This season, StarCom Racing embarked on its first full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The team filed intentions to field two cars from day one during the season but started off the year with only the No. 00 with Jeffrey Earnhardt driving. Eventually, Landon Cassill replaced Earnhardt.
The team debuted the No. 99 Chevrolet at Dover in May with General Manager Derrike Cope driving. After Cope and Garrett Smithley drove the car, the driver’s seat was handed over to then-20-year old Kyle Weatherman. Weatherman drove seven races in the No. 99 with a best finish of 26th at Las Vegas in September.
Weatherman only has nine career starts in the Cup Series, so everything is still relatively new for him in the driver’s seat. Regardless, he is willing to learn.
Weatherman sat down with Frontstretch at Homestead-Miami Speedway to talk about his racing career, his work away from the track and more.
Phil Allaway, Frontstretch: This is going to be your seventh race in the No. 99. How did this opportunity come together for you?
Kyle Weatherman, No. 99 International Marine/Native Boatworks Chevrolet: Just being in the right place [at] the right time, and that’s really with any circumstance. I was putting forth my effort working at the race shop and I feel that it definitely contributed a little to me getting this opportunity.
I started working at StarCom Racing right after Martinsville. I think Texas was my first race with them. I’ve worked really hard in the shop as well.
I was in the right place when they started running the second car. I got my first opportunity at Chicagoland. Very thankful for every opportunity I’ve gotten with these guys.
Allaway: Do you specialize in a specific part of the car at the shop?
Weatherman: Obviously the interior. Since I’m a smaller guy, they throw me in and I go to work there. I love doing it, so it’s not like they’re forcing it on me.
I love working on the race car; I love learning about the race car. It makes me better as a race car driver. I’m not the best mechanic in the shop, but I work very hard at my craft as a mechanic as well. If I don’t know something, I’ll definitely ask someone that does. I’ll pay attention to how they do it and I’ll know how to do it right the next time.
I love to learn. I’m a quick learner and paying attention and being very observant is free. All that’s going to do is make me a better racer.
Allaway: It’s been a little over a year since you made your Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut with Rick Ware Racing. How do you feel that you’ve improved as a driver in that time?
Weatherman: Just in knowing more about the race car. Being very aggressive throughout the race, not that I wasn’t before in ARCA. It’s just a different level. Obviously, these guys give 110 percent for 300 laps or whatever it is. It’s just wide open and you don’t have any time to really catch your breath or relax at any time.
You’re going at 100 percent all the time and just trying to make the race car go as fast as possible.
Allaway: Back at Pocono, I interviewed your teammate Landon Cassill. He mentioned that the team had been acquiring what he felt were better chassis. Since you’re in the shop all the time, you get to see these cars. How have the cars you’ve driven improved over the season?
Weatherman: Derrike Cope, our General Manager, is working hard every single day to make these cars better. We’ve definitely stepped up our game in every aspect, and there’s still a long way to go. [Derrike] understands and gets it; the best thing about Derrike is that he understands every aspect of racing, and he’s going to do everything he can to make this team go faster and better.
Obviously, that takes a lot of time and effort. It’s not going to happen overnight. Right now, we’ve got good people around us, good crew guys at the shop and the track each week. We just need a little time and effort from everybody and we’ll get better every week.
Allaway: According to Cassill, Derrike is “all-in.” He lives and breathes the team at this point.
Weatherman: Absolutely. The race shop opens at 8 o’clock. Derrike’s usually there at 7:30. We normally leave the shop at 5:30 or 6 [p.m.] and Derrike’s there until eight. He’s definitely going that extra mile and that’s awesome to see from a manager. I look up to him as a race car driver as well since he’s very respected in that aspect as well.
To have a General Manager who’s running the race team like he does and have the respect as a race car driver as well is really cool. Derrike is a very good guy to work for. He can look at situations from every angle since he’s been in my position of what I’m trying to do. It’s really cool having a General Manager that I can go ask questions to and look up to as a driver as well.
Allaway: Hard to beat 35 years of experience.
Weatherman: Derrike has been in my shoes with not a lot of funding coming his way and had to work for everything. He’s been a great mentor to me on every angle.
