It’s an unlikely pairing for sure, and not the easiest of circumstances, either.
But Australian sprint car champion James McFadden and Pennsylvania car owner Matt Highlands have made it work.
This is the third season that McFadden has raced the Highlands No. 3 car primarily during the busy and lucrative summer months. The car is based in Carlisle, Pa., about 10 miles from Williams Grove Speedway.
Highlands, who has been involved in Central Pennsylvania racing his whole life, met McFadden on a trip to California’s Thunderbowl Raceway four years ago. The following June, Highlands’ regular driver, Pat Cannon, suffered an ankle injury.
Highlands needed a driver and McFadden needed a ride.
“Four years ago, I drove Willie Kahne’s car at the Trophy Cup and Matt happened to be out there hanging out with the Kaedings and Willie, and we got to know each other there,” McFadden recalled. “When Pat got injured, I was driving the 3g with Joe Gaerte and, at that time, they had a few motor issues and we didn’t have any motors to race. Matt gave me a call and I pretty much jumped in a car and drove from Indiana to here (Central Pennsylvania) and had my first race at Port Royal. It was a chance meeting four or five years ago.”
“I knew who he was and followed him,” Highlands said. “It just kind of linked up that we were available to each other. He’s a phenomenal talent. It was a once-in- a-lifetime chance to have a driver of that caliber drive your stuff. He’s extremely easy going. He’s a good guy. Great driver.”
The 29-year-old from Warrnambool, Australia, appreciates the opportunity.
“It’s super-tough for an Australian to get a ride over here,” McFadden said. “For anyone really — to get a ride with someone that has good stuff and really, really good resources and a fast car that is willing to hold that car for most of the year and run it when I come. It’s pretty cool. Matt and his whole family are really good people. They’ve become good friends, as well as car owners. It’s super cool and it’s good to have a good relationship with them and they’ve got really good equipment. It’s pretty humbling.”
The car is plenty fast, but of course there were growing pains.
“Matt worked with Pat for a long time and based the car and setup on him,” McFadden said. “And I’ve always been a quarter-mile guy. I’ve always raced small tracks at home. Coming to Pennsylvania has been tough for me to do because I haven’t really raced very much out here. We seem to get a good hold on things toward the end of the year and then I go home and race at home and then we have to kind of start again.
“Matt and I start our season when everyone else has got 20 or 30 races under their belts,” McFadden added. “It’s not an excuse. I think Matt and I really have a good understanding of each other now and what direction we both want to go with the car. I’m hoping this year our results will show it.”