It’s been a season of seconds for Carson Hocevar.
After recording a career-best finish of second during the last Camping World Truck Series season, he’s replicated that three different times this year, coming close to a victory numerous times, but still yet to claim his first career checkered flag.
The 19-year-old Niece Motorsports driver’s roller-coaster season has also featured an injury, as a late crash at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway sent the No. 42 spinning and directly into the path of Tyler Hill‘s No. 56. The impact left Hocevar with a broken ankle, but that didn’t stop him from coming back one week later on crutches to win the pole at Sonoma Raceway before exiting the truck early in the race.
More recently, the 6’4″ driver gambled late at Kansas Speedway in a last-ditch effort to make the next round of the playoffs, his second postseason berth in as many years, but ultimately fell just short. Hocevar has also launched a YouTube channel and continues his pre-race hat gimmick, featuring everything from a “Top Gun: Maverick” helmet to a “Vote for Pedro” trucker hat to a Gumby bucket hat.
Frontstretch caught up with Hocevar at Richmond Raceway in mid-August, as well as ahead of the early-October race at Talladega Superspeedway, discussing his sophomore full-time season, making the playoffs two years in a row and several close-but-no-cigar moments in 2022. He doesn’t have anything locked down for 2023 (he’s “working on it,” but does have several more shots at his first Truck Series win this year.
Adam Cheek, Frontstretch: How was your playoff approach different this season, a career year for you, as compared to 2021?
Hocevar: There wasn’t a lot of pressure. In my opinion, you’re either good enough or you’re not — you can’t pinpoint certain moments, either it works out for you or not. [At] Kansas, we weren’t very fast, we weren’t very quick. Our trucks those three weeks were not very good; honestly, our speed was off. If you’re going to dance around the deal and say, ‘oh, we ran decent’ — no, you point out the problem, you’re honest about it and you fix the problem.
We improved and we took a 17th-place racecar, a 15th-place racecar [at Kansas] and finished second with it and had a shot to win. In one scenario, I don’t lose four seconds and we win the race and we’re in the [Round of 8]. […] We did everything we could on our last-ditch effort, and it just didn’t work out. We did everything we could with the resources we have and we just weren’t good enough.
Cheek: What did you learn from that first full-time season in trucks that you’ve applied this year, and what have you taken away from 2022 so far?
Hocevar: Just being able to be confident from start to finish. I mean, it sucks with me breaking my ankle, and I wanted Sonoma back really bad. Obviously, at least [on] one-lap speed, I was the fastest one there for quite a bit, so it was cool, but I really wish I could get that one back especially since they took that one off the schedule. I’m mad at whoever made that decision.
But it was nice to [have] confidence going to every racetrack. I feel like, almost everywhere, we were fast, especially in the regular season. And a lot of it’s the driver, to be honest — a driver can make up a lot in the race track. In these deals I feel like the truck is probably 75%, the 25% is the driver and the 25% means a lot in race-type scenarios. [In] qualifying I’m flat-out […] and we qualify decent, qualify bad, whatever, but we can race good.[…] When you’re running up front, you could take a 10th-place racecar and run top five with it any day of the week if you’re a badass racecar driver. That’s very, very slim, because the guys in the top five are good — it’s best truck wins at that point.
Cheek: Your first starts came in 2019 with Jordan Anderson’s No. 3 and Hill Motorsports’ No. 56, then a bunch of part-time starts for Niece in 2020, then full-time the last couple of years. How did the deal with Niece initially come about?
Hocevar: Jordan was leasing space in Al Niece’s shop and they saw me, I got to meet some of the Niece guys — I was signing a deal with Jordan that day. […] I got a call by [Niece crew chief] Cody Efaw to go run Al Niece’s trucks part-time, and so I took advantage of that. I mean, it was literally going to be that week [that] I was gonna do a part-time deal with Jordan. Niece, probably for lack of better words, stole me. I didn’t have a lot of funding. […] If I had the funding to go do all this, I would have just jumped in a KBM truck or a GMS truck or whatever the case may be.
Niece made it very affordable for me for the little budget I had and they hired me to drive. It’s the coolest thing in the world, and Al Niece is a friend of mine — I’m going to Texas with him. Cody Efaw, I go to his kids’ baseball games and help them coach. It’s a family. I’m glad I didn’t have all this money to go to KBM or GMS, because I’d be probably scratching my head looking for a ride.
Hocevar’s girlfriend is Peyton Lanphear, who alongside sister Reilly have raced in the American Canadian Tour for several years. Peyton was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma earlier this year, and is in the midst of chemotherapy to treat the disease.
Cheek: You and Peyton have been there for each other — it’s very clear on social media that you guys support each other.
Hocevar: It’s really good. She’s my best friend and I know she needs somebody, so I’m glad I can fill that role as good as I can. She’s been above and beyond for me, and she’s going through [things] a million times harder than I could ever imagine.
Cheek: Is there a particular track you’ve got your eye on the rest of the way this season?