Allaway: Derrike’s the GM, but he’s also hands-on with the cars as well?
Weatherman: Oh yeah. Obviously, he’s got a lot of managerial responsibilities (paperwork, making sure everything’s rolling in the right direction, bringing new equipment in, etc.). Whenever he has time to spare, he’s very hands-on.
To grow as a race team, you have to have someone like that that pays attention to everything and he does that for sure.
Allaway: Have you been able to learn from having Cassill as your teammate?
Weatherman: Yes. Landon’s raced [the Gen6] car for however long it’s been out (Note: The Gen6 car debuted in the 2013 Daytona 500). He would have a little bit more experience than Derrike in this generation of car, but having Landon and Derrike both on the team and on my side in making me a better racer is absolutely amazing.
This is only my ninth race in the Cup Series, so I’m still really new to this series and have a lot to learn. Having both of them with years and years of experience is only going to make me better.
Allaway: Your career has featured some large steps up. You started off in Legends cars, raced there for three years, then moved right up to ARCA. That’s a very big jump. Can you describe what that transition was like for you at 15?
Weatherman: I never really thought of it like that. Even in the Legends cars I ran, there are multiple levels, starting with Young Lions, then Semi-Pro, Pro and Masters.
When I was 12…I didn’t start in the Young Lions. I went straight to the Pro Series. I struggled for a while. It took me a couple of races to truly grasp things. [My crew chief, Michael Harper] told me to hang in there, pay attention and work hard at it.
Now that I look back, as a race car driver, you’ve gotta be around the best. To be the best, you have to be around the best at first. To be where I want to be, you have to start somewhere. That’s what I’m doing [now].
Even when I was 12 years old and had an opportunity to run in the Young Lions class, we went straight to Pro. We raced around the best of the best. It took a while, but my learning curve was expedited just because I raced against the best and it made me better as a race car driver.
Allaway: When you first moved up to ARCA, you were with a family team driving at short tracks and running fairly well out of the box. What kind of equipment were you running?
Weatherman: We definitely didn’t have the best equipment, but we had good people around us. You can make a lot out of a little if you’ve got those good people.
That’s what we did [back in 2013]. We had a very smart group of guys and it showed. We didn’t have the nicest car and definitely didn’t have the nicest pit box. We didn’t have all the tires we needed most of the time, but we expedited on every circumstance that we could.
In 2013, Weatherman made five ARCA starts and had four top five finishes. He had back-to-back second-place finishes at Salem and Iowa, as depicted below. Weatherman is in the No. 11 Dodge in this race
Allaway: Ultimately, you have 50 ARCA starts and earned a bunch of top five and top-10 finishes. You drove for a number of teams such as the Roulo Brothers and Mason Mitchell Motorsports. What was your biggest takeaway from running in ARCA?
Weatherman: That the tracks that [ARCA] goes to are very similar to the tracks that the Cup guys go to and other NASCAR series go to. It definitely helped when I got to this level since I had raced at a couple of the tracks that Cup goes to in ARCA.
The ARCA [Racing Series presented by Menards] is absolutely the best learning curve series that anybody can go through and I learned a lot from every aspect and angle. I love the series.
Allaway: Your younger brother, Clayton, has also done some ARCA racing in the past, but has not raced there in two years. Is his career temporarily on hold?
Weatherman: Right now, the Weatherman family is working hard to get me where I need to be before he can follow. Unfortunately, you can say that [his career] is on hold right now.
Right now is the key [term]. Clayton’s really passionate about the sport as well and loves being in the race car. But, it takes a lot of funding to get to the racetrack.
We’re working hard on myself right now, trying to get me where I need to be. Hopefully, he can follow once I get solidified where I need to be. I can help him grow as a race car driver as well.
Allaway: [Clayton] did okay in his time in ARCA. However, it’s been a couple of years since he’s been in the seat. He might be getting a little rust.
Weatherman: Oh yes. In my opinion, if you’re a race car driver, you’re a race car driver. You can definitely have some rust on you, but you know how to drive a race car, you know it. It never goes away.
