Jason Hedlesky has spent most of his life around high-stakes stock car racing. What he’s learned from his years in what seems like a solo sport is the importance of trusting relationships.From his first trip as an eight year-old to Michigan International Speedway, Jason Hedlesky knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“To this day, I remember walking up to the fence against the final straightaway,” he fondly recalls. “Some driver flew past me at 180 miles per hour. It blew my socks off.”
“From that moment forward, I knew that’s what I was going to do. There was nothing else in the world that mattered.”
Since then, Hedlesky has worked for legendary team owners, travelled the globe spotting for some of world’s top stock car drivers in NASCAR and ARCA and sat behind the wheel in his own ARCA races. At every stage, he’s been driven by the same passion for speed that first drew him to racing in boyhood.
REVVING FOR A DREAM
Racing was an unlikely pastime for the young Hedlesky. “I didn’t grow up in a racing family, and we didn’t have a lot of money,” he says.
After taking notice of his son’s love for the sport, Hedlesky’s father began taking him to Michigan International Speedway and Monroe County’s Flat Rock Speedway a couple of times every summer. On occasion, they also made the trip from the family home in suburban Detroit to Nashville or Charlotte to see a NASCAR race.
Hedlesky began following local racing stars such as Chuck Roumell, the famous ARCA racer. Sensing his enthusiasm, Roundell later hired the young man to work on his cars. Hedlesky started racing himself shortly afterward.
“I didn’t have the money or the means to get started until I was in my early 20s,” says Hedlesky. “I eventually bought one of Chuck’s old cars. With a lot of help from friends and family, I started racing at Flat Rock Speedway in the super-late model division.”
Hedlesky saw moderate success in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, but he was hungry for more. In the autumn of 1998, he met the legendary NASCAR Cup Series team owner Junie Donlavey, whose career in the sport spanned over 60 years. Donlavey offered Hedlesky an opportunity to work for him in Richmond, and Hedlesky eagerly accepted it.
Hedlesky managed Donlavey’s team in Richmond between 1998 and 2004, when Donlavey retired from NASCAR. In those years, Donlavey learned to trust Hedlesky — enough to let him drive. Hedlesky says, “We started running 5 or 6 ARCA series races per year and I drove his cars for those races — from Michigan to Talladega to Charlotte to the Poconos.”
In Hedlesky’s first Cup series start, the 2002 UAW-GM Quality 500, he was the last driver to race in Donlavey's legendary number 90 Ford.
“Everyone knew Mr. Donlavey and everyone respected him. To be able to work for him, establish long-lasting relationships, and learn from him about the basics of the sport was invaluable,” Hedlesky says. “He was like a second father to me. He gave me the jump-start and the professional education that I needed.”
LIKE AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL
After Donlavey’s retirement, Hedlesky decided to change directions. He moved to North Carolina, where he met Carl Edwards, champion of the 2007 NASCAR Busch Series and winner of 28 NASCAR Cups. It turned out that Edwards needed a spotter, so he offered Hedlesky the job.
Hedlesky agreed, and he and Edwards soon became close friends. During their partnership, Hedlesky pursued his own full-time ARCA series racing career from 2006 to 2007 while spotting for Edwards in North Carolina when he was available.
As Hedlesky’s always quick to note, NASCAR isn’t for the faint of heart. “When you race stock cars in ARCA or NASCAR, it’s nothing like streetcar racing,” he explains. “You’re strapped in with a seven-point harness, neck restraints, and a full-contained seat, so you don’t have the freedom to look around you. You’re traveling a football field a second and you have to rely only on your peripheral vision.”
This is where a spotter comes in. The spotter’s job is to ensure the safety of the driver. Positioned above the course, they act as the driver’s eyes, communicating potential dangers via a two-way radio and updating them on the performance of other drivers whom they may not be able to see.
Hedlesky spotted Edwards for 13 years, supporting him in races from NASCAR’s truck and Xfinity series to the Cup Series. After Edwards’ retirement in 2017, Hedlesky moved to Joe Gibbs Racing to spot for Matt Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and a winner of the Cup Series himself. At the same time, Hedlesky continued spotting for Matt Crafton of ThorSport in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The two worked together for over 10 seasons, winning two championships in 2013 and 2014.
For Hedlesky, spotting is about trust above all else. “Spotting is about helping your driver navigate the races as best they can. You spot for someone and learn how they drive, and, in turn, they learn how you anticipate. You end up almost thinking alike.”TRUSTED PARTNERS
The close bond between driver and spotter underlies Hedleksy’s lifelong love of racing. A similar level of trust is the foundation of his close relationship with Mattei. “Compressors are what drive a race shop,” he says.
Hedlesky met Mattei’s President and General Manager Jay Hedges at a racing event in 2007 — when Hedlesky was still driving full-time and spotting for Edwards. The two quickly struck up a lasting friendship. “At the time we met, Jay was with another company,” says Hedlesky, “and we hit it off so well that his company sponsored me.”
That friendship eventually blossomed into a flourishing business relationship. “When Jay moved to Mattei, he told me about some offers to sponsor NASCAR cars, but I had a better deal for him. I connected him with ThorSport and ThorWorks, where Matt Crafton drove, and they built a strong B2B relationship.”
Today, Crafton’s team alone purchases some 250 air compressors a year for various car servicing applications. Hedlesky believes that this is a testament to the deep, trusting relationship between ThorSport and Mattei.
“Mattei obviously makes the best compressors out there,” Hedlesky says. “On top of that, their professionalism and commitment to long-term business relationships is absolutely incredible. They know exactly what’s best for every facility and every application.”
Hedlesky’s career in racing is far from over. He’s spending the 2018 season with DGR-CROSLEY, the new brainchild of Crosley Sports and David Gilliland, winner of a NASCAR Xfinity Series and a coveted Daytona International overall title. The group has two different NASCAR series’ teams and an ARCA team.
Hedlesky’s role is multifaceted — he works in spotting, driver development, marketing, sponsorships, and PR. It’s a challenging role in an often difficult industry.
“Racing is hard,” he says. “It’s expensive and it’s cutthroat. There’s a lot of pressure, and you have to wake up every day and try to be the best.”
That’s not to say that Hedlesky has any regrets, of course.
“Racing has been tremendous for me. I’ve met so many amazing friends and made a great living. I wouldn’t change anything about what I’ve done.”