Hocevar: Trust me, I’m gonna be so happy but so pissed if my first win is at Talladega. I’m gonna be so thrilled and happy that they’ll have to cancel the Xfinity race, because they’re gonna have to drag me off the [track]. But at the same time, I’m gonna be pissed, because then everybody can say, ‘oh, you you can only win at a superspeedway, that’s all you can win at.’ I wish I could have won some earlier, but everybody’s got the same shot. Homestead, I’ve never been there. I feel like it’s sort of our racetrack, sort of my type of racetrack — low grip, high roll speed, kind of against the wall, kind of against the bottom, sort of a Darlington type. And then [at] Phoenix, we got to beat the final four. The final four always have the most fun and most money and they they put all their eggs in that.
Cheek: Take me through the process of your recovery from the ankle injury.
Hocevar: Driving-wise, it’s pretty normal. It still does hurt at times, it feels very weird. It feels a lot like my foot’s a Lego piece, like it just clamps in and clamps off. It’s just kind of weird, kind of awkward — I had to drive home after Bristol, and I had my foot just a little bit right, and so the nerves are a little stretched. I got to the hotel, put the little thin piece of blanket on it and it hurt like hell. I still can’t sleep left, just because the bone gets kind of annoyed by that stuff, so when I do sleep left I just hang my foot off the bed. It’s just the nerves and muscles of it, it just gets strained very quickly, very easily.[…] [Rehab] was just slowly physical therapy, building back strength in it, building back the movement, [which] was very quick. Once I really started being able to put weight [on it] and really stretch it, it got stretched out and you can move. But once you get tight, it was stuck tight for a little bit. Now it’s the movements back, you’re just now bending the strength to try and compensate for the ligaments and nerve damage. That will take longer no matter how hard I work at it — it just takes time.
Cheek: Did you know that something was wrong when you first got hit, or was it in the moments afterward?
Hocevar: I put my left foot down after I got out of that truck, it was fine — it just hurt, it’s just kind of throbbing. And I put my right foot down and I fell back on my ass, I just fell right backwards just because I put it down and then, consciously, your mind just tells you ‘nope, don’t do that.’
I got up and I just fell straight back into the people’s arms. That’s when I figured it out. I was very optimistic until I saw the x-ray, that it was just probably swollen and strained or whatever.
Cheek: You’ve had good finishes at Daytona, but were caught up in a wreck last year at Talladega. How are you preparing for ‘Dega this weekend?
Hocevar: I’m praying a lot. [laughs] Repenting my sins, finding four leaf clovers, picking up trash on the side of the highway, doing all I can. That’s all you can do. […] I work with Josh [Wise], and his meetings for Daytona and Talladega, especially for trucks, are very short compared to everything else. We sit in line and gain by inches, there’s not huge moves, we don’t run the top, we don’t run the bottom, we don’t have enough power to do anything. […]
It’s like driving on the highway and just knowing about 10 car lanes in front of you, […] eventually someone’s gonna blow a tire and they’re all gonna crash. So you’re just waiting for that, hoping you’re aware of it, but I’m too all-over-the-place in my head anyways. I just want to go, so I either get really calm or really upbeat. I’m not that great of a superspeedway racer, but it’s just ultimately just the luck of the draw if you miss the crash or not.[…] I bought my Powerball tickets. I do it every time I go — I’m either gonna be lucky on the racetrack or off the racetrack. So I got it dialed in.
Cheek: You’ve been a bridesmaid multiple times this season. How has your approach changed with those good runs and how have you and the team adjusted?
Hocevar: We’re just capitalizing on the day. I’ve just tried way too hard to make things happen and make days that probably aren’t winning days winning days, and it’s cost us more than helped. It’s literally trying to be 99% […] and let things happen the way they should, rather than trying to orchestrate it myself or just try and push 1000%.[…] To run up front and be in contention to win races is what we’ve always wanted. […] We just haven’t picked that one off yet, but […] we’ve we’ve only gotten faster since I broke my ankle, it seems like. So it’s worked out, I don’t think we’ve lost the staff […] they work just as hard, if not harder, especially during the playoffs. They’re all meshing really well, [have] really good chemistry and we’re just trying to find the little details to just make our jobs easier.
Had to ask @CarsonHocevar about his pre-race hats.
His favorite? The “Vote for Pedro” entry.
— Adam Cheek (@adamncheek) August 13, 2022
Cheek: Your hat game is completely kicking ass. How did that initially come about?
Hocevar: I don’t know. It just happened. I mean, who would have thought some frickin’ 19-year-old kid from Michigan, anybody would care what he’s wearing on his head?
Who would have thought in the years of Tim Richmond, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, all these badasses, this is what the sport would come to? I don’t know. It’s been kind of fun to do, it’s almost a little stress reliever for me. I got to think of something new though, because I feel like it’s — if I do it another year, it’s gonna get drawn out or it’s gonna get kind of old or I’m going to forget ideas. Or, if I do 30-some races or something. I’m going to be out of ideas here. I need to find a new kink or new itch or something, but I’ll figure it out.[…] I did it as a one-off, and it just kind of spinballed from there. It wasn’t planned, I didn’t expect it to really take off or do anything. I just had a good time doing it and had a few funny ones I just always had, so I started wearing them.
Cheek: What’s your favorite that you’ve done so far?
Hocevar: Probably the [Napoleon Dynamite] “Vote for Pedro” one. Such a good movie.
About the author
Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.