The Frontstretch: Beyond the Cockpit: Parker Kligerman on Transitions And Championship Dreams by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Thursday September 27, 2012

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Beyond the Cockpit: Parker Kligerman on Transitions And Championship Dreams

Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday September 27, 2012

 

Parker Kligerman has found himself in a unique situation during his sophomore season in the Camping World Truck Series. After running half of the year with Brad Keselowski Racing, the team he drove for during his rookie campaign, the 22-year-old was released following his seventh-place run at Pocono in August. Less than a week later, he landed at Red Horse Racing behind the wheel of the No. 7 Toyota without missing a race.

Fast forward to today and Kligerman has four top-4 finishes in five events plus a 23rd-place result in a race where he led 10 of 200 laps before a cut tire and the ensuing damage took him out of contention. Kligerman took some time out of his week to talk about how his passion for racing began, his focus on the championship and so much more.

Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: You don’t have the typical family racing background that most drivers do. What sparked that passion and dream for racing?

Parker Kligerman: It’s actually a funny story. One of our partners in racing—SPEED Channel—loves to hear this. I was always into cars when I was younger, and I got to get SPEED when we got cable when I was nine years old. I saw these kids racing on it, and I said ‘hey, I need to be doing that.’ Four years later we were moving towns—my parents knew nothing about racing, being from Connecticut; just no family background in it. We went and looked at go karts when I was 12 years old as a birthday, Christmas and a gift for saying ‘don’t freak out, we’re moving towns.’ They ended up getting me a go kart and there happened to be a karting association in a parking lot by a beach in the town over, and I started racing there.

Lunkenheimer What’s the biggest change you’ve made in your life in pursuit of your racing career?

Kligerman: Woah, that’s a deep question. I’m a professional athlete and as someone who aspires to be at the highest level of any sport, you have to make sacrifices. There’s no doubt—you can’t be everything. You can’t just be that normal kid that makes mistakes growing up. You’ve got to be almost perfect. I think one of the biggest things I’ve done is I’ve tried to not let my life just become about racing. I went to public high school as I was growing up and racing. I’ve made sure to live almost a double life, but as I’ve gotten older and gotten to the professional ranks here in NASCAR, I’ve found that it has become everything. It has to be. I think the sacrifices you make are that you maybe miss out on some of the things your friends are doing and socializing. But at the end of the day, if you care of this enough and it’s what you really want, it should pay off in success.

Lunkenheimer You confidently posted on Twitter after your release from Brad Keselowski Racing that everything would work out. Was the deal with Red Horse Racing already in the works?

Kligerman: No, not at all. I actually had no idea it would all work out. I just have a saying that I’ve lived by my whole life and that’s ‘it will all work out—always has, always will.’ We actually started that Monday morning calling teams. I made a call or two that Sunday after the race just to talk to some people and make sure there were some things out there and found out that there were. Then, Monday morning, I called probably 12 teams, and as teams got hot and cold, we chased different avenues and the best avenue was here at Red Horse Racing. I’m just thankful for the opportunity, thankful for Tom DeLoach believing in me and the whole team. So far, so good; I’ve been excited to be a part of it.

Lunkenheimer Obviously you haven’t skipped a beat and in fact, have improved quite tremendously in just a few races. What has been the toughest part of transitioning between teams in the middle of the season.

Kligerman: There really hasn’t been. I feel like in a lot of ways my life is a little easier. This is a very professional race team, the equipment is very up to par compared to most of the series, and with the Joe Gibbs Racing motors, it compounds in the quality Red Horse Racing equipment. In a lot of ways, I’m a happier person. I like the situation I’m in and I like the race team I’m at. And when I look back, as we weren’t gaining success and the pressure was on over there in terms of what people thought we should be doing, but what the reality was of what we were doing with what we had, I feel like I’m in a much happier situation. I’m at a place that believes in me, I believe in them, and that’s all that you can hope for.

