2023 Castrol Gateway Dirt Nationals

Nick Hoffman Primed For 'Best Opportunity' At The Gateway Dirt Nationals

Nick Hoffman Primed For 'Best Opportunity' At The Gateway Dirt Nationals

Nick Hoffman's won at the Gateway Dirt Nationals in a modified and has dazzled in a midget. Now he's ready to win it all in the Late Model.

Dec 14, 2023 by Kevin Kovac

As Nick Hoffman stood amid dozens of closed, parked trailers in the quiet convention center pit area of The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, Mo., on Wednesday night, he wistfully thought of the Castrol Gateway Dirt Nationals that would begin in less than 24 hours.

For a guy who grew up just across the Mississippi River in Belleville, Ill., running the indoor megaevent has special meaning. Capturing the $30,000 top prize in Saturday’s 40-lap Dirt Late Model finale, of course, would be mind-blowing.

“This is home for me originally, so to win this race would be huge,” said the 31-year-old Hoffman, who now lives in Mooresville, N.C. “It’s one that I’ve wanted more than anything. You’ve seen my cars and my numbers always have the (famed Gateway) Arch on them … I love St. Louis, so I really want to get that trophy to put in my (home) bar.”

The ties that Hoffman has to the St. Louis area mean that he has his own cheering section in the Dome’s stands.

“I have so many family members here,” he said. “My aunt and uncle will be here, a lot of extended family will be here. It’s just really cool for us.”

Then Hoffman paused for a moment. He considered the weekend ahead and made his intentions clear: “I feel like this is the best opportunity I’ve had as far as a Late Model.”

Hoffman has been a big player in the Gateway Dirt Nationals since promoter Cody Sommer launched the event in 2016, though only fleetingly in the headline Late Model division. He’s most identified with the open-wheel modified class, seriously contending for victory in the division’s support program every year at the Dome while only entering the Late Model action twice, in 2016 (eighth in the finale) and ’21 (third). (He also ran a midget in ’21 when he pulled triple-duty and recorded podium finishes in all three divisions).

After sitting out last year’s Gateway Dirt Nationals because he was still recovering from a head injury he suffered in a September highway accident with his race hauler (he attended the weekend’s events as a spectator), he’s back and just focusing on the Dirt Late Model competition for the first time. His car owner, Tye Twarog of Coshocton, Ohio, decided to take a shot at the Dome to close out a 2023 season that saw Hoffman become a full-fender regular.

Hoffman’s performance during an ambitious ’23 campaign in which he chased the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series provided Twarog plenty of reason to green-light a St. Louis assault. The modified star made an immediate impact on the Dirt Late Model world, earning WoO Rookie of the Year honors and a respectable fifth-place finish in the points standings while tallying one victory among 13 top-five and 24 top-10 placings in 38 starts.

Considering Hoffman is a driver accustomed to rolling up massive victory totals with his modified, his modest number of Late Model checkered flags in ’23 (four) might seem disappointing, falling far below his expectations. But the realist in him told him he should be proud of his achievements.

“At the beginning of the year, you just look at and you want to win the (WoO) rookie deal and try to win a race, and obviously I was able to win a race and secure the rookie deal pretty easily,” said Hoffman, whose lone WoO triumph came on May 23 at Stateline Speedway in Busti, N.Y. “And I was able to win some other races (including $10,000 shows on May 20 at Muskingum County Speedway in Zanesville, Ohio, and Aug. 8 at Red Cedar Speedway in Menomonie, Wis.) so that was pretty cool.

“All in all, I felt we were competitive enough to win races, and if we could go back and fix some stuff in the middle of the year I think we were a third- or fourth-place car in the points.”

Indeed, Hoffman’s final results were tempered by a midseason slump. He was firmly in the WoO championship hunt as the month of June drew to a close (second in the points) but by the end of August had tumbled to seventh in the standings. It was a classic case of a newcomer to the Late Model ranks and a national tour experiencing some serious growing pains.


WATCH: FloRacing's Derek Kessinger hosted Nick Hoffman on One Lap, One Beer in February.

“I’ve said it a couple times, I went to a lot of racetracks in that range (of the season) that I’d never even seen, places that I’ve never seen before,” Hoffman said. “That’s where I struggled, not having any notes, and some of those tracks I just sucked at because they weren’t my style of racing and I got myself pretty far behind. You get frustrated, there were a couple situations where I got (into wrecks), and the next thing you know you’re questioning what you’re doing.

“We ran really well at the end of the season, though (including a runner-up finish in October at Fairbury Speedway in Illinois), so we got some confidence going into what little offseason we have here.”

Assessing his 2023 season, Hoffman realizes that he took a big step forward as a professional race car driver.

