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His racing fire flickering, Moyer Jr. stepping away

April 20, 2015, 5:41 pm
By Kevin Kovac
DirtonDirt.com senior writer
Billy Moyer Jr. has 35 career feature victories. (rickschwalliephotos.com)
Billy Moyer Jr. has 35 career feature victories. (rickschwalliephotos.com)

There was a moment sometime last year when Billy Moyer Jr. saw his goals and aspirations appear before him through the prism of a dark, desolate highway.

“I’m going down the road headed home from a race in my hauler and it’s 4 o’clock in the morning,” Moyer recalled. “So here I am, driving down the road in the middle of the morning, and I’m sitting there behind the wheel and I’m so tired that my eyes are crossing. I’m all but driving this dang hauler in the ditch … I can’t hold my eyes open. Right then, I just thought to myself, What the hell are you doing?” | DirtWire

Moyer realized that his inner fire to carve out a successful career as a Dirt Late Model driver — to follow in his Hall of Fame father Billy Moyer’s tire tracks — was flickering. He tried to push through the uncertainties that sap the morale of so many prospective young racers, but ultimately he found it impossible to disregard the emotions swirling through him.

Which is why, on Monday afternoon, Moyer announced his plans to step out of the cockpit of his familiar No. 21Jr machines and take an “indefinite leave from racing.” The 27-year-old from Batesville, Ark., is walking away effective immediately, taking him off the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series that he had geared up to chase in 2015.

“You can do some jobs without your heart in it,” said Moyer, who grew up at the racetrack watching his legendary father before launching his own racing career in 2006 after graduating from high school. “But you can not drive a race car without your heart in it when you do it at our level, with our difficulty, with our complexity — you just can not do that. I’ve come to the point where I don’t feel like I can’t give 110 percent every night, so it’s time to focus on some different things in my life.

“A bunch of personal stuff kind of gave me a reality check and came together to make me realize I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing. I love racing, but I just know I don’t need to be in a race car right now. It’s not like I’m gonna drive into the wall or something, but my heart’s not where it needs to be right now.”

Moyer first experienced seeds of doubt about his chosen career path two years ago when his step up to follow the Lucas Oil Series produced little success. Unwilling to accept anything less than becoming a national-tier racer, he wondered if he had the ability to meet his expectations.

“When I ran that Lucas thing and really struggled and got my ass kicked, I noticed then, ‘Man, this isn’t fun,’ ” Moyer said. “I’ve always told myself that I don’t want to just stay right at home and be a regional hero. I don’t want to do that. I’m not saying I’m gonna be my dad or Scott (Bloomquist) or Jimmy Owens, but if I can’t at least be like that middle-tier national guy, who could win a bigger race sometimes, then I don’t want to do it. So as I struggled with the Lucas deal, I said, ‘If I can’t get this thing rolling, I’m gonna be pissed.’

“In the back of my mind, I also thought, ‘Man, I hate going up-and-down the road all the time and missing everything (away from racing),’ and I really didn’t think I had it in me to be a threat on a national level. So, like I’ve said before, I was ready to quit back then.

“Then I go last year and I won a lot of races (a career-high 10 features, including three $10,000 scores, while maintaining a special-event schedule), ran good in some big shows and made a lot of money,” he continued. “Hell, I won some races at places where you probably wouldn’t think I could win — the media probably wouldn’t pick me to roll in to Richmond (Ky.) and dominate (the Butterball Wooldridge Memorial) or go to Kentucky Lake (Motor Speedway) and dominate or go to Cedar Lake (Speedway in New Richmond, Wis.) and run up front (in the USA Nationals). That’s what got my mind all square — yeah, you know, I can do it. This is awesome.”

Nevertheless, despite the boost of confidence he received from a breakout 2014 campaign, Moyer still fought a battle with his desire.

