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Justin Matney, winner of last year’s Baja 500, is only going forward - HeraldCourier.com: News

Justin Matney, winner of last year’s Baja 500, is only going forward

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Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2014 9:17 pm | Updated: 11:39 am, Mon Nov 3, 2014.

Justin Matney likes living life in the fast lane — the off-road fast lane. Born in Richlands, Virginia, Matney has long hailed to the thrill of speed and excitement, and since opening RPM Offroad, a full-service automotive facility specializing in 4-by-4 modification and equipment in Bristol, Tennessee, as well as the development of his own off-road racing team, he has found his niche.

Riding motorcycles and ATVs was a regular childhood pastime for Matney and by the time he was in high school he was racing motorcycles.

The competitiveness comes naturally; his father raced sailboats with Matney’s now-partner in RPM Offroad, Clyde Stacey.

“He’s wanted to do this since I can remember,” said Matney’s long-time friend Ronny Mathis. 

“I can remember when we were 9 or 10 years old, and we’d ride golf carts and speed through the fields,” Mathis said. “We’d be out there in the pouring rain doing doughnuts.”

Matney has come a long way from racing golf carts through the fields. He now owns his off-road desert race team and has earned numerous championships since he officially began racing in 2006.

“The thing that helped us out in 2006 is we built a factory Dodge from the ground up,” Matney said. “All of the components were parts that we sell, also. So the whole point was for us to race on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

To date, Matney’s team has 66 wins, 20 championships and eight milestone awards — the milestone awards being when the team has completed every mile of every race throughout the racing year. This feat is no easy accomplishment. Matney drives what is called a “truggie,” a combination between a dune-buggy and a trophy truck. They compete over a course in the desert, mostly in Mexico and Nevada, over distances of 250 miles to more 1,000 miles. And these are not flat, paved tracks. The races take them through the desert, over rocks, through sand, mountains, streams and gullies, with numerous hazards to avoid. Also, the dust becomes so thick, that often the driver can’t see where he is going, at which point he must depend on his driver/navigator to direct him through use of a GPS system in the vehicle.

“You are trying to fight through all the dust, and all you can follow is just the screen,” said RPM Offroad Manager and Driver/Navigator Jereme Miltier. “You can’t see anything — it’s like the blind leading the blind,” Miltier said. “You don’t know what’s in front of you, and you’re averaging speeds of 50 miles per hour.”

Last year, Matney won the Baja 500 by about 12 minutes, but recalls that he had no idea where the other vehicles were behind him because they couldn’t see and the satellite tracker wasn’t working well.

“We just had to push as hard as we could to the finish — it’s just one of those things,” he said. “In Baja, you’re racing the terrain, you’re racing the other competitors, and you’re racing the elements around you.”

As if the racing weren’t challenging enough, Matney says that spectators often create “booby traps” to slow down certain racers and try to give the advantage to their favorite driver. These traps include anything from holes dug in the path, rocks put in the road, tires in a creek that will foul up the vehicles wheels, and even throwing objects such as bottles or fireworks at the vehicles.

Overall, Matney has been lucky for the most part, though he has had a few crashes, including one in the Baja 500 that left him stranded in the desert for seven hours. In spite of the many safety precautions built into the vehicles, Matney says it is still exhausting because they often spend as much as 11 hours in the car. At 28 years old, Matney has been racing for eight years, and says it can definitely take its toll.

Between running the store and racing, Matney really has time for little else. Although, he enjoys snowboarding and going to the lake in what spare time he can find. 

“We stay pretty covered up here at RPM with standard and custom work,” he said. “We have orders from all over the world and we do plenty of international shipping. For a newer company, we have been really driven and strive to do the best we can in the actual automotive industry and for our racing side.”

Matney has won his first two races this year, and leads his class in points. Between his strong work ethic and drive to succeed, Matney has not only earned awards and championships, he’s also earned the respect of his co-workers and friends.

“I’ve known him since we were five years old,” Mathis said. “He is a really good guy, very humble, and really takes care of his people. He does whatever he can to help you out and is just a great guy to be around.”

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