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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Q&A with Harrison Rhodes

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The origins of Harrison Rhodes‘ NASCAR career can be traced to two Harley-Davidson motorcycles, one of them ridden by former Cup champion Bobby Labonte.

“I actually started racing kind of because my dad (Gene Rhodes) was friends with Bobby Labonte and they used to drive Harley-Davidsons with each other back in the day and I went to school with his son, Tyler,” Rhodes told NBC Sports. “Tyler was racing quarter midgets at the time. It was kind of one of those deals where I went and watched Tyler down in Florida one time and man, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. So long story short, Bobby let me drive Tyler’s quarter midget there at their little shop they had and we ended up getting in a car at our first race in Columbus, Ohio, at an indoor track.”

Harrison Rhodes competes in the Xfinity race at Charlotte last May. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

After getting his start at 10, Rhodes is now 24 and one of three drivers for JD Motorsports, driving the No. 01 Chevrolet in his fifth year of Xfinity competition.

During the last few years Rhodes has also been busy working away at a back-up plan, just in case racing doesn’t work out. He graduated in December from North Carolina State University with a major in business entrepreneurship and a minor in graphic communications.

“I graduated, and now I’m trying to make the race car thing work as long as I can,” Rhodes said. “Trying to get out here and keep trying to find sponsors and keep running well. You can’t do one or the other, you’ve got to do both pretty well in this sport to keep progressing forward.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: You have 73 Xfinity starts, do you feel like you’ve made it in NASCAR?

Rhodes: I don’t know. I don’t guess you never feel like you’ve made it. I definitely don’t take what I have for granted, but on the other hand my goal is not to be trying to get a top 20 every week, you know? Eventually I want to go out there and be competitive, trying to win races. I think I’ve made it to the point to where I’m racing in NASCAR, that’s a huge milestone. How many people can say they’re racing in NASCAR? To kind of put it in perspective, my first race ever when I ran at Phoenix (in 2013), Mike Wallace came up to me and I hadn’t qualified very well and I was a little bit down with it being my first start, was wanting to impress some people. He came up to me and he told me, ‘Don’t worry about it, go out here and run a clean race and just remember you’re one of 40 people that are getting to do this today.’

He kind of put it into perspective just how fortunate I am to be where I’m at. I’m getting to do what I love for a living at the current moment. But obviously my goal is to keep working forward and to eventually be in a car that can win races. I think it would be cool to get a victory for (owner) Johnny (Davis) in one of his cars. I think we might have a chance at a superspeedway or something like that. We’re just going to keep working hard.

NBC Sports: Which was a bigger deal for you, getting a top 10 at Daytona (twice) or graduating college from N.C. State?

Rhodes: I don’t know. There wasn’t no luck in graduating college, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of time and effort put into that, a lot of studying, long hours and a lot of trips to Raleigh. Whereas, at Daytona I had a decent car I guess. As far as raw speed I think we were 36th quick, so it’s not like I had a blazing fast car for that race, got the right breaks. I think I’ve become a decent speedway racer. Being able to read different situations, learn to draft a little bit better and be smart. Obviously, I don’t have it all figured out, but I definitely think I’m getting the hang of it a little bit. That was a cool race, we were able to get some breaks, missed a bunch of wrecks. Man, I missed a bunch of wrecks. I got lucky as far as that goes. It’s always good to have a good showing at Daytona.

Harrison Rhodes pits during the Firecracker 250 in July at Daytona (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images).

NBC Sports: Why did you choose business entrepreneurship as a major and graphic communications as a minor?

Rhodes: I was actually going to do engineering at N.C. State. I got kind of into the deeper classes with the math and the physics and all that stuff and just realized there was no way I was going to be able to do that and race. I had to miss a lot of class to race on the weekends. So I was like, ‘this is not going to work. This is going to be a one or the other thing.’ So racing took the priority on that. But I’ve always had ideas of maybe starting my own business someday or doing some small stuff. Obviously, my dad owns his own business (two Chik-fil-A stores in High Point, North Carolina) and a lot of my family does as well. It’s always been something that’s been instilled in me, and I have a lot of experience from watching my family run businesses.

It was kind of the next best thing. I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s helped me a lot as far as being in these sponsorship meetings and going to these big corporate companies and knowing what I’m talking about and pitching new ideas and new ways of doing things. Then on the graphics side I do all of my own social media art work and I design my hero cards and do all that stuff. I’ve always liked doing the graphics stuff on my computer and tinkering around. It was cool to get that minor. It’s really transferred to what I do every day.

NBC Sports: You’ll be in Bristol this weekend. If you were in the Cup race, what would be your intro song?

