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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Justin Allgaier

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Justin Allgaier couldn’t wait to tell his dad, Mike, something new he wanted to try.

Justin, who was 5, had just watched his 7-year-old friend, Joey Moughan, race a quarter midget. It was during a night out for Justin and his mother, Dorothy. As he watched other kids his age, including some who were friends, Justin recalls immediately thinking, “I’m in.”

Dorothy was non-committal, offering Justin a, we’ll see what we can do. But Moughan’s father offered Justin the chance to drive Joey’s car, just to see if he even liked it. Mike Allgaier was traveling that week but soon heard all about Justin wanting to get behind the wheel.

“I was going a million miles an hour about how I went to a quarter midget racetrack, and I fell in love with it and that I was going to race quarter midgets,” Allgaier told NBC Sports. “My dad kept saying, no, no, no.”

But Justin had the trump card.

“I said, ‘But mom said,’ and he’s like, ‘Put your mom on the phone,’” Allgaier explained. “I put mom on the phone, and she said, ‘Well I told him that maybe we can get a cheap car and just go putz around, see if he likes it.’ He was like, no. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it (right). I don’t want to just go in there and just do it for fun just because it’s something that you think might be cool.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Allgaier went on to become a five-time quarter midget champion by age 12. In 2008, he won the ARCA Racing Series championship with the family team. A year later, Allgaier embarked on his full-time NASCAR career in the Xfinity Series earning three wins. After a stint in Sprint Cup in 2014 and ’15, Allgaier returned to the Xfinity Series and is competing for the championship with JR Motorsports.

“My dad was very big on never wanting it to be his decision that I went racing,” Allgaier said. “He would give me every opportunity to do it at a level of what was competitive, but he said if there was something else you want to do, if there’s another sport you want to play, we’re going to do it. So I played baseball and soccer, all kinds of other sports, but nothing ever was near racing.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: In what way did you grow up around racing?

Allgaier: My parents had both been involved in racing a number of years even before I came along. My dad sold tools for a long time and then got into the parts business, actually built and sold a brand of racecar. Then they got into the tire industry and started selling racing tires. So for as long as I can remember I was wanting to be at the track with my dad at some level and my mom ran the offices around home, and she traveled a lot with him too, but she was kind of the one who held the fort down; I spent most of my time with my mom. She’s the one that got me started in racing. She’s the one that took me to the racetrack for the first time.

NBC Sports: During your ARCA career you worked on your cars, did that give you a greater appreciation of what it takes to be a driver?

Allgaier: I think so. Not only does it help you with your own stuff, but it helps you with the other competitors, putting yourself or others in a position that damages racecars. I’ve watched guys work until four or five in the morning; I’ve watched guys not sleep at all; I’ve watched guys, and myself included, do things that make you go, ‘Oh man, there’s no reason or a way that you should be able to accomplish that,’ and you did. The other part of it is, when you have a job on the racecar, even when you’re not the one driving it, your mindset goes to, I want that racecar to be the best and the safest that it can be for whoever is driving it. I always looked at it as somebody might drive this car, so I have to put my thoughts and efforts into if somebody else is going to drive it, and I think that’s a great learning tool. When you understand how parts work and how they get bolted together and why things fail, I think it gives you a better understanding when you’re in the racecar of how to diagnose certain problems.

My job was always if it fell inside the windows. So mounting a seat or doing all the electrical work or running the fans or doing any of that kind of stuff. I maybe didn’t necessarily have the major suspensions pieces as a part of my job, but at the same time, I was always out there watching them do it, trying to understand how to make things work and how to help them make my racecar better. That’s something that not everyone in our younger generation has currently and I think that a lot of guys that came before me, their only option was to work on their racecars. By the time I came around, it was probably 50/50, and now I would say it’s probably 90/10, and I think that’s a great tool for some of these young kids that want to make it in this sport. I think it’s a great way to learn your racecar and to also learn some valuable lessons in life that you can’t learn in school.

NBC Sports: A few years ago during a prerace feature you gave a tour of your hometown, including your parent’s house where they have a room of racing memorabilia. Do your parents still collect a lot of memorabilia and have they added to it?

Allgaier: Oh yeah, every chance they get they add to it. My mom is constantly reorganizing the room because the amount of stuff that she collects grows, so she has to reorganize the room just to fit everything in. And it’s not uncommon either for my mom to go to a charity auction that I’ve donated stuff to and she’ll buy it. My parents are very sentimental when it comes to not only my racing but just racing in general. My parents have a lot of memorabilia that isn’t mine, has nothing to do with me but is stuff that has meant things to them in the past. We were at the (Motor Racing Outreach) dinner, and my dad bought some die-cast cars; it was Junior Johnson and Bobby Allison, and he’s like, even though I spent more on these cars than their actual retail value, the stories that I have knowing these cars and the era means more to me than the car itself does.

