking of his job at Brewco. “So I waited until my father got the company set and going, and when he did that I brought the kids and wife and we moved home. It was a great move because now I get to be home with my kids every night. We started a race team and now I’m driving and it’s a lot more fun than just working on cars and watching them race.”

Upon his return to New Hampshire, Locke purchased a Graves chassis and in 2007 he started running 350 supers at Lee USA Speedway, where with no prior driving experience he wheeled the 10-year-old car to five feature wins as a rookie at the three-eighths-mile N.H. oval. He continued to run 350 supers in ’08 before making the step to big-block supers and the ISMA circuit in 2009.

As an unknown to those who weren’t aware of his past career manning the wrenches on fendered cars, Locke surprised many when he began showing up at ISMA shows with a gorgeous new Brian Allegresso-built No. 37 big block. Surprise turned to shock when Locke held off seven-time ISMA champ Russ Wood to win a feature at Ontario’s Delaware Speedway in only his sixth ISMA start.

Locke had a very good season in 2010. Five top-five finishes in 16 starts and a fourth-place result in ISMA points cemented him as a top runner in just his second season on the circuit and only his fourth behind the wheel of any type of race car.

At 31 years old, Locke deems himself a “happy man” who says he wants to race supers for years to come. But he also sees room for improvement with supermodified racing. Locke admits frustration with the lack of national recognition of the class, and says he’d love to see expansion with what now sits at a 14-race 2011 ISMA slate.

“[The supers are] unbelievable race cars and the drivers are very good,” Locke says. “Where I think there’s a problem is the lack of knowledge, lack of PR and marketing. I think we could work harder to get the word out, try to get on TV, and show people what they’re missing.

“If we did that, I think we could get more fans in the stands and get more race tracks that want us. The schedule is kind of lackluster right now, although I know ISMA is still working and trying to fill dates. The more races we can have, the more it will benefit the division. But it goes back to what I was saying with the marketing and PR. If we can address that, I think it’d be a lot easier to fill some of the holes in the schedule.”