Rhodes: It’s kind of funny, I probably listen to every single style of music except for screamo and stuff like that. I’m not a big fan of that. Probably some cool rock song. Maybe like Metallica or something. Something to get me pumped up, get the fans pumped up. “Enter Sandman” or something. There was always a pitcher for the (New York) Yankees that always had that song coming out (Mariano Rivera). I remember seeing him one time come out to that song and I thought it was the coolest thing.

 

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Rhodes: Technically my first car that I owned is the car I drive now, a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS. But the first car I drove when I was 16, that was my dad’s car at the time, a Mini Cooper. A Clubman Mini Cooper. So like a supercharged Mini Cooper. That’s probably the first thing I drove around. … It was a pretty cool car. It was pretty fast for what it was and it drove really good. It was pretty sporty looking. I got tired of people telling me my car was ‘cute.’ So I was like, ‘you know what? I’m over it.’ We traded it in for a truck and I drove it for a while and then we got the Camaro.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a street car or race car?

Rhodes: My Camaro I have, it’s blacked out. So I named it the ‘Black Knight.’

NBC Sports: If you have an obligation-free day, how do you spend it?

Rhodes: If I had nothing to do and just a day to kill, I’m probably going to the lake to hang out there riding my jet ski some or something. Just go surfing.

NBC Sports: When it comes to the surfing and wake boarding stuff what’s the worst wipeout you’ve had?

Rhodes: Oh man, I’ve had some. I don’t do it anymore really as much. I used to wake board quite a bit. I got to the point where I was trying some 360s and some back flips and some cool stuff like that. I got to the point, dude, I face planted so hard a couple of times. I was like, ‘you know what? This. Is. Stupid.’ I’ve taken harder hits on a wake board hitting the water than I have in a race car. I’ve had concussions from it about five, six years go. I was like, ‘This hurts. I’m done with this. I’m going to stick to the surfing where you go 10 mph and it doesn’t hurt when you fall.’ When you’re going 23 mph straight and then you’re also cutting across the waves, so it’s a combined 40-something mph and you literally go face-first in the water and don’t stop and go 45 to zero, it hurts.

NBC Sports: What’s the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make in your career?

Rhodes: Sometimes choosing a team is a difficult situation. Probably the most difficult decision I ever made was after the 2015 season, leaving JD Motorsports to go race for (Obaika Racing). That was a really hard decision. If I could redo it again I would not have made that same decision. I would have stayed with JD Motorsports, but hindsight is 20-20, so you live and you learn. I’m very fortunate Johnny has allowed me to come back and race for him. That was probably the most difficult/stupid decision I’ve ever made in racing.

NBC Sports: Why did you make that decision?

Rhodes: At the time, the team I was going to race for in 2016 made a lot of promises and made it sound like they were really going all out for that season and have really great equipment and it was going to be this big thing and then none of it ended up happening. It was kind of one of those deals where we decided part ways and I started racing for Rick Ware and Carl Long throughout the season afterwards.

NBC Sports: What’s the best criticism/advice you’ve received about your career to this point?

Rhodes: That’s a difficult one, because as far as driving goes you don’t necessarily get a ton of driving advice at this level. You’ll sometimes get things from here or there from drivers that if you need something you can ask. I can’t really think of the best advice I’ve gotten. I think the best advice I could give somebody is to get really good at marketing and to really get out there early and meet a lot of people and try to get a good sponsor behind you. Because really, you can see on social media it’s no secret that to be in a car that’s capable of winning you’re going to have to bring $6 million in this series. It doesn’t necessarily matter how great you are of a race car driver, that you got to have the money behind you. I think that’s the thing. It’s a little difficult to swallow at times because you feel you’re better than other people that may be in a ride. But it’s so demanded by money. I’d say that would be my biggest piece of advice to get somebody really good at marketing. The advice I give to myself all the time is to not give up on it. You get a lot ‘no’s’ and you can get discouraged at times, but to just get back on the horse, go out there and don’t let it get you down. If you want to be in a car, you have to work hard and find the money to do it.

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Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

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Tyler Reddick

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J.J. Yeley

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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Q&A with J.J. Yeley

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J.J. Yeley has been going to race tracks since he was barely two weeks old.

That’s what happens when your dad, “Cactus” Jack Yeley, is a seven-time Arizona Midget Racing Association and two-time World of Outlaws midget champion.

At 40, J.J. Yeley is in his 13th year of competing in NASCAR. Yeley, who has also raced in the Indianapolis 500 and is a USAC Triple Crown winner, got his start racing midgets in his home state of Arizona at the age of 16 … actually,  make that 14.

J.J. Yeley drives during qualifying for the Xfinity Series at Kentucky Speedway on July 7, 2017 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images).

“I started racing at an age than I was legally allowed to, I guess,” Yeley told NBC Sports. “I had some very fancy documentation that showed I was older than I really was and that allowed me to start racing two years earlier than I was supposed to.”