I have almost every helmet that I raced with; there’s only a few that have gotten away that were out of my control. I have a majority of firesuits. I at least have one or more from every year that I raced from the time I was five up until now. When my parents are no longer able to be around and be here with us, I’m very fortunate that they documented a lot of where I’ve come from, and it’s cool to be able to go home and see all that and relive those moments.

NBC Sports: How did the ‘Little Gator’ nickname come about?

Allgaier: When my dad was born they told my grandfather, ‘Mr. Alligator you can come in and see your son now’ because everybody always wants to add a T and drop some letters and add some letters. Our last name is hard enough as it is, but people always think it says alligator. So my dad became gator, and for as long as I can remember going to the racetrack everybody knew my dad as gator, and there were a lot of people that had no idea my dad’s name was Mike. Like no clue; known him for 30 years and didn’t know his name was Mike. We were at the racetrack one time in the ARCA Series, and I was probably eight or nine, and I was walking along with my dad and one of the crew members stopped him and said, ‘This must be the little gator you always talk about racing.’ It kind of stuck. I’m not sure that being called little anything is necessarily the nickname you’d like to have, but I have a more respect for my dad than probably anybody in this world and so if I’m ‘Little Gator’ to him being ‘Gator’ I’m OK with it.

NBC Sports: There’s an artistic side to you when it comes to design, and you’ve mentioned stashing away pens and notebooks in your motorhome, so what are some things you’ve created?

Allgaier: My grandfather and my dad are both closet artists. My grandfather was very, very good at it and he was more into building things, and you never knew what he was going to build out of stuff that you wouldn’t expect. He used to build these little owl sculptures out of tree bark, just random stuff that was really cool. And my dad is a great artist he just doesn’t do anything with it. He always swears he isn’t very good, so he doesn’t do anything with it. So from an early age, I always had a lot of artistic people around me and being into cars I was always a huge fan of the cars up in the Northeast, like the big block modifieds and the tour modifieds. I always thought those cars looked really cool, so I would always sit in class and draw cars and draw paint schemes and numbers and helmets and firesuits. You name it, and I was drawing it.

When I was 12, my dad got tired of paying people to do graphics on our racecars, so he bought a vinyl machine, and he told me that I had to read the entire manual, which was like 10,000 pages, and that I had to do all of these things before I could run it. But once I did that I was going to do all my own graphics. From then on, up until I was fortunate enough to come to Charlotte to drive NASCAR, I did every racecar that I drove; I designed, cut, put them on the racecars, that was my job. So, I love it even to this day. I still try to get as much input as I can, whatever they’ll give me. Most of our teams now have people that do that, so I don’t get as much say as I would like, but at the same time, I’ve been very lucky to have an ability to do it. I’m not as good as it as I would like, but I still enjoy doing it.

Previous spotlight interviews:

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Daniel Suarez

Brandon Jones

Elliott Sadler

Rod Sieg

Chris Gabehart

Garrett Smithley

Brendan Gaughan

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

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Ryan Preece leaving NASCAR future ‘up to fate’ and his own talent

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This is it.

Just 250 laps.

A track in Iowa.

The second half of a two-race gamble on himself that Ryan Preece has spent 20 years investing in since his days at a quarter-midget track in Meriden, Connecticut.

The 26-year-old driver is three days away from a race that could determine if he has any future at NASCAR’s highest levels.

The biggest race of Preece’s career comes in Saturday night’s Xfinity Series event at Iowa Speedway (3:30 p.m., NBC), a race where there will be no Cup drivers to keep him out of the spotlight.

He’s been on this stage before, though. He competed in this race against many of the same drivers last year, but in nowhere near the equipment provided by Joe Gibbs Racing’s No 20 Toyota. That’s why his presence in the Xfinity race two weeks ago at New Hampshire and his second-place finish may have taken some off guard.

“At a national level with Xfinity, there’s still probably some people who still don’t know I ran last year,” says Preece, who ran in all 33 Xfinity races in 2016 with JD Motorsports.

A second-generation driver, Preece rose through the ranks of modifieds and late models in the Northeast, winning numerous series and track championships and becoming the youngest champion of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2013. He has 17 wins in the series since 2007.

He eventually got a taste of the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series with underfunded teams the last three years.

But after his year with JD Motorsports, mostly spent in the back half of the field, Preece didn’t want another stagnant season. He didn’t want a 10th-place finish at Darlington to be his ceiling.

Ryan Preece during practice for the Xfinity Series Overton’s 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Getty Images).

He’s relied on Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on what he should do.

