After a tough inaugural season in Pro 2, Rob Naughton is making regular appearances at the front. Rob “Fig” Naughton knows frustration. He's experienced the consternation that being a winning racer who all of a sudden finds himself unable to drive onto the podium delivers. It's maddening and hard to understand.
This season, though, the joy of winning has replaced that sinking feeling. In the Flagstaff, Ariz., resident's second year as a Pro 2 Unlimited competitor, he has been a regular on that top step of the podium, including a weekend sweep at Miller Motorsports Park in June. He has still experienced the tough part of racing in 2011, though. He points out the four races after his inaugural Pro 2 victory in Round 2 at Firebird, in which he experienced three flats and a broken ring-and-pinion. But a string of tough races is a far cry from a winless, seemingly futile, season.
“It was more difficult in the sense that we had a new team, a new truck, a new crew, new everything, all while I'm trying to learn the truck and we didn't know much about setup,” Naughton says of last season, his first in Pro 2 and first with Stronghold Motorsports. “I think I had a 10th-place truck and could drive it into the top four or six, but I didn't have the experience to make the truck better. So we brought on one of the best crew chiefs in the business, Dave Clark, and our setup has changed dramatically. It's letting the truck turn, it lets it get bite and get out of the corner. My wins this year are directly attributed to that knowledge and the knowledge of the guys working on the vehicle.”
The frustration of not winning doesn't come to everyone; it manifests itself most to a driver with a winning record, like Naughton had in Pro Lite before he moved to the big trucks.
“I had 20 Pro Lite wins in four years, I had a championship. I expected to come into Pro 2 and run up front, and we didn't. That was extremely discouraging. To come out and get a win in Round 2 this year, that's why I like to do this, why I like to drive racecars. The feeling of winning isn't anything that you can explain. The coolest thing was to give this team and crew a Pro 2 win,” he says.
It's a satisfaction that he and the team are likely to experience several more times this season. Naughton's new teammate, former Supercross star Jeremy McGrath, has joined him on the podium a couple of times, including at Firebird after a heated late race battle. “Since we're teammate, we didn't want to take each other out, so he probably drover me a little cleaner than he might have if I was on a different team,” notes Naughton. “I had the confidence to know I could driev my lines without him taking me out. Anybody else back there might have laid a little more bumper on me than Jeremy would have. That was a good race and it was awesome for the team to have a first and second. We need more of those.” Stronghold's other new driver, 2010 Pro Buggy champ Cameron Steele, just got his first Pro Lite win at Glen Helen.
Like his teammates and much of the Pro 2 field, Naughton is a professional racer. But unlike many, he has a part-time job. It's one that seems a bit incongruous with his other profession.
“I'm a short course off road racer; but I'm also a part-time nurse at Flagstaff Medical Center,” he explains. “It's kind of two different extreme worlds. Here, we're flinging dirt and going to battle, and at the hospital you're taking care of people.
He fell into the nursing profession because, as a professional motocross racer, he had had to do his share of physical therapy, and it interested him as a career. With the physical therapy being a masters program, he sought something useful and applicable as an undergraduate degree, and someone suggested nursing. When his second career as a mountain bike racer took off – he raced for Team Schwinn and won the first gold at the X Games in downhill mountain biking – school was put on the backburner.
Fifteen years later and the form of racing has changed, but not the desire to win. And he's made a second career out of nursing.
“If I'm going to work part time between racing, the nursing allows me to work when I want and how much I want and pays decent enough so that it's nice to supplement my income. It's flexible,” he says.
For fun and fitness, he still mountain bikes – “Right out of our garage in Flagstaff are some of the best mountain biking trails in the country,” he says. He and his family – daughter Isabella races trophy karts and is a downhill ski racer – spend time in Phoenix when they're not in Flagstaff. It all keeps him pretty busy.
“It seems like we're doing some kind of racing every weekend,” he says. “But that's what we do.” Don't forget the winning part, Rob.