Did any of the proper officials become aware of his “fancy documentation”?

“Well, it is funny because my mom was actually the president of the midget association. She was aware,” Yeley said. “My parents made sure we had the insurance that was going to be necessary so the tracks or someone wouldn’t be held liable for me obviously not being of age. I think I was the first minor to be emancipated in the state of Arizona, again just to make sure we were doing everything we possibly could knowing I was younger than I was supposed to be.”

Now Yeley, a former Joe Gibbs Racing driver, is one of the grizzled veterans on the Xfinity circuit. Heading to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend, he and his TriStar Motorsports teams are 14th in the points two weeks after he placed his No. 14 car sixth at Iowa Speedway for their first top-10 of the season.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC SPORTS: You made your first Xfinity start on March 6, 2004 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Since then you’ve made 555 total NASCAR starts. Could you have imagined back in March 2004 you’d have been able to be in this sport for 555 starts across all three national series?

Yeley: Probably not. That’s not one of those things you look forward to. It’s still hard to believe I’ve been racing in NASCAR for I think this is my 13th year. I know I hear some drivers complain about the schedule and the things that come along with it. Luckily and thankfully I’m still not to that point. I’m 40 years old. I feel like I’m in better shape now than I’ve probably ever been. I spend more time focusing on my health and what I eat vs. probably what I used to. … I look forward to every week getting to the race track and getting behind the wheel of a race car. I’m not thinking about how many starts I’m going to have as man, I want to win one of these dang races. I’ve finished everywhere but (first), I’ve had some fantastic opportunities that I unfortunately had slip away and I think to some of those events, those guys wanted it more than me.

I can remember back to getting beat by Clint Bowyer at Memphis and it was a matter of we kept having restarts and he kept doing everything in the world that was crazy that according to a rule book that he should have been punished by. But he still did them and he didn’t get penalized and he won the race and I lost by a car length. David Gilliland moved me out of the way at Kentucky when I had a car that was dominant. Even those are events that happened years and years ago, those are races I should’ve won, that I could’ve won and for whatever small reason, I finished second. To think, especially now that you’ve told me I’ve participated in so many races and to not have won, I still have that drive to go out there and do that.

NBC SPORTS: I know this has probably been a difficult couple of weeks with the passing of TriStar’s owner, Mark Smith. How close were you with him after two years of racing for him?

Yeley: We weren’t overly close. Mark had been battling some back issues before I had come to TriStar. I knew Mark was heavily involved with his team being a family-run program. He was basically at the race track every week and if it was taking care of his race team or overlooking his engine program, having some of those issues kept him very limited to where if usually I needed to see him or talk with him it was either done over the phone or I go up to the engine shop and talk with him. He was just such an easy guy to get along with. He just wanted to do whatever was going to be best for the team and always wanted to be fair. As a race car driver having an owner like that, it’s hard to ask for anyone other than that to be in that type of situation.

NBC Sports: Was it important for you and the team to get that sixth-place finish at Iowa in the wake of his death?

Yeley: Absolutely. Mark always had a saying, ‘Let’s end this day on a high note.’ That was something we heard quite often. We have it now in the trailer above my locker and to know again that something like that would happen and everyone would push on and to get the finish and kind of have the breaks and luck and things go along, it was almost like he was up there looking over us. Obviously, would have loved to be able to win that race but there at the last restart, I had a fender rub and kind of put it into protection mode just to make sure we didn’t cut a tire and ruin what was going to be a great finish. It meant a lot for the team and obviously a huge push for the program and then unfortunately we were knocked back into reality with that part failure last weekend in Watkins Glen.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Yeley: My first vehicle was a 1980 Chevy pickup truck that my dad painted Corvette yellow. It had a 383 small block and it was loud and fast. You could hear me coming from a mile away, which I’m pretty sure that was by design because you could tell when I came home and when I left home.

NBC Sports: Why yellow?

Yeley: At the time my race cars were Corvette yellow. It was actually an old diesel pickup truck that we had kind of rebuilt as a father-son (project) in the driveway. I believe it was a matter of we had some leftover paint, so that was a reason. If it wasn’t loud you could definitely see it coming from a couple of miles away. 

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a street car or race car?

Yeley: Actually, this year was probably one of the first years we’ve done that. When we have unsponsored races we’ve been calling the car ‘Black Betty’ after the old song. A friend of mine, that’s his favorite tune. We have a little decal that goes in the car for every time that we run it flat black. ‘Black Betty’ was alive and well there in Iowa.

NBC Sports: What’s the weirdest piece of merchandise you’ve ever had your face or name on?

