Hickory, NC (Wednesday, April 28, 2021) - Hickory Motor Speedway is located In Newton, NC, just northwest of the City of Charlotte. This is the heart of NASCAR country. NASCAR shops surround the area and Hickory’s steep tradition involves many famous NASCAR names. Johnson, Jarrett, Earnhardt are just a few of the recognizable names written in the history of this track. Their children and their children’s children race there. Open 70 years now, it still has numerous ties with the national sanctioning body albeit in smaller series these days. Many of the racing teams that saturate the area use tracks like Hickory for their driver development programs. It’s programs like these that afford young men and women an opportunity to see if they may have what it takes to compete at a higher level, or even the very highest level.
Max Price grew up as a race fan just like most people reading this. His Father, John, would take him to Spartan Speedway almost every Friday night through his youth. “I’ve always been a car guy”, exclaimed John. “When Max was real young, I started taking him to Spartan. We both enjoyed the racing action and it became a regular thing. We’d go, sit in our same seats, converse with the other race fans around us and have a great time. Max made friends with the other kids in our section. It was great family fun”.
When one of Max’s friends from the grandstands, Logan Haughton, started racing in the Bandolero Division, the conversations started to change. Logan is the fourth generation of his family to race, so their friendship came with an avenue for 14-year-old Max to get into racing too. And so John signed the lease papers, and Max was a bandolero driver. This division has an 8-14 age limit so Max was in this car for just over one season. Spartan doesn’t have any practice days other than race night, so the only time he got laps was on race night. When Max outgrew the class, John had to decide what would be the next step for his son. He didn’t want to put him in a FWD car, so they decided on a “late model” type car that would compete in the Spartan Stock B Division.
In 2018 & 2019 Max had limited success competing in this division. He would have some good nights and some bad nights. John struggled with trying to learn how to make the car go faster, and teach Max how to learn from the mistakes they were making.
“It got really hard. I love cars, but I was not versed in all the intricacies of local short track racing,” admitted John. “We got tons of advice, sometimes, too much advice. I wasn’t sure who to listen to and which change I should make. I couldn’t always tell exactly what change helped. It got overwhelming. I mean, God Blass the racing community. We wouldn’t have got as far as we did without all that wonderful help. With all the differing advice, I just was never sure if I was helping Max, or hurting him.”
After the 2019 season, the plan was to stay the course and compete with the same car the next season. Max was 17, and would be graduating high school in the summer, so it seemed to make sense. That is, right up to a conversation John had around Christmas time that would completely change Max’s racing future. Rick & Jamie Ludwig, another couple that had raced in the Bando division with their son, Mason, had told John about a track where race teams did driver evaluation, for a price.
“I felt we were at a crossroads with Max. He’s 17, he wants to race, he wants to WIN, but I didn’t feel I was able to give him the best chance to succeed. I needed to know if given the proper environment, he could succeed. This evaluation seemed like a perfect opportunity to find out.”
So John booked a session with the Leicht Racing Team, based out of Hickory Speedway that Rick had told John about, to give Max an evaluation. In late February of 2020, Max and John drove to Hickory, NC for the big day. “I was so nervous, the drive took forever. I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I wanted to make it count,” Max admitted. “But from the first second I sat in that car, I was impressed! I loved how I fit in it, the mirrors, and Matt’s (Leicht) voice in my ear. Everything about it felt good. It was like sitting in a Porsche for the first time.”
He really must have felt comfortable because his evaluation session impressed many of the onlookers. He was running top qualifying laps after about 10 minutes in the car. The session lasted about 4 hours, and they ran around 200 laps. Max was smiling from ear to ear when he climbed out of the car.
“I’ve never driven a car set up like that, it was so smooth. Everything was just awesome,” Max gleamed. After the session they all got together for the evaluation. It was learned that not only did Max do well, but they wanted him to run one of their three Limited Late Model cars that compete weekly at Hickory. This is not what John had planned for. He just wanted to know if his kid had talent from an unbiased source. He always felt he did, but he had never had someone show this much excitement over his possibilities.
How could he possibly say no to this opportunity? Well, he didn’t. A contract was drawn up and Max was signed on as a driver for Leicht Driver Development Team. In 2020, Max and John made the 665 mile trip to Hickory 13 times (not counting rainouts) to compete and Max finished a super respectable fourth in both track points and the Big 10 Series, and was named Rookie of the Year in the division.
In the off season, Max has competed in numerous iRacing events with his crew chief, race coach, and nowadays best friend, Matt Leicht. Their relationship has blossomed over the last year and their closeness is starting to show through their success they’re having on the track.
“Matt has helped me so much,” Max says. “He is always calm and seems to know exactly what I need to hear. There is no way I’d be doing so well without Matt.”
In 2021, the Price Family again signed a new contract, with Matt as crew chief, and now Max leads the points as of March 29th. While that is a good start, Max expects more. “I want to win. I need to get a feature win. With this team, and how I’ve grown with them, we have to. Anything less than a championship with at least one feature win, I’ll be disappointed,” states Max.
So show me one teenage driver that doesn’t have a dream to compete in NASCAR. In those early days, that’s the goal. Once bitten by the spirit of competition on the track, and then feeling the kick of adrenaline from any slight success, it’s a very normal human reaction. We want to be the best. The odds are stacked against anyone succeeding, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. These days, with so many kids starting to race at younger and younger ages, driver development programs are popping up all over the nation. This might not be for everyone, but it sure was for Max Price. His Father was just looking for reassurance that his kid had some driving talent, he ended up learning that a LOT of people think Max has some driving talent.
Keep up with Max’s season at hickorymotorspeedway.com and the Facebook page for Leicht Motorsports Driver Development. Also look for future articles here at Horsepower Happenings.
Story - Ed Inloes, Horsepower Happenings
Photo - Hickory Motor Speedway