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Three years ago, Parker Kligerman pulled off one of the bigger upsets in Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series history when he won at Talladega Superspeedway. Kligerman winning wasn’t the surprise — he won at Talladega in Trucks for Red Horse Racing back in 2012. Rather it was the truck he won in this time.
Henderson Motorsports has been in NASCAR since it ran in the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series races back in 1982 with driver Brad Teague. The team won three Xfinity races in the late 1980s with Teague and Rick Wilson behind the wheel. But Henderson then went 20 years without a top five in NASCAR before Kligerman’s Truck Talladega victory in 2017.
That win came in just Kligerman’s seventh start with the team. He failed to finish in the top 10 in just two of those starts.
“Back when I first went there [to Henderson] in 2017, we had a really competitive year, and actually on David Smith’s Motorsports Analytics, we were like the second best performer behind Kyle Busch that year,” Kligerman told Frontstretch.
— Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman) September 23, 2020
The following year, Kligerman earned the small team another top five, finishing fourth at Bristol Motor Speedway. Henderson’s shop is located in Abingdon, Va., which is just 25 miles from the half-mile short track. The headquarters for Henderson’s company Food Country USA is also in Abingdon, which means running well there takes priority over all other tracks.
“It’s something we work really hard at because Bristol’s like the Super Bowl for that team. […] “Every Bristol race, that shop the week leading up, I call it we’re like the high school football team, because everyone who lives in Abingdon or knows the Hendersons comes through that shop to check out the truck. ‘Oh, what are you guys bringing to Bristol?’ It’s the funniest thing,” Kligerman said. “It’s just a huge deal for them to run well at Bristol.
“For myself, I love that racetrack, so it’s a great fit. And something that I think is really cool to see is a race team have that kind of impact on the local community and for them to feel like it’s something they can be a part of and feel like they’re behind. It’s not always the case with race teams, and it’s a shame. Because they’re all located in the same town. But the ones like the Hendersons that keep it in their hometown, it’s a cool thing.”
Two weeks ago, Kligerman repeated the performance, finishing fourth again at Bristol in the No. 75 truck. This time, Kligerman did so in a brand new truck, something they got earlier this year and saved until it was time for Bristol.
“It was cool, because the truck we’d been running was about, I don’t know, eight years old, an old Turner [Motorsports] truck,” Kligerman said. “And it felt like we could definitely run top 10 with it no matter where we went. We led laps in it, we could run the top five, but speed-wise, it was a little off. It was showing its age a little bit.
“So this truck was just a big step forward for us. It was obvious that we had top-five speed, top-three speed even.”
New equipment or not, the feat is impressive considering Henderson is doing so with two full-time employees and three trucks. The team was running well this season before pulling out the newest truck, as Kligerman had top 10s at Michigan International Speedway and the Daytona International Speedway road course.
“I think a lot it is just [crew chief] Chris Carrier,” Kligerman said. “He’s a very experienced crew chief. He and I have a great history together, and we really understand each other. We’re very relaxed about going racing. We don’t try to do anything more than the basics.”
Carrier has been a crew chief since starting in Xfinity with Harry Gant in 1990 and has won races in all three national touring series. He’s a Bristol native, so naturally he ended up working for Henderson. He was a crew chief for the team’s Xfinity car from 1995-96 before returning in 2015.
Between those stints, Carrier was the crew chief for Kligerman when he won nine ARCA Menards Series races and finished second in points for Cunningham Motorsports. The duo was also paired together in Xfinity from 2009-10 when Kligerman raced as a Team Penske developmental driver. Needless to say, the pairing has chemistry.
Kligerman admits Carrier is the reason he joined Henderson three years ago.
“We just had a great history together. […] There was an opportunity in terms of them wanting to get better and sort of hoping my experience could lead them in that direction,” Kligerman said. “We’ve been able to do that.
“For me at the time, I was driving the No. 92 truck part time, and a chance to be reunited with Chris was cool, and I liked the Hendersons, I liked the way they presented themselves, the race team. I knew if Chris was part of it that it was going to be successful, because he does things the right way, always. […] I knew right then and there it was something worth pursuing, and sure enough, it’s been a great relationship. And now, it’s a family team, but they’re like family to me. The Hendersons are so cool. They’re a great group. I love racing with them. It’s a cool vibe.”
