In the Nationwide Series last year, there was a decent battle for the championship between Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Elliott Sadler. Meanwhile, Cup drivers like Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch continued to administer weekly whoopings on the Nationwide regulars in a fashion that has become oh so familiar in recent years.
In addition, the Cup drivers and Danica Patrick (whenever she raced) managed to nearly completely steal the spotlight away from the series regulars. Other than the top few drivers in points (Stenhouse, Elliott Sadler, Almirola, Sorenson, etc.), many of the regulars in the series last year were near complete unknowns to the general racing public. And that’s a great shame, especially since there was a battle for the ages going on for Rookie of the Year.
There were three main contenders for the award. Ryan Truex made ten starts for Pastrana-Waltrip Racing before the funding dried up, leaving him without a ride. Finally, after missing 11 races, the 19-year-old landed in the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing and impressed, scoring six top-15 finishes in seven starts. However, the inability to run the full season ultimately took him out of the hunt.
Another driver in the 2011 ROTY battle was Blake Koch, who drove for MacDonald Motorsports last year for most of the schedule, although he did spend a handful of races spread between Jay Robinson Racing and Means Motorsports with backing from Daystar. But despite the limited funding available, Koch managed to run all but four races to completion.
Finally, there was Timmy Hill, a driver with only ten races of experience in full bodied stock cars prior to last year. He actually missed the season opener at Daytona because he was still 17 at the time and therefore ineligible to compete (he turned 18 the day practice opened in Phoenix). As you might remember, that allowed Germain Racing to do that special promotion with Todd Bodine and Service Central to do triple duty.
So, where did Timmy Hill come from to get a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series? Hill grew up in Port Tobacco, Maryland, a relatively small town located at the end of an inlet off of the Potomac River. Hill’s father, Jerry, was a racer in his own right, competing over the years in ARCA and the Goody’s Dash Series during its homebuilt engine era. Eventually, Jerry started two races in the now-Nationwide Series, eight in the Cup Series, and ran two full seasons in the then-Craftsman Truck Series.
Young Timmy would tag along to Jerry’s races and cheer on his dad in whatever he happened to be racing that night, all the while wishing that it could be him out there. Then, some of the other classes, like go-karts and bandoleros came out to play, intriguing young Timmy.
“One day, I told my dad, ‘Hey I want to race those cars!,” Hill said. “Had to bug him for three or four years before he’d let me even try it.”
But bug him, Timmy did. Eventually, the elder Hill relented and purchased a go-kart for Timmy when he was nine years old. The first stop was King George Speedway, a 1/5-mile paved track in King George, Virginia, roughly 30 minutes from his house. Hill took to racing almost immediately.
“I went out [on the track] just to learn and have a little fun,” he said. “I really liked it. [Ultimately,] It didn’t take long for me to win a race at the track.”
From there, it was onto the bandoleros and weekly trips down to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Summer Shootout Series. While he continued racing bandoleros for quite some time, the family eventually sold it to purchase a legends car.
When Timmy turned 14, the Hills turned to the Allison Legacy Series, a place where “body styles have effectively been frozen in time since 1995.”:http://www.allisonlegacy.com/specs.htm/ While in the Allison Legacy Series, he found plenty of success in the Allison Legacy Series, winning multiple races over the three years that he spent there racing on Southeastern short tracks in places like Hickory, North Carolina, South Boston, Virginia, and Timmonsville, South Carolina. He eventually took the series championship in 2009 before moving on. Nowadays, Timmy’s younger brother Tyler is on top there, having won last year’s Allison Legacy Series title.
Hill still races legends cars every now and then even today. In the weeks leading up to the Rolex 24, he ran a few legends races on the infield road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Prior to his entering the Nationwide Series, these legends races were Hill’s only career starts on road courses.
Eventually, Jerry’s ties with Rick Ware Racing benefited young Timmy’s career. The whole time Timmy was racing legends and Allison Legacy cars, Ware was keeping an eye on the younger Hill’s development as a racer. Finally, in 2010, he put together a program to enter Hill in a total of ten races, seven in ARCA, two in the K&N Pro Series West and one in the K&N Pro Series East to test him. In those races, Timmy Hill acquitted himself quite well.
