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(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Truckin’ Thursdays: Parker Kligerman Making the Most of His Return

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When Parker Kligerman was a young child, he had a strong passion and love for cars, but it wasn’t until his family got the SPEED channel when he was nine that he felt the need to get into racing. Though his dad wasn’t all that interested in looking at go-karts and getting him started, mom won the battle and decided it wasn’t all that bad of an idea.

“There was a karting association on a beach the town over that was set up in a parking lot with cones,” Kligerman said inside his hauler on a hot Kansas afternoon in May. “That’s where I started and started to work my way up from there. That’s the birth of my passion for racing.”

Fast forward to 2009, and Kligerman made his NASCAR debut in the XFINITY Series at Kansas Speedway behind the wheel of the No. 22 Dodge for Team Penske. The pole-sitting car translated into seven laps led and a solid 16th-place finish his debut. Later that year, he failed to put the No. 22 in the field in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, though he did hop into the No. 42 Dodge where he finished 25th.

It wasn’t until the 2010 season when Kligerman made the start for Brad Keselowski Racing at Texas Motor Speedway. After starting 23rd in his Truck Series debut, he brought the No. 29 Dodge home a solid ninth.

The following year, Kligerman joined BKR full-time as a rookie. Many pegged the new face as someone who would pull into Victory Lane at some point that year, but as the 2011 season wound to a close, he was left with a goose egg in the win column. But the season wasn’t without its successes; Kligerman posted four top 5s and eight top-10 results en route to an 11th-place points finish as a rookie.

He remained with BKR until the middle of the 2012 season, when he was abruptly released from BKR after Pocono, the 11th race on the schedule. At that point in the year, he had just six top-10 finishes and sat sixth in the standings.

Enter Red Horse Racing. Two weeks after his release from BKR, Kligerman, who has “a saying that I’ve lived by my whole life and that’s ‘it will all work out–always has, always will,’” was back on track when the series reached Michigan International Speedway. He went on to finish the season in what he called a “much happier situation” in a 2012 interview.

“I’m at a place that believes in me, I believe in them, and that’s all that you can hope for.

By the time the end of the 2012 season rolled around, Kligerman had added on six more top 5s, nine more top 10s and a first career win at Talladega Superspeedway that came in impressive fashion as he charged to the front on a green-white-checkered finish.

Though many expected he might return to RHR for the 2013 season, the opportunity arose to move to the XFINITY Series full time with Kyle Busch Motorsports, and he couldn’t pass it up. The season wasn’t what anyone had hoped as he finished in the top 5 just three times before finishing the year ninth in points.

(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Parker Kligerman made his Sprint Cup debut with Swan Racing during the 2013 season. (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

But during that 2013 season, Kligerman made his Sprint Cup Series debut with Swan Racing at Texas Motor Speedway, a race that turned out to be a surprise to many throughout the NASCAR world.

“I think a lot of people were wondering what I was doing and why I was going to Cup. I thought it was going to work out, it was going to be great,” he recalled with a smile. “I was getting passed up on these opportunities when drivers were hurt because I had no Cup experience. That was always the answer: you have no Cup experience. All you had to do was go drive a Cup car and you were a Cup driver.

“Texas was the best debut anyone had had all year, and that year you had Kyle Larson, Brian Scott, Justin Allgaier, Austin Dillon who all made their debuts that year, and we crushed it with a 2008 Ganassi car.

“It was one of my favorite races of all time. And then we went to Homestead and backed it up with another great run, and I thought rock on, I can do this at the top level of the sport.”

Kligerman moved to the Sprint Cup Series with plans to run the entire year with Swan Racing, but sponsorship woes bit the new team after just eight races. Though there wasn’t money to compete, the team kept him under contract in the event it decided to race once again. Later that year, he began working as a sports anchor with NBC Sports Network, a position he holds to this day. It was a way he could remain in the NASCAR fold while he didn’t have a car to pilot on the track.

But despite the oddities that saw him once again sidelined with no permanent ride, Kligerman wouldn’t have gone back and remained in the Truck Series, where success was almost a given.

“I don’t like to look back, and I think each experience had its definite benefits and its positives, without being in Victory Lane, as much as we would have liked to be during that span,” he explained. “If I had stayed in Trucks with Red Horse in that 7 truck, would we have won probably like 10 races the next year and won a championship? Absolutely. But would I have gotten a chance in Cup if I did that? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.”

Ask Kligerman what the biggest sacrifice he’s made for his racing career is and you’ll leave him speechless, or at the very least searching for words.