Lunkenheimer Last year during your rookie season, you were pegged as a driver that would win that year. I know you’ve led a lot of laps and had a lot of fast trucks with a little heartbreak peppered in. What’s it going to take to put just a little more edge on and break through to victory lane?

Kligerman: Honestly, I think we’ve done all that we can do. We’ve led the most laps in races, we’ve been fast, we have the speed. We’ve been in position to win—it’s just about executing. When we get to that position where we have a shot to win—like the other night at Kentucky, I made the mistake of spinning out racing for third, and that probably was our race right there. That was our race to win and we gave it away from there. So just stop making those mistakes, putting a whole race together and executing will hopefully get us to victory lane. Hopefully we can accomplish that this weekend in Vegas because that would be a great place for a first win.

Lunkenheimer How much of a help has it been to not only have teammates but a veteran in Todd Bodine on your side?

Kligerman: Well, Todd has been a friend of mine and almost a mentor of mine for about a year now. Halfway through last year, he and I became friends. He was someone I could go to for advice since I was going through some struggles in my rookie season in the Truck Series. Our relationship great from there, and when things went down with BKR, he was one of the first people I called. He was one of the people that put me in contact with Tom DeLoach and I can’t thank him enough for that. Now that we are teammates, he continues to help me. Hopefully I’ve been able to help him and repay some of that back to him, but he’s definitely someone I can lean on for advice in a lot of ways and someone that allows me to see the bigger picture in ways I can’t see since he’s been there and done it all.

Lunkenheimer What do you attribute your success at RHR to? Is it teammates, equipment, confidence, something else?

Kligerman: It’s the typical answer but you can’t pinpoint one thing. There’s a tremendous amount of resources here at Red Horse Racing. Toyota and TRD put a tremendous amount of support into the team. Tom DeLoach is a hands-on owner and is really there day to day. All of those things combined with great people and putting the right people in the right places, you develop great equipment. And from there you go to the race track with all of those great people, and that’s the pieces of the puzzle that come together to create those great runs you see week in and week out. Hopefully they create this championship that we’re fighting for.

Lunkenheimer Speaking of the championship, you’re only 30 points out. What will be the key to remaining in that battle besides the obvious of winning races?

Kligerman: Well, we’ve pretty much done it all. And you know the most depressing part is that if we’d just won at Iowa where we led the most laps, we’d be no more than ten points out of the lead. There are ways to look at it like that, but we look forward. Looking forward, we’re 30 points out, there’s six races to go, and in essence we need about five points per race. And if you look at the 31 (James Buescher) last week, he had five points on second place. In my opinion, it’s a bonus points situation. It’s about going out, leading laps and winning races, and if we do that the points will take care of themselves. Hopefully we can put some pressure on these guys in front of us and go out there an come out on top at Homestead.

Lunkenheimer Have you started thinking 2013 yet? What are your plans for next year?

Kligerman: We’ll see. Right now my focus is primarily on this championship. I want it so bad. I promised a lot of people in my life at the beginning of the season no matter what, I will find a way to win this championship. I know one thing—there may be a couple guys in front of us and the odds may be stacked against us, but you will not outwork us at this Red Horse Racing No. 7 team. You will not outwork me. I’m determined to get this thing and if I go get this championship, I think everything will work out for 2013.

Lunkenheimer NASCAR just released the 2013 Sprint Cup schedule. What’s the one thing you would change about the Truck Series schedule?

Kligerman: I think a lot of the things I would change you’re going to see next year from what I hear. Adding two road courses would be a big thing for me. I think that’s a given. I don’t’ see any reason we shouldn’t—road course racing should be a larger part of NASCAR. I think it’s the way to diversify our schedule and add a diversification to our race car drivers, making us the best drivers in the world because we race on every type of track for a championship. Actually, adding the short tracks they’ve talked about will help the series get back to its roots and hopefully bring back some of the fan support you saw in the early years of the rough and tumble short track truck racing.

