Corey Heim is back on track, both literally and figuratively.
After breaking into the ARCA Menards Series in 2019, what was supposed to be a hefty slate of racing in 2020 was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Heim, 18, ended up running just three of 20 ARCA Menards Series races last season.
But one of those races, the finale at Kansas Speedway, ended with the Marietta, Georgia, native in Victory Lane for his first series win. Now Heim is in the No. 20 JBL Toyota for Venturini Motorsports on a full-time basis in 2021.
And with a win in the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway followed by a second-place run at Phoenix Raceway last month, Heim leads the championship points standings as the ARCA Menards Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the third race of the season, the April 24 running of the General Tire 200.
We caught up with Heim ahead of that race as he continues to push for a title in his first full season in the series.
Question: You picked up two straight wins going back to last year, and you followed that up with a strong run at Phoenix. Does that leave you feeling confident about your chances to pick up this year’s championship?
Corey Heim: Yeah, I think I’m definitely off to a good start this year. I think we have a little bit of work to do with our short track program to be able to run with (Ty Gibbs) and a couple other guys, but the speed we’ve had out of the gates with Venturini Motorsports, really couldn’t have gotten much better. An average finish of 1.5 — can’t really complain too much with that.
Question: We first saw you in the ARCA Menards Series in 2019, and then the pandemic impacted your 2020 schedule. How difficult was it to go from running more than half of the races to just a few in 2020?
CH: Yeah, it was definitely a little bit different; just kind of was a little bit rusty going to the race track when I had been out of the seat for two to three months at a time. But the speed that we had couldn’t have been much better last year at every different type of race track. I mean, we raced from a dirt track to an intermediate, 1.5-mile track, so really had good speed all year with a little bit of bad luck. It was tough, but definitely feel like I did well enough to come back for a full season this year.
Question: You mentioned competing against Ty Gibbs this season. How do you two get along on and off the race track? Bitter rivals or friendly competitors?
CH: I think we’re friendly competitors. Ty’s a really good guy; I have a lot of respect for Ty and his talent. We do hang out sometimes, but on the race track, you’re just trying to do what you can for your team at that point, trying to win the race. Ty definitely is going to be a big competitor this year, but we’re also trying to beat the other 20 cars on a weekly basis at the race track. A lot of people will set their sights on one person and kind of lose track of everyone else. That’s not what I’m trying to do.
Question: We’ve had little break since Phoenix and before Talladega. What have you been doing to keep yourself sharp?
CH: Yeah, been doing a little racing in the Trans Am Pro Am race at the Charlotte ROVAL. First time in a road course car, other than just a legends car, so that was a little bit of a learning curve for me, just kind of learning the shift points and how to drive those things. I feel like they’re going to drive pretty similar to the ARCA cars on a road course, so that will be good for me just as a learning experience. I also did a Late Model race; we picked up a win at Cordele in the Southern Super Series. That was really good just to return to what I grew up doing and pick up a win.
Question: Picking up wins is always nice, and you’ve been doing that in the ARCA Menards Series recently. How big of a role does driver confidence play for you, especially after those wins?
CH: It’s really important; driver confidence is huge. I think it’s going to be really big going into the summer this year, when we’re racing pretty much back to back weekends throughout the entire summer. And it’s our confidence as a team, not just me as a driver. Keep a lot of faith in the equipment even if we do go though some kind of slump, which is natural in a 20-race season. We’re going to have some bad days. Hopefully not any this year, but it’s kind of a given. We just have to mentally prepare for that and hope to keep it rolling.
Question: How do you go about setting your goals for the rest of the season?
CH: I don’t really personally set myself a yearly goal. I just take it one week at a time, and every week we go out and try to win the race. You can ask me that now, or you can ask me that a month later, and I’m just going to say next race; we’re trying to win the race. There’s really nothing else. Obviously you’re going to want to have a good points day. Sometimes you’re going to want to factor points in rather than going for a win if you’re otherwise going to get a DNF out of it. But just being mentally prepared to win that race; that’s my mindset this year, and it always has been.
Question: There’s a lot of experience on your race team at Venturini Motorsports — Big Bill Venturini, Cathy Venturini, Billy Venturini. How important is that when you’re out there trying to race for wins?
CH: It’s important. Fortunately for us, we have a pretty simple points system, so a lot of it is self-explanatory, but I think that experience behind you will give you the factor of knowing they’ve got your back. They know what you need to do to win a championship. If they see me doing something I shouldn’t be doing throughout the year, they can say, “Hey, you need to be doing this; this is what we did to win a championship.”