NASCAR Driver Q & A · Mike Neff · Wednesday May 9, 2012
John King may have only won three feature races in his career, but he’s far from a newbie to racing. He began racing at the age of 15 and has run Late Models on asphalt and dirt. After making some NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts on his own, King made the jump to Red Horse racing for 2012 and proceeded to win the first race of the season at Daytona. King is sitting eighth in points as the series heads to Charlotte for their next race. He’ll be running the Consul Energy No. 7 Toyota for Red Horse Racing and attempting to win the Rookie of the Year, not to mention more races before the season ends. King knows how to work on his own cars, but the guys on his crew don’t let him touch them too much. King sat down with Mike Neff to discuss all that and more.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch.com: You’re the winner of the Truck race at Daytona this year. That is just the third feature win of your career right?
John King: Yes, third feature win.
Neff: Where are you originally from?
King:I’m originally from Kingsport, TN. The past little bit I’ve been living in an area called Fort Blackmore, which isn’t far from Kingsport. That’s where I claim to be from now. Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia.
Neff: Did you go to the UARA race in Kingsport last weekend?
King: No I didn’t. I was in town but I had some other stuff going on and couldn’t make it out.
Neff: You are a graduate of the UARA series. There are a few of them who are making the rounds in the national touring series of NASCAR. You also have some dirt background. Tell us a little about not only running asphalt but running dirt on the way up.
King: My dad has been friends with Bill Elliott for a long time, probably thirty-some years. I showed an interest in racing and my dad has always been involved in racing. 20-some years ago he owned a Late Model Stock that a lot of guys drove. John A drove it, John A. Utsman, Scott Bloomquist was in it at one time and won some races, Johnny Rumley, so he’s always been involved in racing. Bill would come to town for Ford stuff at some of the local dealerships and dad got to be buddies with him and they really hit it off. When I was 13 years old, my dad was sponsoring a guy named Rick Norris down at Bull’s Gap, Volunteer Speedway, local guy who ran Super Late Models on dirt. At that time I took a big interest in it. I was just wanting a four cylinder to race, anything, it didn’t matter. I grew up driving stuff on the farm, heavy equipment, farm trucks pulling trailers full of hay and stuff. At that time he felt like I was a little bit young and that was the time when a lot of young guys were really getting into racing. You were starting to see 13 and 14 year olds at the short tracks in Late Models and such.
When I was 15, I started working for Rick on his car. I’d get out of school and be there in Colonial Heights until 11 o’clock at night, drive home an hour and ten minutes. So I really caught the bug of it then, going to work on race cars and play, pretty much. He had an old Late Model in his basement, and we got it, and that was when the Crate Late Models were first getting started. So we bought a crate motor and started logging laps. I raced my first race when I was 16. We ran a couple years of Crate Late Models.
In 2008, we were coming back through Georgia and we stopped in to see Bill. We hadn’t seen him in a while so we stopped in and he said ‘What are you doing next year?’ This was actually at the end of 2007. I said probably about the same thing I’m doing this year, running around racing. We were traveling all around running 40-some races a year, just a couple of us. He said ‘Why don’t you move to Georgia?’. I thought, ‘and do what?’. He said ‘I’m starting this driver development deal and you can move down here and race out of my shop’. We kind of himhawed around about it and dad called him on the way home and said ‘Are you serious, because you’ve done told him about it. He’s all worked up now’. So we did. I packed up and moved to Georgia and raced Super Late Models on dirt all of 2008. That was my first year in Supers. We got to where we were running pretty good. We didn’t win a lot of races but we traveled around all of the time. We got to where we could go somewhere and be a top-5 car, pretty competitive. I really learned a lot that way, transitioning to different tracks and stuff and how to set the cars up. At the end of ’08 I ran a couple of asphalt races. A two race night at Coeburn, Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Virginia, then we hauled off and went to Myrtle Beach. We didn’t make the feature race but we had a pretty good learning experience there.
In 2009 we ran nothing but asphalt, Late Model Stocks. Did the UARA, Coeburn and Motor Mile. 2010 we ran more asphalt Late Model Stock and then started in the Truck Series. Ran Bristol, Loudon, Martinsville, and Miami (Homestead). 2011 did the same thing. Ran three more truck races and a lot of Late Model Stock races, so that’s where we’ve been.
Neff: There is always that debate when guys go racing. Do you focus on a single track and running for a championship or do you travel around? Do you think it is better traveling around and learning how to adapt to different tracks or is it better to win more and get a championship to prove you’re a winner?
King: I think it depends. If you start young enough, there is enough time to do that. If you want to take a year off and run at Caraway or Motor Mile or wherever and try and get a championship is one thing. I started late. I didn’t start driving until I was 15, didn’t race until I was 16, that was my first race. We just felt it was best to hit the road. We traveled from Ohio to Florida to Alabama and everywhere in-between. I counted up like 30 different dirt tracks that we raced at. A lot of times it was just me and one other guy or me and two other guys. We’d hit the road. In a sense I was crew chief, hauler driver and, y’know, we had a blast. It was hard, a lot of work, seven days a week, non-stop, just a couple of us. We learned a lot.
Neff: Do you think having that experience of working so much on your cars then helps you communicate with your team now, even though they’re different vehicles, to help make your truck better?