It is definitely unfortunate that we can’t both have [rides]. I loved racing with him, but at this level, it takes so much time, effort and money and willingness to afford. Unfortunately right now, we just don’t have enough will power to afford it to move one, let alone two, [drivers] up.
Our goal is to have both of us at the level where we both want to be at. It’s definitely a big jump and a big hurdle to overcome, but the Weatherman family is strong and we’re very passionate in what we do. We work hard and that will hopefully pay off.
Allaway: Back in the spring, NASCAR officially announced a merger that will be fully executed in 2020. Right now, the planned format sounds somewhat convoluted, but what do you think about the whole setup?
Weatherman: I’m not really sure how it’s going to benefit everything, but I know that NASCAR runs a very strong series. I think that [NASCAR] has a lot in mind in what they can do to help the series grow, help bring kids up through the series and help prepare them better for [the Cup Series].
NASCAR’s going to do a great job figuring out how to grow the [ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards] and it should be good for them.
Allaway: When did you start working in race shops for NASCAR teams?
Weatherman: So, when I got the opportunity to run for Rick [Ware] last year just before the Martinsville race, that was when I first got the opportunity to work for a NASCAR team. But, I’ve been very hands-on with everything I drive.
Anything that goes to the race track that I’m driving, most likely, I’ve worked on. There have been three races in my career where I haven’t worked on the car because of family stuff. I’ve been very hands-on with all my stuff. Back at eight years old, I did not go race go-karts unless I was out there cleaning the car or changing the gear.
Got to give my hat off to my dad. He made me work hard on every aspect of what I wanted to do. I couldn’t go to the track unless I worked hard.
Allaway: Did the ride with Rick Ware Racing come in a similar fashion to your current ride with StarCom Racing?
Weatherman: Yep. Right place, right time. They needed a driver and I was out looking. The big thing for [me] is that I’m willing to work.
That’s how anything is. You have to be here and be seen. It just worked out.
Allaway: It’s the last weekend of the season. Lots of people are looking forward to next year. Do you have any plans set in stone for 2019, or will you be working behind the scenes and hoping that something good comes up?
Weatherman: Absolutely, I’m trying to work hard on every aspect and being seen. My goal is to get something solidified and get it announced shortly. Until then, I just have to work hard with the right people. Nothing right now, but hopefully we can get something rolling shortly.
Allaway: You’ve driven in multiple different series over the years, but there’s a lot more out there. Do you ever look around and see something that makes you think, “I want in on that.’?”
Weatherman: I’ve always enjoyed dirt racing and I think that [type of racing] is awesome. My main focus right now is NASCAR and that’s where I want to be. So, in my opinion, I need to be in the garage in either of NASCAR’s top three series.
Allaway: What are your thoughts on social media? I know you have a Twitter feed and that you’re on Instagram. You tweet a fair amount, but not that much. What do you think about it and how do you use it?
Awesome weekend in @homesteadmiami so cool to be apart of the final race of the season. I’m so thankful and blessed for all the opportunities this year. #nascar #nascarplayoffs #homestead #miami pic.twitter.com/LdQXpPz6lR
— Kyle Weatherman (@KyleWeatherman) November 20, 2018
Weatherman: I definitely need to grow on social media, that’s for sure. Brands…are very interested in how many people you can reach nowadays through social media.
It makes it difficult given the stage [of my career] that I’m at and the team I’m with. They’re growing their presence as well. It’s not like I can get millions and millions of followers off the bat, but I do need to get more active and tweet more.
I enjoy getting connected with the fans and I’m very appreciative. Then again, sometimes I wish we didn’t have social media and we could just do the at-track stuff and meet fans here. Things are different from what they used to be, but I like doing it because I can reach fans a little bit easier.
Ford Championship Weekend was one of the cleanest race weekends in recent memory. There was over 700 miles of racing before any cautions were thrown for anything other than a stage break. That makes it very difficult to keep up. Weatherman qualified 35th for the Ford EcoBoost 400 and failed to progress during the race. Weatherman did get plenty of experience during the race, but finished 11 laps down in 36th.
For now, the future is an unknown for Weatherman. What is known is that wherever he ultimately ends up, he’s more than happy to work for it.