By Ray Hamill — A move across the country is paying off for Humboldt County’s Daniel Whitley, who is fast making a name for himself in motor sports well beyond the Redwood Curtain.
Whitley, a 20-year-old Ferndale native who is based out of Indianapolis, recorded his first Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series victory last week at the Bushcreek Motorsports Complex in Ohio, and just a few months into his tenure with the Abacus Racing Team he has already exceeded his expectations for 2023.
“It was amazing,” Whitley said of the victory. “It was the best feeling ever. Obviously that’s the goal, and to get out here in my first year and win a national race, it’s amazing and it’s a confidence booster.”
“I was in Santa Rosa and I had a Sprint Car deal going,” Whitley said, before adding with a chuckle, “and they gave me a call on Wednesday, I flew out on Thursday and I raced on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
The quick audition worked out well for Whitley, who immediately impressed team owner Brent Cox and was brought on board full-time.
The recent victory was particularly sweet for Whitley after he lost a late lead in a race at the Atomic Speedway in Ohio just 24 hours earlier, barely falling short in his bid for a first win.
“I was heartbroken,” he admitted. “But at the same time I knew I didn’t want to let it keep me down.”
He didn’t, and he responded in the best way possible the following day.
“I’ve learned a lot from him and being on the road and watching him, and not just him, but my whole crew has been great,” he said. “I have a really great crowd around me.”
That support system includes his grandfather Steve, father Ryan and mother Cheryl, whom Daniel describes as “huge supporters of the whole deal.”
Both Steve and Ryan raced and helped pave the way for Daniel’s start in the sport, which began on the BMX track in Ukiah.
“As soon as I was old enough, my dad bought me a go-kart,” he said.
That was when he was nine, and he would go on to race in the Legends division at the Redwood Acres Raceway for one year at the tender age of 14 — which he described as “awesome” — as well as with the Redwood Outlaw Karts.
This year Whitley is racing in both the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series and the more prestigious USAC, traveling all over the country to race around 25 times.
“It’s the best drivers in the country for what I do,” Whitley said of the USAC. “It’s the top series. I’m competing at the highest level.”
And that, he hopes, is just the start.
“The end goal, obviously, is NASCAR or the Indy Series, but as long as I’m making a living doing what I’m doing, I’m happy,” he said.
Whitley admits that the move to Indianapolis was a shock to the system at first, but that he is enjoying the experience.
“It’s definitely different, to come from Humboldt County where there’s not much traffic,” he said with a chuckle. “But it’s definitely exciting. This is the Mecca of racing.”
After the season ends in November, Whitley says he may travel to compete in Australia for the winter months, something many young drivers do.