In a month, Logan Ruffin will enroll at UNC Charlotte and pursue a degree in civil engineering.
Or he might slam on the brakes and switch career paths.
After this week, when the dust settles – figuratively and literally – Ruffin hopes to be in the fast lane on his way to the racing industry.
Ruffin, a Nashville native who moved to Charlotte in 2010, was chosen from over 700 entrants to compete in the Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge. Ruffin is one of 10 finalists competing for a spot in a sanctioned stock car race as a member of the Michael Waltrip Racing team.
The competition began Tuesday and runs through Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Finalists will receive coaching from Michael Waltrip, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers and Mark Martin.
“What I have always said is schooling very important to me and it should be but racing is right at the top,” Ruffin, 19, said. “It is exactly what I want to be doing. It is my dream to be a race car driver and be in NASCAR. Peak stepped up and made this awesome competition. … My goal with this is to hopefully leave the competition here as the winner. I would like to race full-time. That’s my dream. This is my job.”
Ruffin grew up in Brentwood and attended Crockett Elementary School and Woodland Middle School before he began homeschooling in seventh grade.
He recalls watching NASCAR races on TV with his dad every Sunday. His journey into driving started when he was eight and played a racing simulator in a mall. He tried out quarter midgets (similar to go-karts) and became hooked, racing regionally and occasionally at Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway.
By the time he turned 13, he had run in five series. In 2008, he won three straight races and was the youngest champion in the 47-year history of the World Series of Asphalt in New Smyrna, Fla. He was named the 2010 United Speed Alliance Racing Pro Cup Rookie of the Year. Later that year his family relocated to Charlotte to cut back on travel and plant Ruffin in NASCAR's ground zero.
“We thought maybe it would be a hobby but it became something I loved and was actually pretty good at,” he said. “It was a weird start but it really escalated from there. I didn’t come from a racing family. All I knew about racing was that Mark Martin was my favorite driver. I always idolized him and tried to be the best I can be.”
Recently, Ruffin has had a tougher time of staying on the track. When the recession hit, he said, sponsorships became more difficult to secure. Winning the competition might not guarantee him a NASCAR contract but he believes it could serve as a gateway to other opportunities.
“Being in the car, in any kind of series, any kind of race, is better than sitting at home,” he said. “That is what really has been for the last three years and that is what it will continue to be. It is a constant push. We never quit. We love racing. It is in our blood. You never stop. You work every single day to make sure your dream comes true and that is what I’ll continue to do.”
This week, Ruffin and the nine other finalists, including Pulaski native Tyler Miles, will be tested on car control on short-track road courses, on the speedway and endurance racing. One winner will be chosen and then run through additional training with a chance to earn a competition license.
Peak will grant the winner a sponsored stock car in a sanctioned K&W West race – a regional division of NASCAR – for Michael Waltrip Racing. Though the competition is this week, the winner won’t be announced until Aug. 11, when the contest airs on the Speed Network.
Even if chosen as the winner, Ruffin says he’ll try to pursue racing full-time while taking one or two classes a year to earn his degree in civil engineering.
“For this opportunity to come up to show the world what we can do is huge,” he said. “It is a dream come true to have an opportunity to show people what you can do and that you can drive a racecar and maybe be up there amongst the best in NASCAR. Something like this is not to be taken lightly. It is very, very important for myself. I’m really looking forward to the next couple days and seeing what I can make of it."