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Meet the 53-Year-Old Rookie: Jon Garrett

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By Jared Turner

It’s hard to find many 53-year-old rookies competing in a NASCAR series.

One notable exception is Jon Garrett, who this year is running his first season as a full-time ARCA Menards Series driver.

Garrett is able to race thanks in large part to longtime friend Lane Moore and Moore’s company, Venture Food Stores, although Garrett kicks in some sponsorship money from his own sister businesses — Fort Worth Screen Printing in Fort Worth, Texas, and Athens Screen Printing in Athens, Texas.

Garrett lives in the Athens area but has been away from his day job quite a bit this year while traveling the ARCA circuit. Not that he seems to mind.

“It’s pretty hectic but, luckily, I’ve got people at both my locations that take care of it when I’m not there, so it hasn’t been too bad,” Garrett said.

Garrett’s journey to full-time ARCA status has been an unconventional one, and that’s putting it mildly.

A local dirt-track racer in East Texas at the age of 24, Garrett captured numerous street stock victories before moving to the American Race Truck Series where he earned top rookie honors in 1999 and the series championship in 2002.

Garrett raced only sparingly over the next two decades, however, before jumping in an ARCA Menards Series car for the first time during a test at Daytona International Speedway in early 2022.

He went on to run three ARCA races last season, collecting one top-10 finish, before going full-time racing in 2023.

Why did Garrett sit on the sidelines and forgo his racing aspirations for the better part of 20 years? 

“Life, I guess, and funding,” he said. “I’d say probably 2005 is the last time I really raced trucks, and then I scattered a few races in between, around 2011ish, but not much. Kids became teenagers, and I lost some sponsorship, so I just didn’t have the opportunities to do the racing. I had other things going on. 

“I’d say most people that race have the dream to make it to the big time. I had that, too, but I’d pretty much given up on it, and then things just kind of fell into place a couple years ago.”

It was actually 2019 when Garrett began to entertain the possibility of a return to competition. Upon seeing Bayley Currey’s name listed on an entry form for a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, Garrett recalled how he once raced at the same Texas track where Currey’s father competed. At this, Garrett contacted the Curreys, offered some sponsorship money and began occasionally joining them at the race track.

“I started going to the track, and that just kind of got the bug going again,” Garrett said. “So, I blame Bayley for all this, really. It just kind of progressed from there.”

Progressing, in Garrett’s case, meant connecting with Bayley’s longtime friend and mentor, Michael Harper, who encouraged him to show up for the ARCA test at Daytona last year. Garrett took his friend’s advice and arrived at The World Center of Racing hoping for the best.

“I got in the car and didn’t do anything stupid and held my line, and everything was good,” he said. 

Although Garrett doesn’t consider himself a true contender to win most weeks this year, he’s been extremely competitive at times and moreover managed to steer clear of controversy. 

“I always thought, ‘I can drive,’” Garrett said. “So, to this point, not making any major mistakes out there and being decently fast at some places makes me think that I have a little talent.”

Garrett admittedly endures some playful ribbing about being a 53-year-old rookie, but he doesn’t see his age as a hindrance. 

“I get a little bit of the ‘old age’ stuff from people,” Garrett said. “I’m not the smallest guy, either; I’m 6-foot-3, high 200ish (in weight). I’m not your typical 18-year-old, 150-pound race car driver, but once I’m in the car, I can wheel it.”

Considering that it was at the age of 52 that former NASCAR Cup Series driver Harry Gant was still winning races at the sport’s highest level, it seems reasonable to think Garrett could do the same in ARCA if all the stars aligned.

Garrett could especially benefit from some additional sponsorship for his team — which he considers “probably a third-tier team” in the ARCA Menards Series. Some extra laps under his belt also won’t hurt.

“Everything’s basically new to me in these cars; I haven’t really raced anything like them,” Garrett said. “So, every race is a learning experience for me. I don’t really think my finishes are due to my age at this point. I feel plenty good at the end of the race. I ran 250 laps at Elko Speedway in late June, and I wasn’t fresh at the end, but I certainly didn’t fall out of the seat, either.”

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