The pairing of Kligerman and Carrier is one of the older and more experienced ones in the Truck Series. In a year without practice and qualifying, that is a crucial dynamic. Kligerman noted that he knew from the first lap and Carrier knew from the first green flag stint of this year’s Bristol just how fast they were when they unloaded.
“With that, we kind of lean on two things, which are his experience and my experience,” Kligerman said. “And I think it’s a unique thing to have in the Truck Series, right? Or even in NASCAR, to have two people who are really experienced at this and being able to show up when they want and how they want.”
Henderson has only entered eight races this year, failing to qualify for its first two attempts due to a lack of qualifying and owner points. This partial schedule allows Kligerman to continue to work as an analyst for NBC Sports and co-host of the TV series Proving Grounds. Henderson hasn’t competed full time in any series since 1992 and instead picks and chooses races they feel they can be competitive in.
“And that’s key, we don’t go to races we don’t want to go to,” Kligerman added. “If we’re going to a race, we’re thinking, ‘This is a race we think we can win.’ Outside of being in a full alliance with one of the bigger teams, we’re going to do everything we can to be in the best position we can be to win.
“It’s a fun way to go racing, and I think that’s where our success comes from. […] I tell people all the time, ‘Pit reporting is work, but when I go to the racetrack when I just drive the No. 75 truck, it’s like vacation because I get to just go have fun.’ And that’s literally what it is, I get to go try to win a race.”
The amount Kligerman and the team have raced this season is actually more than originally planned. The team only competed in three races last year and hadn’t raced at all before the COVID-19 break. In fact, before the pandemic, Henderson tried to get Clint Bowyer and Barstool Sports on board for a race to go after the Kyle Busch bounty.
— HendersonRaceTeam (@HendersonRace) February 28, 2020
But since racing returned in May, the team has shown up for eight of the past 16 races.
“I think to be honest it’s the no practice, no qualifying,” Kligerman said. “It was such an attractive thing to be able to be like, ‘Alright, we just show up and race.’ It’s amazing. We’re there one day, the cost is so much lower, the need for backup trucks is gone.”
Kligerman hasn’t raced full time since he was with Kyle Busch Motorsports in Xfinity in 2013, and the Xfinity arm of KBM folded the following year. He attempted to run full time for Swan Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2014, but that team closed operations just eight races into the season. Ever since then, Kligerman said he’s annually asked around this time of the year if he’ll take a full-time ride for the following season.
“I think for me, it would have to be an opportunity where I felt like it was going toward something. […] But just to go full-time racing for the sake of going full-time racing, just no,” Kligerman said. “I’m not interested in that. What you always have to do is value what the opportunity costs versus the sacrifices you’ll be making vs. the opportunity that lies there. I think that for some opportunities out there, it’s just not there, and the opportunity cost is too high and the sacrifice is too high to just hang around. Whereas I feel like I’m so intrinsically a part of this sport at this point through all the different facets that I’m a part of it that I don’t need that in that respect to be relevant and to be a part of the sport.
“It’s obviously something I think about, but we’ll see. I couldn’t say there’s anything on the radar right now in terms of that.”
While it seems Kligerman is content in living his dream being of part-time driver/TV personality — his two childhood goals were to be a professional racecar driver and part of a show similar to Top Gear, which Proving Grounds is — there’s always the potential he and Henderson could decide to push in all the chips one season and go for the Truck title.
Kligerman said, “But I will say the one that would be cool, and we joke about it with the Hendersons all the time, it’s like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to go run for a championship? I think we could really do it.’ And I’m like, ‘Eh, we’ll see. Maybe.’ I think that would be a lot of fun to do one year.”
As for now, just look for the No. 75 truck every once in a while when the team feels it can make a run for the win. Kligerman won’t be racing it this coming weekend at Talladega despite the pairing’s previous win there. That’s due to a crash in 2018 that took out their only superspeedway truck and the team not wanting to buy another since then.
“I agree with them because that’s a truck that can be thrown away in one race,” Kligerman said. “So for us to go superspeedway racing, it’s one of those things where we either need a reason or incentive to go, find a truck that’s a great price, that sort of thing. Because obviously, we won at Talladega together. But those are tough to find. So hopefully we’ll find one soon. We’re getting the itch to want to go superspeedway racing again.”
As of now, Henderson only plans to race one more time this season, potentially coming at Kansas Speedway.
“Our next race will be probably Kansas is what we’re thinking,” Kligerman said. “We want to take this newer truck that we raced at Bristol on a mile-and-a-half and see what it has.”