Over a decade ago, Larry Wight sat in the grandstands at Weedsport Speedway as a spectator of the event’s Sprint Car race. Hours later, he was making laps in one himself.
After the checkered flag flew that night, Wight hopped behind the wheel of his friend’s car for practice laps. It didn’t take long for those laps to suggest the Big Block Modified ace might want to give Sprint Car racing a shot.
And he did.
“I’m real good friends with Jason Barney,” Wight explained. “He used to drive for my dad in modifieds back in the early 2000s, and I kind of grew up with him and his crew chief at the time. Then, when he went Sprint Car racing, I was always keeping tabs on him in the ESS (Empire Super Sprints) around here and the Patriot (Sprint Tour) back then, always saw them racing.
“It was actually a night at Weedsport I jumped in Jason’s car at the end of the night and just went out and ran some laps. And we were within two tenths of the guy that won the race, so I got real comfortable real quick in the car.”
Since then, the Phoenix, NY native has sprinkled in occasional Sprint Car races amid his busy Modified schedule, which includes touring full-time with the Super DIRTcar Series. Of them include ESS races and World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series events, including this weekend’s Empire State Challenge at Weedsport Speedway (Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30).
Every time Wight decides to unload his Gypsum Express #99L Sprint Car, he continues to demonstrate the comfort he felt in those first laps at Weedsport years ago. The 30-year-old has collected 11 ESS victories in 79 career feature starts – a nearly 14% clip – including a win at Weedsport in 2022. He also posted top 10s on both nights with the World of Outlaws at Weedsport last year.
So, how does someone accustomed to Modifieds – race cars that are heavier and visibly different than a Sprint Car – jump in the winged machine and succeed so quickly? According to Wight, the feel between them isn’t as different as one might think.
“Our center-steer Modifieds, you pretty much sit identical,” Wight noted of the similarities between the cars. “You get a little bit more legroom in a Modified, but we’re sitting straight up. The driveshaft is between our legs. We’re higher up than say a Late Model or something. Really, the only difference is instead of rolling to the right front (tire) we’re laying on the left rear. So, it usually doesn’t take me more than Hot Laps to get back in the routine of it and get comfortable in the car.”
Another factor helping lead Wight to impressive results is experience. This is especially vital when facing off against the World of Outlaws at a track like Weedsport. The 3/8-mile is known as one of the most technical ovals in the country with a unique shape and dirt that slicks off faster than most. With many Modified laps around Weedsport, “Lightning Larry’s” notebook is thicker than most.
“I’ve raced Weedsport since I was 14,” Wight said. “I know the old track and now the new track. We race there quite a bit. I think as slick as the place gets it’s kind of an equalizer for me against those guys because notoriously Sprint Car tracks don’t burn off quite as quickly as Weedsport does where up here in New York we’re used to that. You pretty much get Hot Laps to hold it to the floor, and then after that you’re pedaling it for the rest of the night.”
Also contributing to his prowess in a Sprint Car is some help on the wrenches. Wight brings many of the same team members to the track as he would for a Modified race but also often has an extra hand for the Sprint Car in the form of Anthony Knighten, who has a mechanical background as diverse as Wight’s driving.
“It’s pretty much the same guys, and when my main Sprint Car guy – Anthony Knighten – is available and not busy with the business that him and his wife run, he’s at the track and at the shop helping me out whenever he can,” Wight explained. “He’s got a lot of Sprint Car background. He’s from the New Egypt area. He did a lot of racing with Wade Hendrickson in the Pennsylvania area. He went out to Indianapolis for a number of years working on IndyCar teams. Brady Bacon drove a USAC (United States Auto Club) car for him. He owned his own team out there. And then when he moved back to the Northeast, he actually met me doing a sales call to my truck shop and we kind of hit it off there.”
This weekend presents two more opportunities for 2018 Super DIRT Week champion to run wheel-to-wheel with the country’s best Sprint Car drivers in his home territory. Weedsport’s Empire State Challenge also offers a shot at some major money with a total purse of more than $134,000.
For a driver who prides himself on versatility, chances to compete with The Greatest Show on Dirt are circled on his calendar.
“The World of Outlaws are definitely a premier division in our country,” Wight said. “To race with those guys, especially when they’re running as many races as they do, to even be competitive with them and to try and pull of a win would be awesome for me and my team and my family. It’s one thing I’ve got on my bucket list is to try and win a race in every major division.”
For tickets to Weedsport’s Empire State Challenge, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the racing on DIRTVision.