Racing in the desert isn’t the most common road to NASCAR, but it’s one that led Brian Ickler from a mirage of his dreams to the reality of a fast-blossoming career. Ickler has raced from Baja to Charlotte, even fielding his own team at the sport’s lower levels before catching the eye of Sprint Cup star and Camping World Truck Series owner Kyle Busch. Now, Ickler is splitting seat time with Busch in his No. 18 CWTS entry for 2010, in addition to a two-race Nationwide Series deal with Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 16.
What lies ahead for this up-and-coming star? Amy Henderson sat down with Ickler at Charlotte to talk plans for the season, racing at Baja, interesting fan requests, and… grocery shopping?
Amy Henderson, Frontstretch: Talk about the road you took to NASCAR.
Brian Ickler: I originally raced motorcycles in California – dirt bikes and stuff. I slowly moved into the off-road desert trucks, and then into late models in the K&N Pro West Series for a little bit. Then, I moved back here and actually raced my own K&N East car for a year or so until I met Kyle Busch. He put me in his late model cars and got me a ride in Billy Ballew’s No. 51 Miccosukee truck. Eventually, he let me drive his own truck, and now here we are at Roush.
Henderson: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Ickler: I’m going to run this weekend (Charlotte) and next weekend at Nashville for Roush Fenway [in the Nationwide Series]. I’m going to run Kyle’s truck for 10 or so races this year total. We’ve run two so far. Kyle’s given me his blessing that if things come up over here that I’ll be running over here.
Henderson: You went from sharing a truck with Kyle Busch at Billy Ballew Motorsports to sharing a truck with Kyle Busch at Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Ickler: Yes. And I’m over here at Roush Fenway sharing with Colin Braun!
Henderson: You’re coming to Roush Fenway and a team that has struggled in 2010. What are your goals for the time you’re in the car?
Ickler: Obviously, we want to run really good and have a strong outing here in Charlotte. I’ve been here once in the Truck Series. But our biggest goal is just making laps, trying to be as competitive as we can and learn as a team.
(Note: Ickler ran 15th, involved in a late wreck in his Series debut).
Henderson: Obviously, communication plays a big role in a team’s success. How difficult is it to come over and communicate with a team that you haven’t worked with?
Ickler: Fortunately, we had the opportunity to go down and test the new Mustang at Daytona with Ford. I have worked with these guys a little bit, but not a lot. So we’re really focused on learning our communication and how to communicate as a team.
Henderson: Talk about your days in off-road racing. You’ve won Baja, it seems like a lot of fun!
Ickler: It is fun! I started that when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I ran the Baja 1000 competitively for six or seven years. It was fun, but it was time to move on, and I decided to go the pavement path. I’m glad I did!
Henderson: Any good stories from the off-road days?
Ickler: We could sit here and talk about it all day long! There’s so much that goes on in off-road racing. You’re racing down the pavement, you’re hitting cows. They don’t shut down highways.
Henderson: Did you ever hit a cow?
Ickler: Oh, yeah. It’s wild down there for sure. I miss it. I wish I could go back someday!
Henderson: You talked before about fielding your own car in the East Series. Did you have any advice from Kyle Busch?
Ickler: Kyle had a big part in it. He had a lot of say in what we did, before he even had his own team. It helped me in understanding the business side of it – how much stuff really costs and how expensive it really is. It’s definitely a blessing not to have to work on the cars and field them by yourself, but to be a part of a great, championship-winning organization.
Henderson: What advice would you give to someone looking to start a team?
Ickler: It’s tough right now. I’d just say to race as many races as you can. You have to be in the right place at the right time, and fortunately I have been so far, I guess.
Henderson: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Ickler: There have been so many people who have helped me get to where I am. Looking back, I don’t really know how I did it. There’s really no right way to do what we’ve done so far. I’ve just been really fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.
Henderson: Does anyone mistake you for Kyle Busch? You do look a lot alike….
Ickler: Yeah, they have. We were just talking about that the other day. I don’t really think I look like him, but I’ve heard it before. I get that a lot.
Henderson: What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had from a race fan?
Ickler: I’ve had to sign some awkward body parts.
Henderson: What’s fun for you off the track?
Ickler: Not so much wakeboarding anymore – I broke my foot wakeboarding last year. The busy schedule of races pretty much keeps me well occupied. Even on the off weekends, I get out and race Kyle’s late models. So I’m pretty much at the racetrack every week.
Henderson: What’s the one item you have on your grocery list every time?
Ickler: I love Fresca. I don’t know why. I buy it every week, like packs of it. I love it. What’s weird is I never even knew about it. When we used to go race in Mexico, I thought it was something they only had in Mexico, so I’d always order Fresca. Now, I’m obsessed and I drink it nonstop.
Henderson: Finally, what’s the most memorable race in your career so far?
Ickler: I think, as small as it sounds, the most memorable one is the first time Kyle gave me the opportunity to drive something. It was the Snowball Derby, a 300-lap race where the best short-track guys in the country show up. I hadn’t driven a late model in three or four years, and we went down and I actually won it; we got thrown out for some stupid stuff later. But it was a lot of fun, and it was the turning point for when Kyle started putting me in his truck.