On Wednesday, April 28th, Justin Kirk came home from Wednesday night bowling league, packed his bags, and headed out to catch a flight to Dallas for an ADRL race. He had no way of knowing - dreaming, perhaps - that in three days he would be hoisting his first Mountain Motor Pro Stock trophy as the winner in Liberty's Gears Extreme Pro Stock presented by AED Competition at the PDRA Doorslammer Derby at Beech Bend Raceway Park on Saturday night.
After leaving his house in Kermit, West Virginia, Kirk headed northeast to pick up his clutch guy, Gerald Smith, in Charleston around 1 a.m. The duo drove four hours down to Charlotte Douglas International Airport to hop on a flight to Dallas, where they landed at 9 a.m. Not long after checking in at the hotel, it was announced that the ADRL race at the Texas Motorplex was canceled due to a rainy forecast.
Kirk and Buck Brothers Racing owners Eddie and W.R. Buck had a tough decision to make: head home or make the 12-hour drive over to Bowling Green for the PDRA Doorslammer Derby. The answer was an obvious decision for Eddie.
"Eddie said he left home to go racing and that's what he was going to do!" Kirk laughs.
The group drove through the night, with six different drivers taking shifts, arriving at Beech Bend with enough time to unload and prepare the car for the first qualifying session on Friday afternoon.
After three rounds of qualifying on Friday, Kirk and the "Big Daddy Warlock" '05 Cavalier sat in the No. 2 spot with a 4.071-second pass at 176.63 mph recorded in the second session. When he laid down at the hotel that night, it was the first time Kirk had been in bed since Wednesday morning.
On Saturday, Kirk won first round with a 4.101 at 176.53 over Dwayne Rice's 4.56. He left on defending world champion Johnny Pluchino in the semifinals, stepping up to a 4.097 at 174.96 next to Pluchino's 4.166 at 176.93.
Steven Boone, who won the PDRA Extreme Pro Stock world championship in 2018 and went to the finals at the PDRA season opener, was waiting for Kirk in the final round. The two drivers were locked door handle to door handle the whole race, with both drivers leaving with .040 reaction times. Kirk finished first with a career-best 4.063 at 177.07, followed closely by Boone's 4.076 at 177.07.
"I felt like I had 10 pounds tied to my left foot. That was the longest seven inches of my life," Kirk said of the staging process. "I just really approached it like any other round. There were eight great cars here. No round was easy. I didn’t even think about it being a final. I just went up there and did my job and trusted in all the decisions everyone made. We would’ve been satisfied either way, but we’re really satisfied now."
Meanwhile, the starting line erupted when the win light came on in Kirk's lane. The Buck-Kirk Racing team was joined by a number of supporters and fellow Mountain Motor Pro Stock competitors, many of whom have known Kirk since his childhood as the son of MMPS veteran Doug Kirk and the grandson of Pro Stock icon Carl Kirk.
"I really don’t know how to feel," Kirk said in the winner's circle. "It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, race a Pro Stock car. It’s just a dream come true. If there’s a long-haul award, we’d get it this weekend. Eddie and W.R. [Buck], we work so hard. A lot of people don’t realize how much it takes to run one of these. It’s not easy, but we got the job done. I’m proud of everyone."
Racing is obviously a family affair for Kirk, and it means a lot to him to have the opportunity to race with his family while honoring the family legacy in the process. That includes running horsepower from Sonny's Racing Engines and the late Sonny Leonard.
"Thanks to my mom and dad and everyone at home that lets me do what I do," Kirk said. "Gerald used to change my diapers at the racetrack, now he changes my clutch. I couldn’t do it without any of them. I also want to thank JR and Kelly Ward and Francis Leonard at Sonny's. Sonny's engines powered my dad to many victories and I'm following in those footsteps."
The win was similarly a longtime dream for Eddie Buck, a lifelong drag racer who passed on his love of drag racing to his son, Wes Buck, the owner and founder of Drag Illustrated. The Missouri native has raced Nostalgia Pro Stock around the Midwest with his brother, W.R., for over a decade. The duo decided to step up to a Mountain Motor Pro Stock car, which they debuted in 2019 with Tony Gillig driving. The Bucks then partnered with Kirk in 2020.
"There’s no way words could describe it," Buck said of the win. "I’m hoarse from yelling and screaming and hollering. It’s the dream come true. I love Pro Stock racing. I don’t want to go bracket race. I don’t want to go demo derby. I don’t want to go fishing. I don’t want to do nothing but drag race.
"I love Pro Stock racing," Buck continued. "That’s all I’ve ever dreamed about since I was a kid, running friggin’ Pro Stock - and winning. This is awesome."
The Buck brothers run an auto service and repair center in the small town of Kirksville, Missouri. It's a modest operation compared to the businesses owned by many of their Extreme Pro Stock competitors, but it gives the brothers a place to work on their hot rods and pays for the racing operation.
"We work really hard to come here," Buck said. "Me and my brother have nobody at the shop but ourselves to work on it. We pay for everything out of our own pocket. We have a few sponsors to help us. I spend everything. Winning a Pro Stock race to me is like winning, I don’t know, Wimbledon or some big sports thing. I don’t care about any other sport but drag racing. I love drag racing. Everybody is equal on the starting line. You pull up there, best guy, best car wins. It’s a big deal."
Racing in Extreme Pro Stock is the pinnacle for Buck. He's not shy about his feelings against automatic transmissions and is drawn to the class because it's such a challenge to run a clutch-equipped, naturally aspirated doorslammer.
"Mountain Motor Pro Stock is such a great class," Buck said. "It’s such an awesome feeling to run in this class and be able to win at this level. People think it ain’t a big deal. The reason there’s not more people running Mountain Motor Pro Stock is because it’s too damn hard. You have to adjust the clutch, pull the tranny out every round, service the clutch."
Despite regularly winning on the Nostalgia Pro Stock circuit in his "Warlock" Camaro, Buck admitted he wouldn't be a competitive driver in the MMPS car, so he tapped Kirk to drive last season.
"Justin Kirk gave us the best chance to do good," Buck said. "I’m not as healthy as I used to be. I cannot drive at his level. He’s a better driver. You’ve gotta swallow your pride and let your ego get out of the way and do what’s best to win a race. And we want to win a race. We want to continue [winning] from here."
Winning the second race on the PDRA's eight-race schedule has invigorated the team that already had a solid schedule planned for the season. Since the team is located in Missouri, the ADRL's Midwest and central U.S.-based races made the most sense for the Bucks. But the win has Kirk thinking about a PDRA championship chase.
"We didn’t get to go to the first race, but this puts us right in the thick of it," Kirk said. "I know it’s early and you can’t count points, but we’re already looking at the next round. We’re just a small team out here doing big people things."
For Buck, the win was validation for his hard work and sacrifices to chase the Pro Stock dream. For others, it should be motivation to keep chasing the dream.
"I used to bracket race and leaned over the fence watching Warren Johnson and Butch Leal and Larry Morgan," Buck said. "Larry Morgan is my hero in Pro Stock. I love Pro Stock.
"To be able to win in Pro Stock is a dream come true and I want to say to all the guys that’ve leaned over the fence with a bracket car that want to go Pro Stock race someday, go do it. Go put in the effort and the work because it’s well worth it," Buck continued. "I don’t care if I have to pay them $10,000 for the damn trophy."