“(Newman) said ‘If you’re not having fun, why do it?’” Preece recalls. “ ‘If you’re not doing what you want to be doing, why do that?’ I said ‘You’re right.’ I want to win, and I feel I wasn’t going to be able to at that point in time.”

Preece chose to return to his home in modified racing.

There, he knew he was good. There, he knew he could be at peace and win at the same time.

“I learned that I’m just not somebody who is just going to settle, to just be there” Preece says. “I’m not about being just part of the show. I want to show everybody, more prove to myself that I can do this. Not that I don’t think I can, but I want to show everybody else too. I feel like I need that opportunity and I finally got it (with Joe Gibbs Racing).”

While Newman’s words helped him come to a conclusion, Earnhardt encouraged him along a specific path.

“I said, ‘If you can get into a Gibbs car, get in a Gibbs car,” Earnhardt said. ” ‘That would be your best opportunity to win a race. That’s really the only way you’re going to be able to get people to take notice. I’m not saying it was my idea, but I think he made a great decision with what little money he had.”

“When opportunity doesn’t knock, you’ve got to knock the door down,” Preece says.

If Preece didn’t heed the words of Earnhardt, he listened to Kevin Manion.

During his one season with JD Motorsports, Preece lived in the race shop of the Kyle Busch Motorsports crew chief.

It was Manion who gave Preece the phone number of Steve deSouza, the executive vice president of Xfinity and development at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Kevin Manion gave me his number and said, ‘Hey, at least you can call. If he doesn’t call back, it’s no big deal, at least you can say you called’,” Preece says. “That’s really, to be honest with you, what got everything going because (deSouza) called me back that night. Obviously, it took sponsors to get me into the car and finish off the deal. Those phone calls are what really got me to this point.”

Preece said this three days removed from the best finish of his Xfinity career in 37 starts.

Driving the No. 20 Toyota usually piloted by Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin or Christopher Bell, Preece finished second at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Ryan Preece sits in the No. 20 MoHawk Northeast Inc. Toyota during practice for the Xfinity  Series Overton’s 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

It was a race that saw Preece lead two laps and finish runner-up to Kyle Busch.

But neither of those were the most fun part of the experience for Preece. That came with 10 laps left in Stage 1 as the race resumed after a caution and Preece restarting 16th on fresh tires.

Ten laps later, Preece finished the stage in second behind Kyle Larson.

“That’s what I like to do,” Preece said. “I’m used to on Friday and Saturday nights where we have what they call a handicap. You win your heat race and then you start 15th or whatever. I’m used to starting mid-pack and driving through the field and navigating through holes and keeping the car safe doing it. That was the most fun to me.”

Preece will get one more chance to show off his kind of fun in the Xfinity Series to anyone that’s paying attention.

With the backing of five sponsors who have supported his modified and late-model careers, Preece secured the race at New Hampshire. Three of those sponsors will be on his car this weekend in Iowa.

Preece says he hasn’t felt any more pressure to perform in these two races than he would in any at the modified level. Even if they could be his last real shot at NASCAR success.

“I knew what the value of those races could be, the risk that was being taken,” Preece says. “It’s funny, some people have even said after this point they thought what I was doing was pretty risky. They wouldn’t do it, it’s not the conventional way. I believe in myself, and I knew that if could get the right opportunity and be a part of something like that it could go exactly the way I felt it could go. I could have gone and blown up on Lap 5 and you still wouldn’t know who Ryan Preece is.”

But for at least one more race, Preece can force the spotlight on himself.

He seeks to make his name when it seems any noteworthy driver rising through NASCAR’s top three series hovers around the legal drinking age. But the 26-year-old believes his age is a benefit.

“One thing I know from personal experience is that I’ve gotten better and wiser with age and that’s something about our sport,” Preece says. “As long as you’re willing to put in the effort, you can keep going to the next level. You’re only going to get better as you get older.”

Even as the days tick down to his second start, Preece’s mind last week was focused on his full-time job. He drives a modified owned by Eddie and Connie Partridge that he takes care of himself.

Last Tuesday, he was in the middle of attaching panels to the car he drove to an eighth-place finish Friday night at Stafford Motor Speedway, located roughly 40 miles northeast of his hometown of Berlin, Connecticut.

Preece has taken it upon himself to prepare his modifieds since 2011 when he parted ways with a team after only three races.

It’s a work ethic Preece aspired to after witnessing one of his heroes, the late sprint car driver Dave Steele, from a distance. As a kid still driving in midgets, Preece watched Steele work on his car following a race at the Speedrome in Indianapolis.