With that said about the road courses, I really like the idea of going to Canada. It’s a very large, untapped market for NASCAR in general, and it’s only going to make sense in the years to come to expand into Canada and broaden our reach over there as we try to increase our fan base and grow our sport internationally.

Lunkenheimer Speaking of short tracks, what are your thoughts on the possibility of short tracks without SAFER barriers on next year’s schedule?

Kligerman: I might make a lot of people mad with this, but I really don’t care. I’ve hit the concrete walls and I’ve hit the SAFER barriers, and yes the SAFER barrier is a lot nice and yes it’s a lot safer. But in essence, when racing started, it was dangerous and it’s always going to be dangerous. At the end of the day, we’ve made such improvements to our race cars and all of the safety enhancements around the driver and in the cockpit that a lot of the track stuff, especially at the short track level, I don’t think you’ll be put in a position that you really worry about the safety of the race car drivers. As I said, it will be dangerous but I think that’s something that’s an element of racing that you have to accept. We all accept it when we strap in and hopefully those things that we worry about don’t happen.

Parker Kligerman is much more at ease at his new home with Red Horse Racing. Now if he can just get some wins to go along with those pole awards, he could have a shot at getting back into the title fight.

Lunkenheimer Moving away from NASCAR a bit, let’s talk stick and ball sports. What do you think it will take for your New York Yankees to grab their division over the Orioles, who have put up a heck of a fight over the last month or so?

Kligerman: I have absolutely no idea; I’m the wrong person to ask. My brother is the largest Yankee fan in the world, I’m convinced. He listens to Yankee talk radio every morning and every hour in his car, and I think it’s some of the most boring radio in the world. That said, I am a fan, I do watch some of the games—as many as I can keep up with because there are a lot—and I will say I understand about ten percent of the game. I do understand that if you score more points, you win the game. I couldn’t tell you one thing they should be doing, but I believe if they score more points and win more games, they’ll figure that all out.

Lunkenheimer Moving over to football, I’m aware you’re a New York Giants fan, but more importantly what do you think about these officials so far this year?

Kligerman: I do know more about football, I will say that. I’m a larger Giants fan than I am a Yankee’s fan. I think the official situation is really an interesting topic. In a lot of ways, I think the NFL is trying to prove that they are larger in many ways than what makes them who they are, which is the officiating and the teams. In doing so, they were proven wrong. It’s going to take a lot for them to admit they were wrong, it’s going to take a lot for them to fix the situation and there’s going to be a lot of public backlash. At the end of the day, if they prove that they care more about the sport than their own ego, they’ll fix this as soon as possible and provide what the fan base wants, and that’s getting the refs back to those that have officiated for the last several years.

Lunkenheimer One last question before we wrap this up: what’s the craziest request you’ve had from a fan?

Kligerman: At Iowa after I won the pole, one of my biggest Twitter fans wrote her number on my hand and asked me to text or call her. The number rubbed off but I’ll say that’s one of the craziest things I’ve experienced. I didn’t quite know what they were writing on my hand while I was signing autographs until I looked down and saw it was a number. That was one of the craziest things so far, and I bet it’ll only get crazier as I move up the ranks. I love that, I love the support. Hopefully if gets crazier because there’s no way to be to fanatical about sports, and in a lot of ways I love to see the fanaticism because that’s what we do it for.

Connect with Parker Kligerman!

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer

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Michael in SoCal
09/27/2012 12:04 PM
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Interesting take on the tracks without SAFER barriers. I think that if Nascar is going to put races at tracks currently without SAFER barriers, Nascar should front the money for SAFER barriers to the tracks, to be paid back over a set number of years as part of the sanctioning fee (which needs to come down for the lower tier series). Give the tracks one year to not have them (I don’t think many of the tracks would be able to get the SAFER barriers installed in time for a 2013 race), but require them for all races in 2014 & beyond.

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