Yeley: A gentleman had a photo of me flipping in Las Vegas in a sprint car of all things and it was on his forearm. He wanted me to sign it because he wanted to have my autograph tattooed into the photo. I can’t remember if it was just a cool picture of me flipping but that was something where there’s one gentleman roaming around the world that (has a picture) on his forearm of me flipping a sprint car violently at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

NBC Sports: What does JJ stand for?

Yeley: It stands for Jimmy Jack. … It is initials from my dad, Jack, and his best friend, who is basically my uncle, Jimmy. My real name is Christopher. When I was born in 1976, I was a Cesarean (birth), so obviously that took awhile. My mom wanted me to be Sean Michael, my dad wanted me to be Anthony Joseph after AJ Foyt. Obviously, there was a point there where my mom was pregnant and they hadn’t figured this out. They were at odds with each other, so while I was in the process of being birthed, my dad and Jimmy would take turns to see my mom while the other would go back out into the lobby. They would change hats and they had some glasses, they were always pretending to be the other. So that’s where I got the J.J.

NBC Sports: Who actually calls you Christopher?

Yeley: Realistically, the only person in my entire life that’s called me Christopher was my grandmother. She passed away last year. Or when I was in grade school, I went by Chris. Other than that, anybody that knew me outside of school, if it was a friend, anything, I’ve been J.J. my entire life.

NBC Sports: If you could have a one-on-one race with any driver, past or present, on any course and in any type of car, what would be your dream arrangement?

Yeley: I’ve always been a huge fan of the racers back in the 60s, mainly because that’s when race car drivers were real race car drivers, you know. T-shirts, leather helmets and unfortunately a lot of great race car drivers lost their lives almost on a weekly basis. To get to back and race on dirt against the likes of an A.J. Foyt, a Parnelli Jones, Jud Larson, I don’t know that I could just pick one. But to get to participate against a field of drivers that ultimately raced the same way I feel now, where they gave 100 percent and if they gave their life doing it, then so be it. It would be a dirt race somewhere back in the 60s.

NBC Sports: What’s the last song you got stuck in your head?

Yeley: It would be a Cody Jinx song. I think it’s “Thunder and Rain.” (“Loud and Heavy”) … It’s more like country (music). He would be like a Waylon Jennings, a newer version. … Good friends with my crew chief, Wally. They have some pretty catchy tunes if you’re more an older type of country guy. It’s more like a Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings kind of era.

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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Garrett Smithley

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The motto that drives Garrett Smithley‘s career is summed up by a decal on the dashboard of every car he races:

“Patience, never give up.”

It’s guided the 25-year-old driver for the last decade since he began driving a Bandolero in Peach Tree City, Georgia, and finished fourth in his first race on Oct. 27, 2007 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Garrett Smithley during practice for the Xfinity Series Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway (Getty Images).

In the years since, Smithley has won numerous trophies and awards that are spread out over his living room in Kannapolis, North Carolina, his parent’s house in Dallas, Georgia, a golf cart shop in Peach Tree City and both his grandparent’s houses.

But one award, a Rookie of the Year plaque from that first year of racing, means the most to the man who grew up rooting for Dale Jarrett and now drives the No. 0 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

“I think it’s just because I was 15 years old when I started racing and that first season I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, neither did my dad,” Smithley told NBC Sports. “Looking back at it, knowing what I know now, I don’t know how we won any races because we had no idea what was going on. … For me it’s just because I had to figure it out, I had to pick it up. That was the moment where I knew I had some driving talent because I went out there, first season and won Rookie of the Year without ever racing anything else in my entire lap.”

Now Smithley is 52 starts into his Xfinity career. In his second season with JD Motorsports, Smithley has earned two top 10s, in February at Daytona and June at Iowa Speedway.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

Garrett Smithley (right) celebrates top-10 finishes with teammate Ross Chastain during his post-race interview with Fox Sports 1 on June 24.

NBC Sports: After the first Iowa race, you snuck up behind your teammate Ross Chastain during his TV interview and you looked like it was your birthday. When was the last time you had that feeling after a race?

Smithley: I guess it would have to be Daytona, I’m trying to think. We’ve had good runs here and there this year. I would say honestly that was the first time this season since Daytona that we’ve had that. It’s such a good feeling. Again, with that race, I had one set of sticker tires the whole day to finish like that. Who knows what could have happened if we had a little bit more tires. For Ross to go in there and finished fourth and for me to go in there and finished 10th. Harrison (Rhodes) unfortunately had an issue on his car, but he was probably going to be racing with us. … Anytime that we can do that, it’s a David and Goliath story. We’re up against these multi-million dollar teams that spend millions and millions on just one car and we’ve got probably not even a million on all three cars. To do that is special for sure.

NBC Sports: Do you feel like you’ve made it in NASCAR?