King: There is no doubt, you have to know these things. You have to know what is going on, what you’re feeling, what the changes are going to do, to give the correct input. You might make the changes and you might not feel something or you might feel the opposite of what you anticipated. You really need to know what is going on so you can give that input back.
Neff: Now away from the track what do you like to do? Do you hunt, fish, DJ?
King: I don’t know about DJ’ing. I do pretty good on my iPod but it is strictly country. I’m just a country boy from up there. I grew up on a farm putting up hay every year, cows, horses, the whole deal. When I’m home I’m working on the farm, or fishing, or hunting, do a lot of coyote hunting and do a lot of 4-wheeling. There is a lot to do out there.
Neff: Do you have pets?
King: We’ve got dogs running around everywhere, we’ve got horses and the cattle. My sister has a couple cats running around the barn, just mousers. I’ve got a really good yellow lab, my sister has a black lab and we’ve got a cattle dog we just got, he’s young.
Neff: How did this Red Horse deal come about?
King: We had a really tough year last year. We couldn’t finish a race whether it was Truck or Late Model, without having some kind of problem. If we didn’t get in a wreck with somebody else’s mess we’d have a part failure, blow a motor, trash a shock or bend a shaft or something. At the end of last year I was kind of down on it all, trying to figure out what I was going to do. Dad and I sat down and kind of talked and thought we had to make something happen. So we sat back and looked at our best bet at making a good run at it and Red Horse really stands out. Everybody here has a lot of credentials. Everybody here has a lot of history. They’ve been together a long time, they’ve worked together a long time, they’ve had a lot of success. I’ve got good teammates, Timothy Peters, Todd Bodine, it is a win, win, win, etc. etc. etc. I mean as far as Truck teams, I think this is the smoothest operating Truck team, race team period that there is. Not to mention their affiliation with Toyota is a huge help for me. It makes it a lot easier on me to have this quality of equipment and to go to the race track and have everything in place and all I have to focus on is driving. To unload and know that the truck is going to be pretty decent when you unload. That is big for me, having not been to a lot of these race tracks. I’ve got zero laps on the majority of these tracks so the more track time I can get, good quality track time, instead of trying to figure out the truck first and then figuring out how to drive the track and then you figure out the truck was probably closer when you started. It just makes it a lot easier on me.
Neff: On truck preparation, how much computer simulation do you get into? Is it more just the historical knowledge? I know there are a lot of racers around this place or do they rely a lot on computer simulation when it comes to setting up the trucks?
King: I think racing has moved more toward the computer side of it, the technology side of it, there is no doubt. They have sim programs they run that they can put changes in and run and see what is going to happen, but you’ll never get past needing the racers. You’ve got to have a racer. A group of engineers isn’t going to be able to go to a race track and crew a race car. You’ve got to have the guys that have been there their whole lives and done it all and seen it all.
Neff: On the schedule side of things, how frustrating is it to come off of Daytona with the momentum you had going and then you take three weeks off. Then you run at Martinsville and then a week off then Rockingham and Kansas and then you have another month off. Just trying to get momentum going in the season, would you like to see them try and work the schedule so that you can run every other week for a while rather than having these big fits and starts?
King: It would be nice for me. Like I said about the rookie deal, it is nice to get into a groove where you’re going to the race track every weekend or every other weekend. I’ve learned more in the last two races, going to Rockingham and Kansas, than I think I’ve learned in the last two years. I was ready to go to Charlotte the next day if we could have after Kansas, I learned that much and got that comfortable in the truck.
Neff: So what are you doing during all of these off weeks besides working on the farm?
King: Just spending time down here. We’re preparing these trucks, getting ready in advance. Going over everything with a fine toothed comb. Doing some sponsor stuff, we’re fortunate enough to have Consul Energy on the truck. Just doing all of our honey-do lists
Neff: Do they let you work on the trucks?
King: I try, I can, but they don’t let me most of the time. Something I see different here, in this organization, than I’ve seen in any other organization is these guys really take pride in their work. Anywhere else I’ve gone guys are like ‘Sure, go ahead and you can do that’. These guys want to do it because their names are tied to it. They’re sure of what they do, they’re sure about themselves and take a lot of pride in doing it. You see these race trucks and you can tell. I’ve been on that side of it too. I worked on a truck team in 2009, I guess. I worked at a truck team out of Virginia and I took a lot of pride in it. I wasn’t driving, I was just working. They let me do some stuff, just busy work mostly.
Neff: If you weren’t driving, would you still be in racing, would you be farming; what do you think you would do with yourself if you weren’t racing?
King: I’ll always have a race car period, whether it is a dirt car or a Late Model Stock car. If I wasn’t truck racing I’d probably be farming. My dad is a car dealer in Northeast Tennessee, so I’d probably take part in that. But I’d still have my dirt car. I have to be in it somehow.
Neff: Let’s talk Martinsville. Timothy Peters tries to run that Late Model deal, I know he didn’t get to last year. Are you going to try and run that race since the trucks don’t run that weekend again?
King: I’m going to try to. I’ve got my Late Model sitting there in the shop ready to go. I’ve got two really good Hedgecock cars. One has a crate motor in it, we’ve been running it some. I don’t know if we’re going to this year, but we’ve got a couple good race cars.
Neff: The All-American 400 is in Nashville this year. I don’t know if the trucks have that weekend off or not but would you be interested in running that race?
King: I’m not sure if I’m going to do that or not.
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