ALIQUIPPA, Pa. – Just a few weeks ago, when the calendar flipped from 2020 to 2021, Tim Shaffer didn’t know what the new year would bring for his racing career.
The 53-year-old was ready to return to the Brian Grove-owned No. 28 and race predominantly in and around Ohio, but then a new opportunity materialized.
Instead of venturing west of his native Pittsburgh, however, the Steel City Outlaw will head east and become the next driver for Mike Heffner’s accomplished Central Pennsylvania sprint car operation.
Shaffer is set to replace Daryn Pittman, who came on with Heffner during the back half of last season after Ryan Smith left the team to finish out his full-time sprint car career.
Heffner made Shaffer’s hiring official Tuesday night, writing that “we had to give him a bit of a nickname make-over, but we are honored to welcome the Steel City Posse to Heffner Racing” in a post on Facebook.
The deal came together early last week, shortly after Shaffer contacted Heffner inquiring about the lone premier seat that had yet to be filled. Now, the team is set to run regularly in central Pennsylvania and hit big shows like the Knoxville Nationals and the Kings Royal.
But before Shaffer and company can think of the glamor that this year could bring, a lot needs to happen before the team’s first outing on Feb. 1 at Florida’s East Bay Raceway Park with the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions.
After that, Shaffer will hit the DIRTcar Nationals swing at Volusia, the King of the 360s at East Bay, and then the Ice Breaker at Pennsylvania’s Lincoln Speedway.
“Our expectations are high,” Shaffer said. “It’s going to be about us gelling together and making it happen. … This all happened so quick. We’re focused on Florida right now: East Bay, Volusia, then back to East Bay and Lincoln [for the Ice Breaker] and then we’ll go from there.”
The pairing of Shaffer and Heffner is an intriguing one. Despite being 53, Shaffer has proven he hasn’t lost his edge.
Last year, Shaffer scored four wins, with one of those coming with the All Star Circuit of Champions at Attica Raceway Park on Sept. 4. The year before, Shaffer won five times, including twice with the World of Outlaws and two more with the All Stars.
“When you get older, you get a little smarter,” Shaffer said of his success.
Heffner’s track record as an owner is an impressive one, too, and those who follow sprint car racing in Pennsylvania don’t need a primer.
Under the late Greg Hodnett, Heffner’s operation won three straight Central Pennsylvania Point Series titles from 2014-16 and a Knoxville Nationals prelim feature in 2018.
The deal is one that materialized rather quickly, mostly in the last two weeks.
Crew chief Heath Moyle was banking on Pittman’s return, even if it was at a limited capacity. Pittman ended a long career on the World of Outlaws tour last year and figured to make some kind of return in the Heffner No. 72 this year.
However, with the season rapidly approaching and no plans set in stone, Moyle and Heffner had to make a decision.
“We were hoping Daryn would come back, to be honest,” Moyle said. “At some point, we had to make a move.”
Though Pittman and Shaffer have two totally different driving styles, with Pittman liking a looser setup whereas Shaffer like a tighter race car, in the words of Moyle, this move made the most sense.
“It’s good to get somebody in here who is still on top of their game and someone who can still teach you something,” Moyle said. “Knowledge of older guys is getting fewer and fewer and far in between. … I just want to know all I can.”
An exact schedule outside the first handful of races at East Bay, Volusia and Lincoln has yet to be determined. As far as central Pennsylvania, Shaffer has enjoyed past success at Williams Grove Speedway and Lincoln.
However, he’s still looking to snag his first career win at Port Royal Speedway.
“It’s hard to say,” Shaffer said of what the schedule looks like. “It all happened so quick. We just put everything together. We’ll bounce around a little bit. … I’d really like to get a win [at Port Royal].”
Shaffer doesn’t intend to commit to any one track, even as the season progresses, and wants to follow the larger paying races in the area.
He feels he can be competitive for a handful of years to come, but when asked if this deal with Heffner could extend beyond 2021, his answer reverted back to preparation for Florida.
Shaffer is, however, rightfully optimistic for this next endeavor. It’s a pairing that unites two proven winners in sprint car racing.
“I still love it, still have the drive for it,” Shaffer said. “I need to stay healthy so I can give it 110 percent. How many years do I have left? I don’t know. But at the end of the day, I need to race. I need to pay the bills. Maybe I have another five years in me, who knows.
“Hopefully I can stay healthy and put myself in a position to win some races.”