“Last year, going into Florida (Speedweeks), I’d never even drove a Longhorn car or a Clements motor or been to a lot of the (WoO) tracks,” Hoffman said. “Everything was new for me. I ran five years part time (in a Late Model), and when I look back at those five years, any time I got in a stretch where I ran a Late Model 20 times in a year, I got better.

“And what I’ve done my whole career is run the big (Late Model) stuff. I mean, my first-ever Late Model start was the North-South 100 (at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky.).”

Hoffman’s pairing with Twarog, who previously fielded national-level programs for Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, and Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., offered him not only his first opportunity to race a Late Model full-time but also maintain one. His previous rides were for selected events and the cars weren’t available to him all day and all night.

“This was the first situation where Tye allowed me to keep the car and take care of it myself,” Hoffman said. “That was always my whole deal throughout my whole career (of part-time Late Model action) — I was never able to spend enough time at the shop to work on it every day and just know everything about it. Now that I’ve worked on (a Late Model) literally every single day for a year, it’s really helped my program just knowing where I need to be.

“My modified, obviously I know every square inch of that thing from front-to-back because we build ‘em (he owns Elite Chassis) and we do everything on ‘em. On the Late Model side, Longhorn builds a great car and they’ve been great to work with, but now that I’ve actually been hands-on every day with the whole deal it’s made a big difference for me and I think it shows.”

Hoffman is already looking toward 2024 and what he hopes will be an even stronger season as a sophomore on the WoO circuit. He arrived in St. Louis with a new look to his crew as former Shane Clanton wrench Darian Rucker has joined Twarog’s team alongside Daniel Clark, who worked for Twarog with Moran and stayed on to travel with Hoffman this year. The outgoing Rucker — a popular personality in the Dirt Late Model pit area — brings new energy, not to mention knowledge, to Hoffman’s effort.

“I like to surround myself with positive people,” Hoffman said, referring to Rucker. “That’s one of the reason I like Kenny Wallace so much — he’s always positive, never in a bad mood.

“(Rucker’s) been fun, and he’s got experience. That’s the biggest thing — finding a guy with a little bit of experience who’s been on the road and lived this lifestyle, because it’s tough to ask somebody to leave their home and go racing.”

Clark and Rucker are living at Hoffman’s home on the outskirts of Mooresville, N.C., in the separate area Hoffman calls his “Blue Deuce Tavern.”

“It’s just like my bar and hangout area, my man cave,” Hoffman said, “and now it’s turned into their house for the next month at least. Daniel lived there this year and now we got two guys in there.”

Hoffman expects to soon have some more comfortable digs for his two full-time crew members as part of a spacious new shop he’s building on his property that will house both Twarog’s Dirt Late Models and Hoffman’s own Elite Chassis operation.

“That’s gonna help me a ton,” said Hoffman, whose Twarog Racing stable of Longhorn cars includes one brand new machine, another new mount on the way and two vehicles he raced this season. “The problem we had this year, my Late Model team was over at (NASCAR driver) Ricky Stenhouse’s place — that’s in my backyard basically, we’re neighbors basically — but my chassis shop, what I do day-to-day, is over at my parents’ (house) that’s like 8 miles away. That isn’t far, but I got them guys working on the Late Model and I got guys working on the modified stuff so it gets tough.

“Now, this coming year, it’ll be all in one building and it’ll make my life a whole lot easier. We got it laid out where the hauler parks inside, you unload, and (the Late Model team) will stay in their spot, and then we got cars we’re assembling every single day on the chassis side and chassis business is all in its own room. And the shop’s got a two-bedroom (apartment) deal upstairs (for Clark and Rucker). The total square footage is like 10,200, with about 2,000 square foot for living.

“It’ll be a lot nicer for me,” he continued. “Tye does a great job keeping us very well-equipped, but I have parts all over the place now. Once I get in my new shop and start organizing what I have, it’s just gonna make me a lot better off. I’m super excited for that. It’s kind of been my lifelong goal to try and put all this stuff in one building and now it’s finally happening.”

Hoffman, who is hoping to move into the new shop by March 1 after returning from the season-opening WoO events in January and February at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., naturally has higher expectations for ’24.

“For me, I want to go after the (WoO) championship,” said Hoffman, who has two children, Maddox, 4, and Roxzen, 2, with his wife Lacy. “Obviously everyone says that’s what their goal is, but after running it for a year and everything’s put in place way before we had it last year — we were still putting stuff together at this point last year — I think we’ll go to Florida with a lot of confidence. Volusia is one of my best racetracks, and if you can leave Volusia with a shot at it, you’re in pretty good shape. We just gotta be better during the summer.”