“Stability,” he finally settled on. “There’s definitely paths in life you could take that are far more stable, more consistent. I’ve successfully avoided a desk job my whole life.”

Fast forward to the 2016 season, and Kligerman once again had the opportunity to race, this time behind the wheel of the No. 92 for Ricky Benton Racing, in a ride that had been in the works since 2014.

“I started trying to talk to Ricky back in 2014 and he was always committed to someone else,” Kligerman recalled of how he met the team owner. “He’s always been a man of his word, so I understood it. I always felt like there was an opportunity there and I saw them getting better, and then last year with David Gilliland, I saw them getting some good runs.

“Over the offseason, it came to January and it was between me and someone else, and then he told me he was going to go with this other guy,” he continued. “Then something happened and I got the call. I was at the Penske party in Charlotte, and it was Ricky asking me if I still wanted to go to Daytona. Of course I had nowhere else to be, so one thing led to another and he said we should go ahead and do Atlanta too. It all went from there.”

When Daytona came around, many were happy to see Kligerman return, but what was more impressive was that, when the dust settled after the checkered flag flew, there was the No. 92 team, proudly boasting a third-place finish. That run was followed up by a pair of eighth-place results at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, and suddenly, as Kligerman sat second in points, many were excited to see just how far the tiny team could go.

Based in Cerro Gordo, N.C., about 200 miles away from the NASCAR hub in Charlotte, the success RBR had found could be attributed mostly to the two full-time team members working their tails off at the track and in the shop. Crew chief Mike Hester oversees everything at the shop and in the garage area and is credited as the brains of the organization.

(Photo: Mike Neff)
Kligerman credits his early season success to one man: crew chief Mike Hester. (Photo: Mike Neff)

But what’s the secret to the success Kligerman and RBR found in their limited time to start the year? Simple: Mike Hester. The driver of the No. 92 truck couldn’t say enough about how important his crew chief was to his success and the plans the team had as the season wears on.

“Mike Hester doesn’t like letting it get too out of the ordinary,” Kligerman explained. “When I’ve been at the top, top teams that have everything, you start to look at the little things that make the difference between fifth and third, third and first, and when you were on a smaller team before that, you don’t know how all of that works.

“Then when you’re in a small team again with a smaller group of guys and lesser resources, you go back to doing what you know. And if we do that and we’re smart in the race and have good pit stops, we’re going to get a good finish, and that simply is how we’ve done it.”

The hope all along was to try to run the full schedule, though all of it hinged on sponsorship dollars to keep the team afloat. But the remainder of the year wasn’t a certainty.

“We have some great supporters in Valvoline, Advance Auto Parts, Solid Rock Carriers and Blacks Tire Service that make this possible,” Kligerman said. “I would say all have risen to the occasion of what we’ve been able to do and put the positive momentum out there, and all of that helps. I can’t say for certain we’re going to be a certain number of races that will work.”

Well that certain number of races seems to have rounded out at eight, at least for now. A hard wreck at Kansas killed the team’s only mile-and-a-half truck that needed to be able to go to Texas and Charlotte. But a lot of hard work saw their Dover truck, which suffered rear gear problems, converted to run those tracks. And once again at Iowa Speedway, Kligerman suffered a hard wreck, and that was the breaking point. The team was forced to sit out Gateway, taking the 25-year-old out of the championship conversation.

Though the team had initially planned to return to the track for tonight’s race at Kentucky Speedway, last week, it decided to sit this one out. In fact, according to a tweet from Kligerman on Wednesday, RBR will be running a partial schedule for the remainder of the season to help develop the team and move forward in performance.

While it’s not the ideal situation for a driver who wants to run for a championship, for this small team, it’s the right decision. Though it wasn’t intended to be presented that way, the interview in Kansas concluded with some fantastic advice for anyone in life.

“Chase your dreams, go after it and have fun doing it; if you can do that, you’re winning, no matter what you’re doing,” he said with a smile. “Right now, I’m having a blast doing the whole thing.”

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • John Wes Townley will not be racing at Kentucky Speedway. Just two weeks removed from Gateway, he is being treated for a potential concussion. In his place, Parker Kligerman, who paced the first practice session Wednesday afternoon, will pilot the No. 05 Chevrolet. Townley hopes to return to the series in time for the annual trip to Eldora Speedway on July 20.

  • Brett Moffitt was tapped to pilot the No. 11 Toyota for Red Horse Racing in place of a recovering Matt Tifft, who had brain surgery late last week to remove a tumor. Moffitt led the final practice session from Kentucky Wednesday afternoon.
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About Beth Lunkenheimer

Beth Lunkenheimer
Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 13-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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