“He won that night of course,” Preece recalls. “He had his lap top plugged into the whole system and from that day on he made me want to be like him. …  I watched him work on his race car and really, he didn’t have many guys with him. From what I remember it was only two or three of them. It was a memory for me and kind of what set the tone for who I want to be and how I want to be.”

Now Preece is waiting to see if the combination of his work ethic and a gamble on himself will pay off following his Iowa venture.

But Preece is leaving his NASCAR fortunes “up to fate.”

“That will tell us if I was meant to do this or not at a bigger level,” Preece says. “My goal is to go out there and show the world what I feel I can do and that’s hopefully winning races at this level.”

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Xfinity crew chief Chris Gabehart penalized $5,000 for loose lug nut at Indy

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NASCAR has issued one penalty resulting from last weekend’s races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Chris Gabehart, crew chief for the No. 20 Xfinity Series car of Joe Gibbs Racing, was fined $5,000 on Wednesday.

Gabehart was penalized for violating Sections 10.4 and 10.9 of the NASCAR Rule Book covering Tires and Wheels: Lug nut(s) not properly installed at the conclusion of the Lilly Diabetes 250.

There were no other penalties related to last weekend’s Xfinity or NASCAR Cup races in Indianapolis or the Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway.

Richard Childress Racing to announce plans for a third Cup team ‘at a later date’

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With Paul Menard and his family’s home improvement chain sponsorship on the move to Wood Brothers Racing for 2018, Richard Childress Racing has a major funding gap to address.

Menards has adorned the No. 27 Chevrolet for RCR for seven consecutive Cup seasons and is among the last full-season sponsors in NASCAR’s premier series. It assuredly is the most lucrative of RCR’s sponsorships.

Though the team is committed to fielding Chevys for Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon next season, the impending departure of Menard leaves questions about whether RCR will remain a three-car team in 2018.

In a statement Wednesday morning, team chairman and CEO Richard Childress said the team “will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.”

Here’s the full statement from Childress:

Paul Menard and Menards, Inc. have had a partnership with RCR for seven years. Together, we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, including Paul’s emotional win at Indianapolis in 2011. He is a very talented driver and a good friend. Everyone at RCR wishes both Paul and Menards nothing but the best in the future.

Our entire RCR organization is 100 percent focused on getting all three of our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series programs in the playoffs this year, and bringing another Cup championship to RCR in 2017.

We will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.

 

Paul Menard will move to the Wood Brothers for 2018 season

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Paul Menard will join Wood Brothers Racing next season, the team announced Wednesday. He will replace Ryan Blaney, who will move after this season to run a third Cup car for Team Penske.

Menards will sponsor the car in 22 races. Additional sponsorship, including plans for longtime partner Motorcraft/Quick Lane, will be announced later. The technical alliance between Team Penske and the Wood Brothers will continue. Greg Erwin will serve as Menard’s crew chief, car owner Eddie Wood confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s fantastic to have the ability to continue to race in the highest level of motorsports full time and something we look forward to doing with Paul for years to come,” Wood said in a statement. “I know this will allow us to continue to perform as an organization and will give Paul a great opportunity to go out there and compete for wins. Paul is not only a great driver with a lot of experience in the Cup Series, but he’s great with partners, which is a big part of what we do these days. We are looking forward to finishing out this season with Ryan (Blaney), going for more wins and maybe even a championship, and continuing that with Paul in 2018.”

Said Menard: “I’ve really enjoyed my time in NASCAR and as a Cup Series driver, but to get the chance to drive the iconic No. 21 for the Wood Brothers is the coolest thing I’ve ever got a chance to do. I’m looking forward to working with the team, working with Roush Yates, Ford Performance and Team Penske to see what we can do. Ryan (Blaney) has done a fantastic job and is a constant threat to run up front. Hopefully, we can do the same thing and keep the momentum going into 2018 and beyond.”

Also, Menard will run a handful of Xfinity races for Team Penske next year.

Menard had been with Richard Childress Racing since 2011, scoring his lone Cup victory — the 2011 Brickyard 400 — with the organization.

Menard’s best finish in the points with the organization was 14th in 2015. He is 23rd in the points with no wins, two top fives and three top-10 finishes this season.

The move marks the fourth organization the 36-year-old Menard has raced full-time for in his Cup career. He drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. from 2007-08, Yates Racing from 2009-10 and Childress since.

Car owner Richard Childress issued a statement:

“Paul Menard and Menards, Inc. have had a partnership with RCR for seven years. Together, we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, including Paul’s emotional win at Indianapolis in 2011. He is a very talented driver and a good friend. Everyone at RCR wishes both Paul and Menards nothing but the best in the future.
“Our entire RCR organization is 100 percent focused on getting all three of our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series programs in the playoffs this year, and bringing another Cup championship to RCR in 2017.
“We will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.”

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