“I won Granite City (a $10,000 event at Illinois’s Tri-City Speedway),” Moyer remembered, “and after that I just ran a couple more weekends in September, I ran one weekend in October, and a couple weekends in November. It hit me then that I was getting burnt out. I just wanted to stay home.

“But I’m like, ‘Alright, whatever,’ and I kept going on. I get through the winter, get everything done, go to Arizona (for January’s Wild West Shootout in Tucson) and have zero luck, but I’m like, ‘That’s OK, because a lot depends on the luck of the draw. We’ll get to Florida (for February’s Speedweeks), and that’s a place where you hold your own fate if you qualify well.’

“Before I left for (Georgia and) Florida I was in the shop every day until 10 o’clock at the earliest, and some days I was in there till 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning. I was trying to pump myself — let’s do this! — and I was ready to go there, but then we get down there and it’s no different. We struggled (just one top-five finish in nine Lucas Oil Series starts), and I’m just feeling burnt out, I don’t want to be around it … and I just want to go home.”

Moyer traveled to the first northern Lucas Oil Series events of the season — March 20-21 at Atomic Speedway near Chillicothe, Ohio, and Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway — but finished 17th in both features and wasn’t able to get his juices flowing. Soon after returning home, he decided that the circuit’s Bad Boy 98 scheduled for April 17-18 at his hometown’s Batesville Motor Speedway would be his final appearance in a race car for the foreseeable future. (The event was ultimately cancelled by wet weather.)

Some deep, serious soul-searching led Moyer to his astonishing decision to put his helmet on a shelf despite seemingly sitting on the cusp of his racing prime. He had a revelation that the all-consuming nature of racing was not only wearing him out but also affecting his relationships with family and friends, so he pledged to make the necessary change to turn himself into a better man.

And for Moyer, that meant his racing had to stop.

“I’ve done a lot of thinking the last couple months,” Moyer said. “Hell, I’ve lost like 5 pounds because of the stress over the last several months.

“The main thing that done this … I just burnt out. I’ve been on the road, hell, 80 to 90 percent of my life since I was like 16 years old — with my dad and after I started racing — and before that, when I wasn’t in school, I was on the road with my parents. I went to my first race when I was like 4 months old in a dang wheel box in Texas, and when I was growing up my dad raced more than anybody. He raced more than (Dennis) Erb (Jr.) does now — and look at how many times Erb races nowadays. My dad was racing 80, 90 times a year like it was nothing. He hasn’t been a regional warrior since I-don’t-know-when, if he ever has. He would drive to Kansas, New York, Florida … he’d go wherever. He’s been on the road ever since I was born.

“A couple summers I’d stay home and play baseball because I really wanted to and my parents let me stay with one of my friends for a month at a time while they went out on the road to the races. But I quit basketball and baseball (in 10th grade) so I could go race more and be around the shop more and learn more from my dad.

“I’m not complaining,” he added. “I’ve had my heart into this 100 percent, and all I did was live for racing. I was that way at times last year. But that’s what made me realize that if you’re gonna be involved in something like this, at this level, you have to be prepared to have no life. This is your life.”

Moyer simply wants more than to devote virtually all his waking hours to racing.

“I started going with my nephews and helping coach their baseball team last month and I’m like, ‘Yep, this is me. This is pretty dang cool,’ ” said Moyer, who recently tweeted a photo of the youngsters’ team to his 11,000-plus Twitter followers (the first dispatch in over a month for the normally prolific tweeter). “I just told myself, ‘This is the stuff you need to be realizing.’ It all hit me like a ton of bricks. I appreciate and I’m thankful for what I have (in racing), but I have to sit back and see what I’m doing.

“Right now, I need to get myself right, and I don’t want to be on the road. I don’t want to stare at the windshield. I don’t want to be in Maryland. I don’t want to be in Wisconsin. I want to be right here, doing what I want to do whenever I want to do it.