Hill made his ARCA debut at the very-difficult-to-handle Salem Speedway and was running very well until the lapped No. 31 of Tim George, Jr. made contact with Hill’s No. 47 on the backstretch. The resulting crash (seen “here”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XABRAoQHXBE/ in this video shot by a fan in the stands that day) put Hill out of the race. 2010 ended with one top-10 finish in each of the three series Timmy competed in.
Going into the Nationwide Series at the beginning of last year was not unlike being thrown to the wolves for Hill due to his comparative lack of experience in full-bodied stock cars. His second Nationwide start, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was the first time in which he’d ever raced on an intermediate track, on top of the fact that he was just learning the nuances of the Nationwide car.
“Most of the tracks, I didn’t know at all,” Hill said. “I raced on them a little on iRacing–that helped out a lot–but getting out there and doing it yourself is a whole new learning curve. Basically, I had to learn the new car and learn all of the tracks for the first half of the year.”
Early on in the year, there really wasn’t much of a race for Rookie of the Year as Truex stomped the competition and Jennifer Jo Cobb struggled mightily. Add in Koch and Hill working on a major learning curve and you have a recipe for a ROTY survivor rather than a champion. As the season wound down, Truex and Cobb fell away, the result of not being able to compete as often as necessary.
Eventually, the only two drivers left in contention were Hill and Koch, and they seemed to never stray all that far from each other.
“During the 2011 season, I tended to run my races a little differently in order to outrun Blake,” Hill said. “That hurt us in the long run in some of the races, though.”
In the end, Hill was able to beat Koch in Homestead to claim the Rookie of the Year title. The team was all smiles in the background while ESPN’s Vince Welch conducted the brief “Rookie of the Year interview.”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_qoL4Qz8SQ
Hill’s team dealt with the new crew chief learning curve three times as they transitioned from Doug Richert to Bobby Burrell before moving on to Chris Wright by the time the season came to a close. But Hill got more than just a trophy out of that rookie battle.
“Through the rookie battle, Blake and I became really close friends,” Hill said. “We did a lot of autograph signings together, we’ve been around each other a lot. It was a rivalry, we always wanted to beat each other, but we never did anything dirty out on the racetrack, we kept it clean. That was the main thing since we were both driving for two under funded teams.”
2012 started out with a brand-new adventure for Hill: Sports-car racing. Rick Ware Racing, after dipping their toes in with a one-off at the Rolex 24, decided to throw their hat into the ring for a full-time effort. To that degree, the team has built a brand new Ford Mustang GT that will be campaigned by Jeffrey Earnhardt and John Ware. Hill was drafted in for the Rolex 24, along with Doug Harrington and Chris Cook. For Hill, competing at the Rolex 24 was quite the experience.
“The 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona was a huge event and a once in a lifetime chance for me to drive,” Hill said. “I had a blast! It was great to be able to compete against some of the best drivers in the world from NASCAR, Formula 1, [the Izod IndyCar Series] and Grand-Am.”
After a decent qualifying run landed the Mustang 22nd in class (out of 44 GT entries), the Rick Ware team struggled in the race. Unfortunately, a myriad of issues put the team out of the race during the overnight hours.
At the time we talked to Hill, he was very optimistic about his upcoming second full-time Nationwide Series campaign. However, between then and now, Rick Ware Racing announced their collaboration with MaxQ Motorsports that will put Hill into the No. 37 Ford with Poynt sponsorship in the Sprint Cup Series starting at either Fontana or Texas (the driver line-up is still being finalized). Hill describes this move as “a great opportunity for our sponsor Poynt to expand to the [Sprint] Cup Series, as well as for myself and RWR.”
For Hill, the move to Sprint Cup is going to make the 2012 season look a lot like the 2011 season. He has no time behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup car, and as a result, the early portion of his time in the No. 37 will be a series of learning experiences while he adjusts to the additional power under his right foot and the different handling characteristics.
As far as the team’s Nationwide operation is concerned, the team has only entered two cars for Saturday’s Drive4COPD 300. The No. 15 Poynt Ford will race with Hill driving. Koch is entered in the No. 41 with sponsorship from Rise Up and Register, a voter registration drive. As a result of Hill moving to Cup competition, the team plans on switching their Nationwide points around so that Koch will be locked into the early races.
Simply put, the 18-year-old has already experienced so much in his young career, and it’s only beginning. Between his Nationwide obligations and the steep learning curve he’s likely to face in his first few starts in Cup, it’ll take a lot of hard work to keep from falling too far behind the competition.
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