When Justin Lofton strapped into a race car to compete in the ARCA Menards Series West finale at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7, it was the first time he had competed in an ARCA event since 2009.
Lofton, who captured the 2009 ARCA Menards Series championship while driving for Eddie Sharp Racing, finished sixth in the Arizona Lottery 100. It was a homecoming that Lofton says had been trying to make happen for several years.
“As much as we live in an out-of-control world and out-of-control sport, we like to be in control of a few things and I know one of them is how we leave,” Lofton said. “Stock car racing was a passion of mine and I didn’t feel like I got to leave on my terms.”
Lofton won the 2009 ARCA crown after a back-and-forth battle with Parker Kligerman that saw the two win 15 of the 21 races that season. Lofton, with six wins, ended up beating Kligerman, who won nine times, by five points.
After his championship in ARCA, Lofton advanced to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He enjoyed some success, winning a Truck Series event at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2012 after reuniting with Eddie Sharp Racing.
After running eight events with the Sharp team in 2013, Lofton was left without a ride when the team closed prior to the 2014 season. He picked up four races with NTS Motorsports that year, earning a second-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway after starting from the pole, but that proved to be the end of his burgeoning NASCAR career.
“I felt like we had really good success and we had a great run,” Lofton said. “It was really during the economic slowdown or little depression that we went through, I think it was going into 2014 when Eddie Sharp Racing was closing down. It kind of left me without a ride.
“I was actually going into 2014 thinking that I had a home and a ride. When that happened, it was late. A lot of other teams during that time of the year had slowed down or shut down and I was left without a seat. I kind of hung around for a year, I picked up a couple of races with NTS Motorsports.”
As a result, Lofton moved home to California to work for his father’s cattle feeding business. That also provided him with the opportunity to return to his roots by building a trophy truck to go desert off-road racing as he did prior to venturing into the stock car world.
“I can either hang around here with no foreseeable future or I have the opportunity to come back home and get back involved in the cattle feeding business with my dad and eventually become a partner in it with him and the rest of my family and build a trophy truck,” Lofton said. “At the time, with nothing looking good in the near future, let alone long-term future racing stock cars, it was time to come home, be a part of the business and, obviously, get back into off-road racing.”
After returning home, Lofton went straight to work building his off-road truck and since then has enjoyed a lot of success. Racing regularly since 2015, Lofton has scored three Mint 400 victories in the last five years. He also won the Silver State 300 in 2019 and the Blue Water Desert Challenge earlier this year.
Most recently Lofton has added races like the legendary Baja 1,000 to his schedule, but he’s still been pining for a chance to return to stock car racing.
“I stayed in touch with a few people and we’ve been trying to put something together for the last two years,” Lofton explained. “Finally, Mark Rette, one of the owners of Rette-Jones Racing, we stayed in touch and he called me up and said, ‘Hey, I’m putting a car in the trailer to go to Phoenix. You need to fill out these forms and we’ll see you there.’ That kind of thing.”
Lofton admitted there was some rust to shake off, but once he found his rhythm during the race it was almost like he’d never left.
“It took a little getting used to, but by the end of the race I felt back to my normal self and was hoping that we had another 50, 100 laps to get the car dialed in,” Lofton said.
Lofton, 34, hopes to continue his stock car racing career, and is working with Rette-Jones Racing to put together a limited schedule of races around his off-road schedule.
Lofton said they’ve already got one race, the ARCA Menards Series event on March 12 at Phoenix Raceway, confirmed with more, hopefully, to come.
“My off-road schedule is filling up. I think we’ve got seven races on the schedule for next year and, obviously, I’ve got to leave my schedule pretty open because of what potentially could happen with scheduling changes,” Lofton said. “My goal would be to do five to six ARCA races next year and not necessarily ARCA West races.
“Tracks that I like to go to and enjoy going to or tracks that I feel like still owe me a win, Gateway being one of them,” Lofton continued. “I have a young family now. I got married when I moved home. So that was five years ago, six years ago. We have a three-year-old boy, who is I think taking after his dad when it comes to racing and driving. It would be cool to be able to take them back to the tracks and places that I really enjoyed racing at and enjoyed visiting.
“We’re going to sporadically choose races that fit that profile.”