Smithley: That’s a good question (laughs). I would say to some I’ve absolutely made it. I still see guys I raced with when I was a kid who have way more experience and way more money and way more talent that aren’t currently racing anything right now. I think to a lot of guys I’ve raced with, that I’m friends with, absolutely. I think for me I’m happy where I’m at. It’s surreal just to be in this position at all. To be racing full-time and making a living at it. But at the same time, for me I set my goals extremely high, and I think with that you’ll never stop working. So for me, I’m not going to stop and I’m not going to quit until I make it into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and that’s my ultimate goal.

For me, if I have that goal, no matter how many wins I get, no matter how many championships I get, no matter what I do, I’m always going to be chasing that goal and it gives me something to work toward, no matter what I’m doing. I’m always going to be happy where I’m … I’m not (always) going to be happy where I’m at, but I’m always going to appreciate where I’m at and I’m always going to enjoy it. But at the same time I’m not going to stop working. If I fall short, I fall short and I feel like that goal is high enough to where if I do fall short, hopefully I’ll have accomplished a lot along the way.

NBC Sports: If you were competing in the Bristol Cup race, what would be your intro song?

Smithley: I’m maybe a nerd for this, but I don’t know if you watch Spongebob (Squarepants), but it’s called “Sweet Victory” and it’s when Spongebob plays at the Bubble Bowl.

NBC Sports: Why that?

Smithley: I think that’s such a cool song. I’m like a huge Spongebob fan. And I can see the pyrotechnics and could just envision what that would look like to people.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Smithley: A 2001 Pontiac Montana minivan. … I drove it in high school. Peach Tree City is notorious for golf carts and there’s like 90 miles of golf cart paths throughout the city. I didn’t get my license until I was 17 and a half and had been racing for a year and a half in Bandoleros. I didn’t feel like there was a need to drive because I had golf carts. When I was 15 I could drive my golf cart. We drove golf carts to school and to the store and everything like that. So it was pretty crazy. But my parents had a minivan they bought new in 2001 and they said, ‘Here, you can have the minivan’ and I was like ‘All right.’ At first I was like, it’s a car, that’s fine. Then it ended up working out because everyone wanted to ride with me cause I had plenty of room. So I was popular. To this day I still wish I had that minivan cause I love that car.

NBC Sports: If you have a free day, how do you spend it?

Smithley: I’m out so much and doing things that when I do have a free day I just want to stay in and do nothing. There’s two things I really like to do when I just want to get away from life. One is put my headphones in, listen to really loud EDM music and play “Counter-Strike” on my computer, it’s a first-person shooter game. I do that or iRacing. I’ll get on a road course. They just came out with Nürburgring, I’ll just get in a Legends car or something like that and just drive it on Nürburgring, just for fun. Or I will go downstairs, I have a piano. I used to take piano lessons when I was a kid. I took them for like years. I’ll go down to the piano and play music.

NBC Sports: What songs can you play?

Smithley: ‘Let it Be’ is my favorite. ‘Let it Be’ by The Beatles. I can play ‘Apologize,’ (by OneRepublic), ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ by Aerosmith. There’s a couple of others that aren’t coming to my mind. I enjoy playing.

NBC Sports: If you could have a conversation with Dale Jarrett, what would you ask him?

Smithley: Funny enough, in 2015 I got a call from a producer from NBCSN and Jeff Burton does those hot laps every week before the Cup races for pre-race. So he called me and said ‘Hey, are you going to be in town for the Charlotte race?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m planning on going.’ I wasn’t racing at that point. He said, ‘I wanted to see if you could do some laps for us.’ … He said ‘You’re going to be driving along Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett.’

I was like, ‘Wait, what? I’m going to drive with them on-track?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, you’re going to be in Petty cars and you’re going to do this for a segment.’ Then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s incredible.’ So I got to be in the production meeting with all the NBC executives, Rick Allen, Marty Snider and Dale Jarrett and all the drivers. It was just incredible. … At that point I only had three truck races under my belt. So I’m sitting here with a hall of famer, a champion and a guy who won several Cup races. I’m here at this like, ‘Hey, I’m Garrett. I’ve really only run three races in the Truck series.’ It was pretty surreal. So I got to talk to Dale that day. I just went over and said ‘Hey, I hate to be a fan, but you’ve always been my favorite driver when I was a kid and it’s really, really cool to be driving with you.’ He said, ‘Hey, just never give up. Keep digging. You’ll get there.’ For him to say that, now I can’t give up because my hero just told me that I can’t.

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Xfinity Series Spotlight: A Q&A with Brendan Gaughan

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Brendan Gaughan hasn’t had “that big crash” yet.

It’s the crash that 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones once told the 42-year-old driver would be the sign it was time for him to get out of the business.