“This is about me, about Junior — not my dad, not my grandpa (sponsor Billy Moyer Sr.), not anybody else,” he added. “This is about me trying to get my head right. I’ve not been the right person. Now, to the media and to the fans, I might look like the best guy in the world sometimes. I get hot-headed sometimes and say the wrong thing, but I’m not tooting my own horn when I say I think I speak to the media well and I represent my sponsors well. But as far as me being a person, I have not been the right person as far as being around my family and friends.”

Before going public with his intentions, Moyer informed the many sponsors who made it possible for him to field his own Dirt Late Model team, including Steve Martin of Crop Production Services Crop in Portageville, Mo., and Royal Jones of Mesilla Valley Transportation in Las Cruces, N.M. He said they were all supportive of his decision.

“I went and met with Steve last week and told him, ‘Steve, I can take your money and go on and finish the year, but you were too good to me for this long and I can not take your money and go out there and not give 110 percent — and right now, I can’t give it 110 percent,” Moyer said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people about where I’m at — Royal at Mesilla Valley, my grandpa, my grandma. A lot of people are kind of shocked, but Royal absolutely total me, ‘You just don’t worry about anything. I’m with you no matter what. I’ve always had a ton of respect for you, and you’re really, really making a good call here.’ He said, ‘Take a couple months off, and who knows? You might want to come back to it.’ ”

Moyer isn’t ruling out a return to racing sometime down the road, but, while he’s not liquidating his ample stable of Dirt Late Model equipment, he admitted that future thoughts of competition are currently far off his radar screen.

“I’m not gonna sell anything, do anything drastic right now,” Moyer said. “I’m just gonna roll with it. My friends never depended on me to do anything because I was gone every weekend, so I want to have a ‘normal’ life. If I have a normal life the next couple months and it sucks, then I can go back to my stuff.

“I might sit here and bite my fingernails and get sick of being away from racing and be like, ‘Alright, I’m ready to roll now. I’ve got my head right.’ Or, I might not ever come back — and right now, I wouldn’t even know what percentage to give it.

“I’m not just going off the deep end,” he added with a smile. “My dad thought I was, I think, when I told him, but I’m really not. I just needed some time to figure out what the hell I’m gonna do.”

Moyer said he’s put some money away so he has some time to figure out his next career move. He has a business management degree from Arkansas State University that he can put to use, and he always has the option of relocating to Iowa to work for his uncle Carl Moyer’s Karl Performance or Karl Chevrolet, among other family businesses.

Where Moyer is headed remains to be seen, but he’s certainly at peace with his decision. He said a conversation he had recently with Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis., a top Dirt Late Model driver who suddenly walked away from racing last fall at the age of 37.

“I talked to Brady Smith a couple weeks ago about it and he’s been real supportive,” Moyer said. “There was some real good stuff I heard him say. I didn’t call him to ask him to help me or not to help me, I just said, ‘Man, I just want to hear what you have to say if you don’t mind.’ He said, ‘Alright, if you’re just asking me for my opinion about what I did, then, well, I made the right decision. I made the 100 percent right call for myself.’ Hearing that helped me a little bit.”

Moyer is ready to chart a new course in his life.

“I thought to myself, I could be 35 years old and have money set back in the bank if I build everything up and and win some big races,” said Moyer, who has 35 career wins on his resume (four worth $10,000). “But is it worth having all the money in the world and then sitting there every night of the week by yourself playing videos and watching TV while all your friends are married with kids?

“That’s where I’m at. I’m 27 … I’m just very thankful that this reality check smoked me in the nose at 27 and not 35. I don’t know what I’d do with myself if it hit me then.”

Editor's note: Fixes number of $10,000 wins in 2014 to three

“You can do some jobs without your heart in it. But you can not drive a race car without your heart in it when you do it at our level. ... I’ve come to the point where I don’t feel like I can’t give 110 percent every night, so it’s time to focus on some different things in my life.”

— Billy Moyer Jr., upon announcing his plans to climb out of the driver's seat

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