The Frontstretch: Beyond the Cockpit: Timmy Hill on Learning, Setting Goals, and Favorite Things by Amy Henderson -- Wednesday November 13, 2013

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Timmy Hill might not be as recognizable as his fellow Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year candidates, but he’s working on it. Hill, who just turned 20 years old in February 2103, has been racing since he was just eleven years old. Driving a part-time schedule for FAS Lane Racing this season, Hill has begun to make a name for himself in the Cup ranks, but it’s not easy. Lack of funding for the team means making do with less, and the team they’re looking for small gains rather than large victories. Hill is working hard to improve his driving skills, often driving for hours when he’s not scheduled to be in the driver’s seat of the No. 32 just to watch and learn from one of the veterans who have been his teammates this year. Hill sat down with Amy Henderson in Martinsville to talk about rising through the ranks, the everyday struggles of a small team, his NASCAR hero, and much more.

Amy Henderson, Start off telling us about your background and where you got your start.

Timmy Hill, who drives part-time for FAS Lane Racing, got his start at a go-kart track in Maryland.

Timmy Hill: I started racing at 11 years old. I grew up in Maryland. My local go-kart track where I started off in is in King George, Virginia. It’s called King George Speedway. We ran those for a couple of years, and I won a lot of races and had a great time. Then I wanted to progress, so we got some bandolero cars. We traveled to Charlotte and raced on the quarter mile at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Summer Shootout series. We travelled there because there was more competiton, more cars, and I learned tor ace better. Then from there, I moved to Legends cars and had a great time there, also racing at the quarter-mile in Charlotte. After that, I had a lot of fun and a lot of my learning in the Allison Legacy Series. That’s the series that Bobby and Donnie Allison have. It’s a four-cylinder race car, about a three-quarter size stock car, and they race at half-mile tracks all up and down the East Coast. That series is a touring series, so I was able to go to different race tracks and learn to adapt to different race tracks and then have a race there the same day. I feel like that helped me as far as learning new race tracks and having to learn them quick, to be able to run good. From there, I ran some ARCA and some K&N Series races before moving to the Nationwide Series. Ir an in the Nationwide Series for two years before running come Cup with Frankie.

Henderson: You’re a Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year and the youngest ever, correct?

Hill: Yes. In 2011, I drove for Rick Ware Racing in the 15 car and we had a great year. I had a great battle with Blake Koch and I beat him by one point. I was the youngest to win ROTY at age 18, and I tell you, it couldn’t have been any more exciting than that.

Henderson: What attracted you to FAS Lane and what do you like about being with the team?

Hill: I really wanted to be in the Cup Series after running Nationwide. I felt like this was the place to be. Rick Ware has always treated me good; actually this weekend, I’m running his truck. He gave me my first Cup start. Our original plan was to run last year with Rick Ware and try to build a brand-new race team and get locked into the (top 35 in) points. Mike allace started the year off in the Daytona 500, and we didn’t make the show. We had a spark plug wire go bad, and we just couldn’t make the show. From there, Rick put me in the car, and we qualified in on time for our first race in Las Vegas. 40 laps in, we blew a tire and wrecked the car. That really put us in a big hole points-wise, and we couldn’t ever get locked back in. Financially, we decided the best thing for is, instead of digging a bigger hole, was to go back to Nationwide.

At the same time, I still had a Cup license, and I still wanted to run in Cup, so I kept putting resumes out. Joe Nemechek let me run his Cup car at Talladega. It was just a start and park deal, but I wanted to run in Cup and get used to the Cup cars and see what the differences were. At Talladega where I was doing that Cup deal was where I met Frankie and we ended up racing for him in Charlotte. Charlotte was where I had my first full race, so to speak. But we blew an engine halfway through the race, so I still hadn’t completed my first Cup race yet. I wanted to complete every single lap. We had a great run going, top 25 all race long. That’s also where I met Bob reed from US Chrome, and he still supports me to this day. When we went to the next race in Kansas, I finally got to race a full Cup race. We finished 22nd on the lead lap, and from there we just worked with it. We ran another Cup race at Phoenix, and worked this deal out for this season. That’s how we got started.

Henderson: What have you learned from being able to be teammates with Terry Labonte and Ken Schrader? Has that been big for you?

Hill: It’s been huge! Terry and Kenny both, they’ve been in the sport for a long time. This weekend is a good example. I’ve never been to this plave before in my live. I’m running the truck race here, and I get to bounce ideas off of Kenny. He’s been here a ton and runs really good here and at the short tracks. I can ask him any kind of question as far as where to brake, where to gas up, how the track changes throughout a race. This track is tight with not a lot of room to go if you wreck, so I asked him “what should I do? Should I stop, should I try to avoid it?” He can answer any kind of question I want to ask, so it’s been a big help.

Henderson: Do you travel with the team to the races you aren’t running?

Hill: Yes. I go with the team for the most part everywhere. I go with them everywhere that I can drive. My driving distance is about 11 hours that I’ll drive to a race, so for the most part, I’ve only missed two or three this season, like Sonoma. I try to learn all I can and be involved. I want to learn about the cars and just be around it.

Henderson: Talk about working with Frank—he’s been in the sport a long time as well.

Hill: He’s been with a lot of veterans, a lot of good drivers. He knows what he wants to get out of these cars. He’s been patient with me and helped me as a driver a lot. He can point things out and he’s been a great mentor.

