LYNN HAVEN, Fla. — When it comes to generational families with drivers trying to make it in racing, the names Busch, Burton, Cindric and even Larson come quickly to mind.
One last name that has been around the motorsports industry for many years, albeit not necessarily behind the driver’s seat in a big way, is Finch. Starting this weekend, however, that caveat will change.
Jake Finch, the 15-year-old son of former NASCAR team owner James Finch, is set to make his pro late model debut for Anthony Campi Racing in the team’s familiar No. 81 on Saturday at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, Ga.
The step up the ladder comes after success in go-karts and, earlier this summer, a July 31 Outlaw Stock victory at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. Driving a Port City Race Cars-built entry, the younger Finch won from the pole at the half-mile paved oval.
While it might seem inevitable that the son of the former Phoenix Racing owner would eventually find a place within the racing industry, Jake Finch was quick to note his father never pushed him to pursue driving race cars.
If anything, James Finch hoped his son would travel a different path.
“I don’t know that he truly wanted this at first, but he’s always supported me,” Jake Finch told SPEED SPORT during a recent interview, chuckling as he recalled the beginning of his journey.
“I played baseball most of my life, up until a few years ago when I started racing. But it was always something where I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, you know? I was still like a little kid trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life, but later on, when I started realizing that I might be able to do this (racing) as a living and I really enjoyed doing it, then I really thought about it potentially becoming my way of taking care of my family in the future,” the younger Finch continued. “I think at that point, that’s when I realized that’s what I wanted to do for sure over the long haul.
“It was just about him seeing that I really loved it; he never really pushed it onto me. I just decided that’s what I wanted to do. So ever since then, that’s what we’ve done and now we’re taking steps forward.”
After Jake Finch took his maiden Outlaw Stock victory at Five Flags, it quickly became apparent that a pro late model was the logical next step in the teenager’s driving career.
“It was kind of a funny story behind that (win), because I don’t know if anyone remembers the (Snowball) Derby week from last December, but we actually ran there in the Outlaw Stock and nobody really knew that we ran it because we wrecked on the first lap. So that wasn’t good,” he noted. “At that point, my dad was kind of questioning my racing (plans) a little … and I ended up starting in the back most of the start of this year, so I could learn how to pass cars and know how to race.
“After a few races, we sat on the pole and dad actually let me run there. We finished top five in that one, but the race we won … we started fourth and inverted up to the pole,” the younger Finch continued. “I hadn’t even led a lap before that, but I went out there and led every single lap from the pole (laughs). I got out of the car and said, ‘Hey dad, I led a lap!’
“He just laughed and said, ‘yeah, you did.’ But after that we started looking at what else there was.”
Enter Anthony Campi, whose team across the state in Sarasota, Fla., had an opening for a test session with Finch. That test, conducted at Watermelon Capital, went “pretty well” in Campi’s eyes.
“We’re taking a race-by-race approach with Jake,” explained Campi. “I know there’s not a lot (of racing) left, but we’re going to try and get him in two to four higher-profile pro (late model) shows and really just get his feet wet and evaluate the situation at hand, as well as his strengths and weaknesses for moving forward.
“I felt like the test was positive for his first time in a pro late model,” added Campi of the younger Finch. “We’re going to put him in a few races, like I said, and, hopefully, build him up. This deal started as a progression into late model racing, and they (the Finches) take it as a pretty big deal for James, because of his reputation and everything that was done in the past. They had a lot of time in NASCAR and we’ve had a long, long list of success and a long, long list of drivers in short-track racing.
“Jake Finch is just that ‘next guy’ and we’re honored to have their faith and trust to be the team that fields him in a late model for the first time.”
As Jake Finch looks forward beyond this weekend, he’ll also race the ACR pro late model at Five Flags on Oct. 24, with an eye on a potential start in the famed Snowflake 100 during Snowball Derby week in December.
“I think dad wants us to (race the Snowflake) too, but obviously if I don’t perform and if things don’t work out, then we won’t do it because we don’t want to look stupid, you know what I mean?” he noted. “We’ll just keep our heads forward on that end and see how these two races go.”
Running the Snowflake is “definitely progress-dependent,” explained Finch, who is also aiming to continue playing baseball in the summer and will stay in school as he navigates the waters of building his driving career.
“I love playing baseball. I play baseball in my high school and I’ve been friends with everybody on the team … so it’s really cool to be able to still get my mind way from racing sometimes and hang out with my friends that I’ve been with for a long time and play the other sport that I love being a part of,” Finch noted. “But I think racing is for sure what I want to do long-term.
“Our main goal throughout this process is to learn a lot. I want to learn as much as I can, racing wise, and get experience racing and just stay humble through the journey,” he added. “If I can meet some new people, that’s really cool, but mainly it’s just about learning and watching and figuring out things of what I can do here and there to get better behind the wheel and be faster as I go along.
“But the main thing is to have fun, run well, and maybe see if we can win some races. It’s step by step.”