Brendan Gaughan drives his No. 62 Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

“This was when I was young,” Gaughan told NBC Sports. “(Jones) goes, ‘trust me. You’ll know that crash when you have it and the first thing that goes through your mind is, ‘you know, the family business isn’t so bad right now.’

The family business happens to be the operation of the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa in his hometown of Las Vegas

Gaughan’s first big crash occurred in the late 90s and it was a hot one.

“We crashed, big fireball,” Gaughan says. “Forty-foot fireball into the air, fuel cell to fuel cell, huge explosion. Lost an eyebrow because I had my visor up. Broke two ribs. Get out of the race car and I’m laying in the grass, trying to catch my breath and I’m dying and remember going, ‘That was a brand new race car, we just built it. No! No!’

“Then I remember rolling over and going, ‘That’s not the family business. I guess it’s not time yet.’ I remember saying to myself audibly out loud and that came from Parnelli. I can still say that to this day. I had a big crash at Kentucky a couple of weeks ago and unfortunately, even after I hit the wall, it was a hard hit, I still didn’t think about the family business being better. I wish I did.”

The Richard Childress Racing driver is still going at it and is currently 12th in Xfinity Series standings through 18 races, putting him on the bubble for the playoffs. In his sixth full-time Xfinity season, Gaughan is looking for his first win since 2014. It’s been a challenge, as the No. 62 team has just four top 10s. At this point last year, he had eight.

But Gaughan is confident the month of August will be kind to him.

“We’re going to win a race in August,” Gaughan said. “The whole month of August is probably the greatest month NASCAR has ever put together. … You look at what we go to, you go Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, Bristol, Road America and you begin September with Darlington.

“You name me a month of racing that is more action-packed, worth more. You’ve got Bristol, the Colosseum of our sport. You’ve got Darlington, arguably the most difficult place in the history of NASCAR to race. Then you’ve got three road courses, two of them are still completely, fundamentally sound not NASCARized road courses, which are tough as nails and you’ve got the best NASCARized road course in the country (Watkins Glen). If they added the boot I would put it back in the unbelievable category. But it is still a road course that has penalty and still has some proper technique to it. It’s just the best month of racing ever. ”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed:

NBC Sports: Last year with the race at Mid-Ohio in the rain-

Gaughan: That was the greatest NASCAR race of my life, by the way. Twenty years in this sport, Mid-Ohio was the greatest NASCAR race ever!

NBC Sports: It was the craziest thing to watch, what was it like for you getting through that race?

Gaughan: Unbelievable. It was awesome. I am so proud that NASCAR didn’t stop us, that they let it go. It was so much fun. I have never had that much fun behind the wheel of a stock car. I had the entire right side of the race car ripped off. I had water flowing into the race car in buckets. I went from 30th to third or fourth to 30th to eighth to 30th to fourth. Me and Andy Lally, Andy Lally in an underfunded team kicking everybody’s butt (on) when to put tires on, when to take them off, when to put them back on because (the rain) started again. That race right there was the greatest NASCAR road race, if not the greatest race of my life. I had so much fun.

NBC Sports: If you could add any track to the Xfinity schedule, what would it be?

Gaughan: I would have to start with Laguna Seca, because I’m a road racer and I think that and Road America are my two favorite road courses in the country. If you’re talking oval, I wish we still went to Monroe, Washington. It doesn’t have the facilities to hold us. I wish there was a track up in the (Northwest) somewhere, I miss that area. … You know, the only track I can think of, I would like to go back to Memphis. I loved racing in Memphis. It was a great town, great short track that was tough as nails to drive. I would love to go back to Memphis.

Brendan Gaughan talks with teammate Ben Kennedy in May at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: At RCR you’re the grizzled veteran among a lot of baby-faced guys. How easy is it for you to relate to those guys who are half your age?

Gaughan: Well, look I can still drive a race car better than most, that’s the nice thing. There are things they do that I can’t. They do those simulators and they run the hell out of them and can spend hours in it. Me, not so much. They keep me young. The little jokes me and Brandon (Jones) do to each other, that keeps me young. I have fun with it. And when they need me, I’m not the guy that’s in your face to coach. I’m not like certain guys that love to be paid to be a driver coach or in your face and all aggressive about it. If you need me, I’m here. And that’s what I’ve told every single one of them. And when they need me, I give them the best advice I can give them after 20 years of being in this sport and I do my best to answer the question for you and it’s work great.

NBC Sports: Are your sons Michael James, 6, and William Ryland, 4, showing any interest in auto racing yet?

