Sunday, November 9, 2014

What Does Chase Elliott's Championship Mean for NASCAR?

           Chase Elliott is proving to the NASCAR world that he and other drivers his age are ready to be competitive with veterans in NASCAR’s national touring series. Chase Elliott clenched the Nationwide Series championship this weekend – another step in his climb to the Sprint Cup Series. And so many drivers his age are right behind him as they are at different stages of breaking into the three national series-Ben Rhodes, Darrell Wallace Jr, Ryan Blaney, Cameron Hayley, Cole Custer, Erik Jones, Jeb Burton, Kenzie Ruston, Gray Gaulding, and John Hunter Nemechek – just to name a few.  Drivers that were once the young guns in NASCAR – Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards – are now the veterans in the sport. Chase’s championship shows the NASCAR world that this new crop of drivers is ready to compete with veterans.

            This youth movement isn’t coming - it’s here. The truck series race at Phoenix is proof of this transformation as over 15 of the drivers in the race were 22 years old or younger. In Nationwide and Sprint Cup, the number of youth drivers trying to make a name for themselves is growing – Dylan Kwasneski, Kyle Larson, Ryan Reed, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, and Ty Dillon. In the coming years, these are going to be the names you hear every weekend competing for wins. They are going to be the names that are setting records and winning championships.

            Chase’s championship isn’t only good for these drivers, but it’s good for the fans too. Most people look around at a NASCAR race and think that there are a lot of fans at the track. When I look around, I see plenty of adult fan, but not enough teenage fans. How do we get younger fans interested in NASCAR? It’s a question with no simple solution – but fresh, young competitors will help. Veteran fans are re-energized by the presence of the younger drivers.  Younger fans like to see racers they can relate to and inspire them to keep chasing their dreams, whatever they may be.With this new crop of drivers, comes a new crop of fans just like them – young and energetic.

            Chase Elliott is the youngest NASCAR national series champion ever. His last name was already legendary, but Chase is going to create his own legend. Some of the young drivers breaking into NASCAR may not have well-known names yet, but someday they will. NASCAR veterans look out…the future of our sport is here.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

NASCAR Next: Gray Gaulding

            He’s not old enough for a driver’s license, but he has already proven himself on some of NASCAR’s premier tracks. 15 year old NASCAR Next driver, Gray Gaulding, started his racing career competing on dirt bikes when he was just 3 years old. When Gaulding was 9, his family (Mom, dad, and two sisters- McCall and Kennedy) moved to North Carolina to allow him to chase his racing dreams. Gray recognizes he wouldn’t be where he is today without their support and says he “can’t even explain how much they’ve sacrificed for me to become a race car driver.” The next phase of his racing career included racing Bandelaro and legend cars before moving to late models in 2011 as a developmental drive for Kevin Harvick, Inc. In 2013, Gaulding competed in 19 K&N Pro series (East and West) races and won the West series finale in Phoenix, making him the youngest driver to win a race in the series. This year he will run a full K&N East schedule for NTS Motorsports in the #20 Krispy Kreme/TruMoo Milk Toyota as well as make his debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. 
            I recently had the opportunity to interview Gray at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Gray is looking forward to all of the opportunities he will have in what promises to be an exciting 2014 season. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ll be able to do a lot of learning.” Gray sees his biggest challengeas learning to drive the tracks he will visit for the first time this year. He describes his driving style as “driving every lap like it’s my last.” He also credits his crew chief and crew members with helping him achieve the balance between being overly aggressive and being on edge enough to know what his car needs to contend for the win. 
            Gray has to achieve balance in his racecar just like other drivers, but he also has an additional challenge-balancing high school and his racing career. Having to live in both worlds is another way for Gray to connect with fans of our generation since many of us balance school with passions such as sports and activities. Gray is completing his high school career with a combination of virtual and traditional classes. “I do my virtual program when I’m on the road, but I go to school when I’m home during the week.”Gray admits, “it gets hard sometimes trying to do appearances and balance school work” but he makes it work because “racing is [his] dream.”
            Since Gray’s life is not a “normal” teenager’s life, he thinks people might be surprised to know that he likes “to hang out and be a typical 15 year old.” He loves to stay fit by playing basketball and working out. Gray is consistently in the gym whether at home or on the road because he recognizes that training not only enhances his performance in the car but that it is also “just good to be healthy.” While he knows it’s just as important to eat healthy as it is to stay active, sometimes Gray treats himself to an oatmeal raisin cookie, frosted MiniWheats, or a burger from In-N-Out! 
Those who already follow Gray’s racing career won’t be shocked to learn that his go-to snack is courtesy of his sponsors- a Krispy Kreme doughnut with a glass of TruMoo Chocolate Milk! And just like most every other teenager he likes social media, games on his phone (“If I have free time, you will catch me playing [Hill Climb].”), listening to music (rock and rap), watching TV (preferably Race Hub as it is his “all time favorite!”), and sports (“I’m a huge Dallas Cowboy fan!”)! Like many boys his age, he looks forward to the day he can finally get his driver’s license! But unlike many boys his age, he already owns a dream car- an ISF Lexus given to him by Toyota as a perk of being a Toyota driver! Gray hopes that one day his garage holds a Camaro and a Lamborghini!

Follow Gray’s career on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cheer the 3

Cheer the 3. What does it mean to you?  For many in my dad’s generation the 3 is Dale Earnhardt. For my generation the 3 is Dale Earnhardt…AND Austin Dillon. How the next generation answers that question is yet to be determined, but Richard Childress’ decision to put the 3 back on the track insures that Dale Earnhardt’s legacy will be remembered by NASCAR fans for years. 

For many fans, the 3 car was what brought them into NASCAR and made them fall in love with the sport. The same is true for me.   My dad was, and still is, a loyal Earnhardt fan.   He was in the stands when Dale Earnhardt finally won the 1998 Daytona 500.   And when Earnhardt died, I have been told it was like a family member had died. Although I was only two years old in 2001 and do not remember watching Dale Earnhardt race, I have come to understand why people feel such an attachment to the number since I have been a fan of NASCAR for my whole life.   I know that the sport I love would not be what it is today without Dale Earnhardt.   

The 3 was Dale Earnhardt’s coat of arms.  And before him, it was Richard Childress’.  Now it is being passed down to Austin Dillon. He will create his own legacy in the car and also pay tribute to Dale Earnhardt while doing so. Racing the 3 is a way to honor Dale Earnhardt, not a way to replace him.   Austin Dillon driving the 3 car is a thread to connect the past, present, and future of NASCAR.  How will future generations know of the legacy if we keep the number’s story off the track?  Every time the 3 rolls through Turn 4 of Daytona International Speedway in February, everyone’s minds will turn to Dale Earnhardt.  

My generation knows the legacy of the Earnhardt 3 because we learned it from our parents and from watching and reading about NASCAR.   It is my generation’s responsibility to pass down the history of the sport to future generations.  Some day when we are watching a race with our kids and they wonder why we get emotional when Austin Dillon’s 3 takes the checkered flag, we’ll tell them the story of Dale Earnhardt.