Perhaps it’s an unorthodox route to NASCAR’s premier series, but 22-year-old Thad Moffitt is betting his time competing in the SCCA Trans Am Series may be just the right education for his greater career racing goals.
And his grandfather, NASCAR’s seven-time champion and American racing icon Richard Petty literally gave him the green flag to pursue this alternative route to stock car’s big time. Petty served as the grand marshal for the Trans Am season-opener at historic Sebring International Raceway in February, spending time trackside with his grandson Moffitt who is a rookie in the highly-competitive Trans Am 2 class.
It's a different racing path for the legendary family, but one that both Moffitt and his grandfather are excited about.
“He came to Sebring and said, ‘Man, that was fun, this was different,’ “Moffitt said of Petty. “He was the grand marshal for the TA2 (Trans Am 2 class) race and spoke about how different it was and what a cool experience it was for him because he’d never really been around that. He really enjoyed it.
“And I can say as far as the series itself, it’s just run really well. For me, everything I’ve ever done was high pressure in the NASCAR stuff and this [Trans Am] isn’t. It’s been really laidback, relaxed and I’ve gotten the chance to learn a lot more without the pressure.
“I feel like it’s been really good for me to kind of work on all the aspects of my racing in general. Racing is racing, but it’s been good for me to learn.”
Moffitt, who is the son of Petty’s youngest daughter Rebecca and longtime racing executive Brian Moffitt, competed in a handful of NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races last season with a best finish of 18th at the Daytona International Speedway 2022 season-opener. Prior to that he competed in 45 ARCA Menards Series races over a span of six seasons with a best finish of third place – twice (at Phoenix and Mid-Ohio).
The hope is for Moffitt to return to the NASCAR ranks one day. This opportunity to drive the famed Petty blue No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro for the Scott Lagasse Racing team in Trans Am just made sense on many levels.
“Being part of the Petty family, every decision we make is a family decision,” Moffitt explained of his career path. “We bounce it off one another. We talked about it last season with our few truck races and it just wasn’t a good situation for me.”
Getting track time in a super competitive Trans Am field, driving for an established and successful team such as Lagasse’s seemed like the perfect re-set.
Both Scott Lagasse - senior and junior – are winning road racers and have NASCAR experience. And the idea of operating in a family operation is something Moffitt knows well.
“I think just working with them in general feels quite at home for me because they are really family-based, family-oriented but similar to my grandpa, they tell me when I mess up,” Moffitt said. “They’re not afraid to give me constructive criticism, which is good for me. Every driver needs something a little different and I think for me, that’s something really good.
“All the stuff I’ve had the opportunity to learn – both of them did some NASCAR stuff – they’re not just road racers. They are racers in general and will race anything with four wheels and a motor. Just working with them and the family aspect and the way they run their team, they’ve been a joy to work with.”
So far the Trans Am Series has been just the right training ground for Moffitt, who is getting invaluable experience on some of the country’s most high-profile road courses in cars similar to what he hopes to drive again someday soon in the NASCAR ranks.
“I think it’s a good for horsepower-to-weight ratio for the car,” Moffitt said. “And the way it drives and the places we’re running, I think it’s just a good overall series if you’re looking to go into NASCAR. We run Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, we run places NASCAR is running so it’s a really good tool.
“And, these guys are no joke,” Moffitt said of his competition.
That makes race weekends like he had at Detroit two weeks ago, even more triumphant. And significant. Moffitt earned his first podium finish – runner-up - in the second half of the Detroit double-header weekend.
“It was awesome to finish second in Detroit,” Moffitt said. “It finally gave us the finish we felt like we deserved. We’ve been fast and I feel that we’re only going to be better throughout the summer. Our goal is to win a race and get back higher in the points.
“Hopefully, Detroit was the start of some better finishes for us.”
The series returns to competition this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course and coming off that podium effort, Moffitt is energized. The chance to compete against talented drivers in a highly-regarded, decades-old series like Trans Am has turned out to be the right fit for Moffitt, who has the racing pedigree and is gaining valuable experience against a talent-filled grid each race. And on some level – he gets the opportunity to learn without unrealistic expectations based entirely on a famous family name.
“I feel like, with the colors on the car people do put it together,” Moffitt said of people not automatically associating him with the Petty family, adding with a laugh, “A lot of times I’ll get the question, do you drive for the Pettys? And I say, I am a Petty.”
It’s something Moffitt is understandably proud of. And vice versa.
“I’ve had so much fun this year racing with these guys,” Moffitt said. “I was the new guy on the block and you never would have known it. They treated me like I was right at home. Working with them has been a great opportunity for me.
“For right now, our focus is winning this Trans Am championship and doing the best we can there, winning races and keep doing what we’re doing – put together good finishes even on our bad days. That’s our main priority right now.”
-Photo: Thad Moffitt Twitter