Gaughan: Not as long as I can help it. Look, I hope that my boys want to race in the desert like I did. Like I will do even when I finally hang this up. I’m going to race until I’m 80. I’ll be racing the stuff I want to race and where I want to race and when I want to race and how I want to race. That’s what me and my family have always done. We love racing. My father still races in a race every year. We are racers. So if my boys want to race in the desert and have fun and do a hobby, which is what me and my brother did, God, I want that more than anything because it’s such a fun hobby. … It’s so enjoyable. As a family, as a group. But I don’t care to have them be NASCAR racers. I’ll let them go do something smart with their brains instead of beating against concrete walls.

NBC Sports:  Have you ever named a car or race car?

Gaughan: Lots of them. At the old Orleans racing team, the old South Point racing team … the guys named just about every car out of that shop. “Lone Star” is the most famous one. That’s the truck that got me into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame. It won all four races in a row at Texas (Motor Speedway). That truck raced six times in its career and it won four races. We used to save it just for Texas. … And it wasn’t because it won four times at Texas. That’s not why it was called ‘Lone Star.’ … ”Because only one man dare give me the raspberry.’ Space Balls. One of our favorite movies is Space Balls.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Gaughan: My kids did it this summer and I’m still pissed that daddy didn’t. For me it’s dive with a whale shark. The kids swam with a whale shark this summer when they were on the boat and I couldn’t go. I had work to do. They went down and wound up freakin’ swimming with whale sharks. I was so pissed off. I was still happy for them, but I was still pissed off!

NBC Sports: Why the whale shark?

Gaughan: It’s the gentle giant of the world, man. One of the biggest fish in the sea and it’s gentle. The kids were swimming inches from it and it has no desire (to attack). It’s just a sweet, gentle, beautiful creature. It has a mouth that could swallow my child whole and not even think twice about it. It could swallow me whole and not think twice about it. It’s the beautiful, gentile creature. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, dive with one of them.

NBC Sports: If you were in the Cup race at Bristol, what would be your introduction song?

Gaughan: (Really long chuckle) I have a very bad sense of humor. So I like to do things that piss people off. It would depend on my mood going into the week. One of the songs I could probably use is, because people think what they want about people like myself and the background that I have and the upbringing I have, so part of me would (choose) Barenaked Ladies’ “If I had a million dollars.”

Previous Xfinity Series Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

Elliott Sadler

Ben Kennedy

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

Matt Tifft

Tyler Reddick

Kyle Benjamin

Ty Majeski

Ryan Sieg

Dakoda Armstrong

and on Facebook

Xfinity Series Spotlight: Dakoda Armstrong

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If anyone is a fan of the controversial overtime line rule in NASCAR, it’s Dakoda Armstrong.

If not for the rule that decides whether a caution ends a race, the 26-year-old driver might not have earned the best finish of his NASCAR career two weeks ago at Daytona International Speedway.

The JGL Racing driver was third, tucked in behind Elliott Sadler and William Byron on the final restart of the Firecracker 250. But his No. 28 Toyota had a problem. His right-front fender had collided with Ryan Reed in the multi-car crash that caused a red flag and setup the two-lap finish.

Dakoda Armstrong drives his No. 28 Toyota during practice at Daytona. (Getty Images).

“I thought our car was done,” Armstrong told NBC Sports. “I thought it destroyed it, but really all it did was push the front in and there was a little bit of drag on the right front so I was just hoping our car would hold on. … I couldn’t lift and I just had to drive through whatever happened.”

The eventual five-car wreck happened behind him, but the caution came out after Byron crossed the overtime line.

“The overtime line saved us cause our right front was actually chunked,” Armstrong said. “It had almost dragged apart. It wasn’t going to make it another lap.”

A veteran of 122 Xfinity starts, it was the New Castle, Indiana native’s third top five and his second in a row. At Iowa Speedway, he finished fifth behind the likes of Ryan Sieg in second and Ross Chastain in fourth. After a finish of 17th at Kentucky, Armstrong heads to New Hampshire ninth in the points standings.

It’s the best season to date for Armstrong, who grew up on a soybean and corn farm and has competed for Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and one race last year for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is good, it shows that we’re building and going in the right direction,” Armstrong said. “When we can run good at those other tracks, it doesn’t hurt us as bad when we finish 17th or 15th at a mile and a half, that’s still a good points day for us. That’s where it really helps in the long-term.”

This Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: What’s been your highest high and your lowest low of your career?

Armstrong: As great as these top fives have been I would say my highest high really wasn’t even in the sport of NASCAR. It was when I was first starting out just racing stock cars. It was actually in ARCA when I won at Talladega (in 2010). That just really gave me a boost of confidence and it was the first real big track I had been at and to win there was something that was crazy. I can still go back and watch it now even though it was seven years ago and I’m like ‘Man, that was a really cool race,’ even though it was in ARCA and the way those plate races play out, there’s something about them that’s hard to describe.

