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Last Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, John Hunter Nemechek spent the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 in the spotters’ stand, keeping a watchful eye on the action for his father Joe Nemechek. But that night will likely mark his last up there for the foreseeable future. Today, John Hunter turns 18 and takes the reigns of the No. 8 SWM-NEMCO Chevrolet for the remainder of the year.
Limited only by NASCAR’s rules for racing on tracks larger than a mile in length, Nemechek will now get his chance to run at the larger tracks instead of just watching his dad. But that time atop the spotters’ stand isn’t without its benefits.
“It’s pretty beneficial. Whether it’s on the pit box or spotting or whatever it may be, I’m learning as much off the racetrack as I am in the racecar,” John Hunter said last week at TMS “It’s definitely been a great help for me to see what changes we’re making or even going up on the spotters stand and seeing what different lines are running compared to dad and comparing the two, whether they’re tight or loose. You can see how the race is going and who’s going to be fast at the end from what they’re doing.”
NEMCO Motorsports, founded in 1990 in the then-Busch Series, won its lone championship during the 1992 season, just two years after Joe scored Rookie of the Year honors. Fast forward to 2014, and the organization partnered with Sid Maudlin to start the SWM-NEMCO Motorsports Truck Series team. Joe and John Hunter have shared the No. 8 ride for the last two seasons because the latter has been to young to race on all tracks on the schedule.
Now in its second full-time season, things are looking up for the advancing organization. One of the reasons the team may be running better could be attributed to the switch from Toyota to Chevrolet during the offseason and is already reaping the benefits.
“I feel the change to Chevrolet, with the help and support that we get from them, we’ve been able to improve our Chevrolet Silverados. We’ve been in the wind tunnel quite a bit this year where we weren’t there last year,” Joe said. “We’ve been able to learn a lot about the air and how it affects these trucks. Being a new team in the Truck Series, we don’t have any notes to fall back on, so we’re relying on the people around us and the expertise they have to give us the right information. Then we go into the wind tunnel now and we’re able to back it up. It’s been very good.”
In its first full-time season, there were plenty of growing pains and adjustments to entering a new series. But now, both Joe and John Hunter are happy with their performance through seven races this year.
“I think we’re better prepared this year. I think we’ve made our trucks better. We had a lot going on in the offseason with the switch to Chevrolet, and it’s been a lot of work – all new bodies,” Joe continued. “But during that process, we were able to re-evaluate what we had and we were able to make it better.
“I think our stuff is good; I think we’ve come out of the gate with faster trucks than last year. We just haven’t had the luck in our finishes to show what we’ve been able to do.”
John Hunter echoed his dad’s thoughts, saying “we’ve run good every week, we’ve been in contention every week. We just haven’t had the luck on our side to get that finish that we need.”
But despite the bad luck that seems to be following the No. 8 Chevrolet, the duo remains upbeat, keeping their eyes on the prize. For most teams, the goal is the championship, which will likely come down the road with more experience for the new 18-year-old. But in the meantime, John Hunter would be happy to just win a race.
“I feel like we’ve been in contention and we’re able to do it. It’s just getting that finish we need. Our guys work hard week in and week out at the shop every day. They’re determined for us to get a win and we’re hungry. To be able to get there – and soon – should be manageable. Definitely want to be in contention every week.”
Meanwhile, Joe has is eyes on the bigger picture, seeing not only each race but the overall goal to help his son earn more experience and mold him into a successful NASCAR driver, hoping he’ll win a race along the way.
“With John Hunter now being able to drive full time after this weekend in all of the races will be good because he’s gotta gain experience on the big tracks,” he said. “There’s things you have to learn along the way, but hopefully we’ll have our trucks good enough and we can give him enough good information to process to do a good job on the race track and hopefully stay out of trouble.”
From a business standpoint, being a single truck team in the Truck Series isn’t without its challenges, especially given that the organization is still pretty new. “Building the trucks, making sure they’re prepared for the racetrack” is only part of the day-to-day of running the business according to Joe. “On the other side, you have employees, so you’re trying to manage [them], working on sponsorship. There’s just a lot of challenges every week.
While racing is the number one priority for the team, there are so many benefits to running with a family-owned team. As a bonus, John Hunter has had his father, full of experience and knowledge, there to guide him every step of the way, and there is one lesson that really stands out.
“Work hard. He’s a very hard worker and he works all the time to make my stuff go round,” John Hunter said with a smile when asked about the most important lesson his dad had taught him. “If you work hard at it, you’ll get to where you want to be. You can’t ever give up no matter how bad times are.
When it comes down to it, Joe has great plans in mind for his son, but when asked what the one thing he wanted his son to remember was, he had to pause.
“It’s hard to just pick one thing. There’s so many variables to every equation that you get in. I would have to say the biggest thing is becoming a man, knowing how to act, how to represent yourself, how to treat others,” Joe said after much thought. “There’s a lot more than just racing. I think the racing part is the easy part; it’s all the other stuff that goes with it. Being a right person and representing yourself and the people that helped you get to where you are, you gotta take care of all of that.”
At the end of the day, SWM-NEMCO Motorsports is simply a single-truck team trying to make it in the world of NASCAR. But under the surface is a father/son duo that clearly leans on each other and enjoys their time together. Saturday night, John Hunter will embark on a new era in his NASCAR career, and the best part is that he’ll have his dad right alongside him to guide him when he struggles… and to celebrate the successes that seem to be only a matter of time.
News & Notes
- Though there were initially only 26 trucks on the entry list for Saturday night’s Drivin’ For Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park, that number has risen to 30. With the addition of a second entry for Jennifer Jo Cobb’s team (Adam Edwards), both MAKE Motorsports trucks (Ryan Ellis & Travis Kvapil) and Jordan Anderson‘s single-truck team, the race will now feature a full field.
- Kyle Busch Motorsports has announced that late model driver Christopher Bell will make his Truck Series debut with the organization next weekend at Iowa Speedway. The former USAC champion, who grew up racing on dirt, just began running on pavement last September.
- Mason Mingus will have his third crew chief this season when Brandon McSwain climbs atop the pit box at Gateway Motorsports Park this weekend. Dennis Conner started off the year with the driver of the No. 15 for three races, including a DNQ at Daytona, and Bruce Cook has taken care of the last four.
- Johnny Sauter will make his 160th career Truck Series start Saturday night. He has 10 wins, 59 top fives and 92 top-10 finishes.
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