Henderson: What are the challenges of coming up through the sport with a smaller team?

Hill: It makes it more challenging, but I feel like it makes you work harder as a driver and as a team. As a team, these guys are great mechanics. They know what they’re doing, but we all know the curveballt hat we’ve been thrown. It just makes us work harder. I have to drive the cars aharder, and we have to work harder to try and get more speed out of it. It’s just a fact of life.

Henderson: Sometimes people don’t realize that you’re here with a few guys but you have to do all the work that a team with a hundred guys does.

Hill: These are the same guys who work on the shop and go on the road. They do it all. They’re definitely multitaskers and they do multiple jobs.

Henderson: As you’ve come up through the ranks, what’s the biggest lesson you have learned or the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Hill: As I’ve been progressing through the ranks, the races have gotten longer and longer. Patience and being there at the end of the races is what I’ve really learned. Growing up, go-kart races are short—15 to 20 laps—you just have to be aggressive every single lap of the race. In the Cup Series, you get a lot of 400 and 500-mile races. You see guys wreck out on lap 10, lap 15, lap 20 and that’s no good. Patience, being there at the end, and working on the racecar are the things I’ve learned.

Henderson: As a young driver, who do you look up to in the sport?

Hill: I’m not that old, so when I tell people who my hero was growing up, it’s funny, but I looked up to Carl Edwards. When my dad ran in the Truck Series, he knew Carl back when he was driving lower-tier equipment as well, and they were always kind to each other. So as his son, I looked up to Carl because he was nice to my father. From there, I’ve always taken a liking to Carl. He’s great with people, he does a great job driving—he’s great at everything, really, and he’s someone that I’ve always looked up to. Now that I’m in the Cup Series, I’m able to talk with him and understand him a lot more, and as a hero growing up, he’s still my hero today because he’s still the person I thought he was. Being in the garage, you meet more of the drivers, learn more personalities, and a lot of these guys are really great to me. Mark Martin is another one. Growing up, I didn’t know much about him, but now, being in the Cup races, he’s been great to me. For the most part, they’ve all been really good to me.

Henderson: Who are you friends with in the garage?

Hill: Off the track, I don’t hang out with a lot of guys. We all have things to do, and we don’t really have a lot of time. When I am home, I mostly hang out with my brother and my girlfriend, just a lot of family.

Henderson: How do you set goals as you go along? How do you determine the next step as team and driver?

Hill: All year long, I’ve been telling Frank he has a great team going here. As a driver, I’d eventually like to run the full season. We’d really like to build this program. I really believe it could be something great. Like we talked about before, funding is the big key. The more we work at it, hopefully the more we’ll have sponsors who want to partner up and work with us, and we can build more and more of a better race team. From there, the finishes will become better, I’ll become a better driver with more races under my belt and we’ll just become a better operation.

Henderson: In terms of races, a lot of people don’t realize that for a small team like yours, finishing on the lead lap is huge, finishing in the top 25 is huge. You’ve had some really solid finishes this year.

Hill: The average race fan sometimes might not understand the difference between a Hendrick car and a FAS Lane Racing car. It’s a big difference. We know the curveball, and it makes us work harder. We know as a team that we’re giving all our effort out when we have good days like lead-lap finishes, top-25 finishes. I’ve been able to run well enough to be Rookie of the Race a couple times this season, which was a big goal of ours. We wanted to get a couple of them; it’s tough running against Ricky and Danica with the equipment they’re given. I’d say the goals we had this year were to not tear the cars up, to have some solid runs, get a couple rookie of the races…I’d say we’ve done a good job this year.

Henderson: Looking ahead to 2014, do you have plans yet?

Hill: Not yet. We’re really trying to work on it. It’s getting to be that time of the year where final plans are being laid out. We’re still working towards that. 2014 is close, but it’s still really far away for us, and we’re still working on it.

Henderson: What about your fans? Have you had any strange requests as you become more recognizable?

Hill: I haven’t been thrown too many curveballs yet. I have a lot of loyal fans, a lot of hometown folks who support me. I appreciate everybody. The Cup Series has helped introduce me to more people. I get a lot of pictures, a lot of autograph cards. The coolest thing is when people make the cool diecasts. It’s cool seeing your car as an actual smaller diecast toy. Growing up, I loved diecast cars, so it really excites me when I get to see my own car as a diecast.

Henderson: Tell a little about yourself off the track. You said you enjoy hanging out with your family—what else do you enjoy doing?

Hill: Just this past winter—as a driver, the winters are kind of time off for us—I went to flight school and became a pilot. I completed it just a couple months ago. It’s been a big passion for me. My dad was a pilot. I had the time and I really wanted to do it. The winter gave me a lot of time to go to school and learn how to fly. I’m very happy I got to complete that and get my pilot’s license. Six or seven times this year, I’ve flown to the races with my dad, so it’s been a blast.

Henderson: What are some other favorites—food, movies, TV, etc.?

Hill: A lot of people make fun of me for this, but I’m a huge cheeseburger guy. We’ll go to a nice steak place, and I’m always getting a cheeseburger. Cheeseburger and French fries—I want the cheese only on the burger. As far as movies, I like comedies. Our plan for tonight after the race is to go see Bad Grandpa. I’m a big movie guy. Here and there people will recognize me, but for the most part, we can all go out to see a movie, and I don’t mind talking a little racing as well. It’s all part of the fun.

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Contact Amy Henderson

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