As far as lowest low, that’s tough, there’s been a time where I haven’t been running good before in the sport and money’s been tight and just thinking you’re not going to be back the next year and that happens to almost everybody. Just not giving up and going out there and competing each week kind of brings you back. That’s the one thing about this sport, you can have a really good week but then it restarts on Monday and you’re right back at it. It always resets it on the good and the bad.

 

NBC Sports: You’re going to be a birthday boy this weekend (July 16). How are you celebrating turning 26?

Armstrong: Honestly, I doubt we’ll do anything, really. Just kind of let it go. Let it be. Just another number at this point. It’ll be good. I’m sure my wife will do something. I’ve always had birthdays right in the middle of racing. I’ve had a lot of races where it’s been my birthday or my birthday week and we’re going racing. That’s probably the best thing, at least that’s still happening. That’s the best present I guess.

NBC Sports: What’s the best birthday gift you’ve ever gotten?

Armstrong: Easily when I turned 16 my dad bought me my first vehicle, that’s pretty hard to beat. It was actually a 2004 Avalanche. That was pretty awesome. I drove that thing for a long time.

Dakoda Armstrong drove a Davey Allison throwback paint scheme last year at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: Is the Avalanche a proper vehicle for a 16-year-old?

Armstrong: Probably not. I was OK with it but it was a big vehicle. My dad likes to have things really nice so he had it detailed out with some extra covers and he actually put 22-inch rims on it. I was like ‘this doesn’t fit.’ It didn’t fit for a country boy from the middle of Indiana, we’ll say that. It was still a really cool car.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car, whether it be a race car or street car?

Armstrong: Other than numbers, I never have. Just never have gotten really that attached to any of them. There is a sprint car that we kept. We’ve never named it, but it was such bad luck for a while we wouldn’t even talk about it. Because every time it went out something would break on it. It was always the fastest thing there, no matter where we unloaded it was always the top five, top-three car. But every time in the race something would break. Even if we finished, the shock would be broke, we’d have a right front go down, just something crazy would go wrong with that thing. That was a car we’d never talk about. That was really our only superstition.

NBC Sports: If you were in the Cup Series race at Bristol, what would you choose as your intro song?

Armstrong: Oh man, that’s really tough. I’ve always thought about it. I kind of want to come down to the Hulk Hogan wrestling song he’s had, “The Real American.” There’s a lot to choose. I feel the way you come down the (driver entrance) the wrestling songs would be the best, because that’s exactly what they’re for and they always get people hyped. They still get me even though I don’t watch wrestling anymore. When I was a kid watching I thought that was awesome. I’d probably steal some wrestler’s song.

NBC Sports: What’s the last song you got stuck in your head?

Armstrong: Me and my wife have been playing “Guitar Hero” a lot recently, so we were playing, I don’t know if you know “Through the Fire and Flames” but I had that stuck in my head because it’s one of the hardest songs on there and we do terrible on it. So we played it about 10 times in a row trying to get better so it was stuck in my head for a while.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing? And it can’t be sky diving.

Armstrong: Oh man, that was exactly where I was going to go with it. I have a huge fear of the ocean and sharks. I still want to kind of do cage diving with great whites even though I’m terrified of it. But the adrenaline from it would probably be crazy for me. I kind of want to do that in Australia or somewhere where they have a lot of great whites.

NBC Sports: What’s the most fun you’ve ever had in a race?

Armstrong: Probably racing at Irwindale Speedway in California in our USAC midgets. I always felt that was the best track. I can’t remember what year it was but there was a race. I was really fast there for a while but my car fell off pretty bad, but it was still fun diving down, passing people running three wide. Every time I’ve went there the track’s been great. 

NBC Sports: Which phone app do you use the most that’s not social media?

Armstrong: Does YouTube count? I feel like I’m on YouTube 24/7. I like to hear what people have to say on different things, I actually watch a lot of YouTube as far as people reviewing stuff or just reading comments of different videos. I’m all over the place. I watch YouTube video for about anything you can think of. … Games or what people say about the election. I want to hear random people’s thoughts about it.

NBC Sports: If you could give any advice to Dakoda Armstrong from a year ago, what would it be?

Armstrong: Really, just not to worry. Just go out and do your job. I try not to worry every year. I’m just going to go out there and race. But whether it’s sponsor stuff, trying to get renewed or worrying about finishing or results, all that stuff just weighs down on you and actually really does hurt your performance. Even on the Cup side, I think that hurts a lot of people and they know it. Really just not worrying and trusting everything’s going to be all right and doing the best you can.

Previous Xfinity Series Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

Elliott Sadler

Ben Kennedy

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

Matt Tifft

Tyler Reddick

Kyle Benjamin

Ty Majeski

Ryan Sieg

and on Facebook