NASCAR’s Next Generation: Dalton Sargeant

Leave a comment

Dalton Sargeant has 45 minutes to spare and he has to eat lunch at some point.

The 17-year-old driver is between classes at Cardinal Gibbons Catholic High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when he speaks with NASCAR Talk.

He has just left math class and when the bell rings next he will be in government class. His favorite class is geography.

“The teacher is pretty lenient on everybody since we’re all seniors,” Sargeant says.

It was in math class last semester when Sargeant received a call from NASCAR about being part of the NASCAR Next program, which is aimed at spotlighting the sport’s emerging stars.

Without a word, Sargeant looked at a number he didn’t recognize and left the room.

He would discuss the next chapter of an unorthodox racing career that began by racing go-karts in the parking lot at Homestead-Miami Speedway and open-wheel cars in Europe for two years. Now he’s learning the stock-car racing ropes on the K&N Pro Series East circuit for HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks while dabbling in the Camping World Truck Series, making his debut at Bristol Motor Speedway last month and finishing 10th.

This Q&A had been edited and condensed.

 

during a game against the at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 27, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. The Texas Rangers defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 4-1.
Dalton Sargeant in the K&N Pro Series East

NASCAR TALK: You raced at Bristol a few months before your first Truck race in the K&N Pro Series East. How does Bristol drive differently in those series?

DALTON SARGEANT: One thing with the Truck compared to the K&N car is that the Truck is on radial tires, so it reacts a lot differently. It has a lot more grip, so you’re able to carry a lot more speed through the corners, which is a really cool experience. It’s a really fast track and absolutely a blast. Another great experience about running in the Truck series was I got to race against guys like Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch, and I got to learn a lot running around those guys and going in there with the trucks I was a lot more prepared than when I had gone there in the K&N car for the first time.

NT: Was it a difficult decision to move to Europe?

DS: It was easy.

NT: What made it easy?

DS: Just a desire to pursue a Formula One career made the decision easy. I desired that career path a lot, really. I didn’t have a problem whatsoever moving there.

NT: You lived in Europe for a little over two years. That’s not the usual route that stock car drivers take. What led to that?

DS: In the stock car industry you have to be living in Charlotte (N.C). It’s the same way in F1, you have to be living over in Europe. So it was really important. I went over there and I lived in Switzerland for two-and-a-half years. I was running karts as well as an open-wheel formula car, single-seaters and learning as much as I could. At the end of the day, I just didn’t have as much fun with it as I thought I was going to have and just didn’t enjoy it. So I decided to make the switch back to the U.S. and go stock-car racing, and I’ve loved it ever since.

NT: How would you compare the racing culture there to that in the Southeastern United States?

DS: It’s honestly a lot different. Everything over there, I’m not saying NASCAR is not advanced, they look at data acquisition a lot more than in the K&N series and Truck series and what we do. At the same time, it seems NASCAR is really advancing in some of that stuff. Another thing that was pretty difficult was the language barrier. I raced for two Italian teams over there, so I did have to pick up the language somewhat as well as them working with me on their English.

It was complicated but it was a good learning experience. It taught me a lot, and I think it was a positive move for me, not just for racing, but my life in general to be able to go over there and live there for a few years.

NT: Where in Switzerland did you live?

DS: I lived in Lugano, it’s a city about an hour north of Milan.

NT: Were you living there by yourself or were you there with family?

DS: I was there with my mother (Madelyn) and my brother (Logan). I attended an American school there in Switzerland for my first two years of high school. We didn’t really race much in Switzerland, we traveled around a lot, back and forth. My father was there somewhat as well. We just traveled around whether it was racing in Italy, England or wherever.

NT: What was your favorite place to visit?

DS: I definitely liked Rome a lot. It was a cool city, always busy. Whenever we had a race around Rome, I would try to swing by and the culture there is really cool.

NT: In Europe what was your favorite track to race?

DS: I would have to say my favorite Formula car track was probably Barcelona (Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya). It’s just really high speed, it was one of the larger tracks I had been on. Just a lot of fast sweeping corners and it was a really cool track. The track itself kind of nurtured a lot of tough competition.

NT: From that style of racing, have you learned anything that has helped you in your return to American racing?

DS: When I moved back from Switzerland and made the transition to stock cars, the passing’s a little different and you have a lot more side-by-side racing on the ovals than what you have on road courses in Formula cars. At the same time, it taught me quite a few unique techniques that some of these stock car drivers don’t know.

NT: Like what?

DS: Some of the techniques while braking as well as in the road course racing you have a lot of different styles of wheel control. You have tight hairpins (turns) as well as fast sweeping corners. Being able to make different transitions on the wheel throughout the race depending on the different lines that you take.

NT: How much of a culture shock was that for you going over there and when you came back, did it feel like you missed a lot?

DS: No, not really. I knew what I was going to be facing when I moved over there. I knew the expectations, and at the same time, when I came back I had almost gotten homesick within the three years, so to be able to come back was kind of a good feeling for myself.

Previous Q&A’s:

 

John Ray, who drove patriotic big rig at Talladega, dies at 82

Photo courtesy Talladega Superspeedway
Leave a comment

One of Talladega Superspeedway’s most endearing and popular figures has passed away.

John “Johnny” Ray, whose diesel big rig carrying an American flag around the 2.66-mile track has been a fixture during the playing of the National Anthem at NASCAR Cup races for the past two decades, has died at the age of 82, the track announced Monday.

Ray began the tradition behind the wheel of his gold, brown and chrome-colored Peterbilt semi-tractor in 2001, with an oversized American flag flowing in the breeze behind the tractor.

The procession quickly became a significant fan favorite, eliciting loud cheers and applause from fans in the stands each time it passed by on the track’s front stretch.

“We just had the 9/11 attacks and Dale (Earnhardt) had also passed away earlier that year,” Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, Alabama, said in an interview three years ago. “I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back. It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”

Ray, who started his own trucking company in the early 1970s, and also had a brief NASCAR racing career of his own, ceded driving duties of the big rig several years ago to his late friend, Roger Haynes, and then last year to son Johnny Ray, to continue the tradition.

“National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” Speedway President Brian Crichton said in a media release. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated.

“He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

Funeral arrangements for John Ray are pending, according to the track.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ryan Blaney experienced Kobe Bryant’s ‘Mamba Mentality’ in person

NASCAR Twitter
Leave a comment

CONCORD, N.C. — Kobe Bryant didn’t ask normal questions.

Nearly two years after a 20-minute conversation in the back of a Las Vegas steakhouse, that’s what sticks out to Ryan Blaney about the five-time NBA champion.

Blaney reflected on his encounter with Bryant on Monday, roughly 24 hours after the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Laker was killed in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

MORE: NASCAR community mourns death of Kobe Bryant

The encounter between the Team Penske driver and Bryant came in October 2018 during a convention for Body Armor, a sports drink company Bryant was an investor in that sponsors Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“We went into a backroom and all of a sudden Kobe Bryant was standing there,” Blaney said during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Pretty amazing that he was back there and they let me meet him.”

During their meeting, Blaney gifted Bryant the firesuit that he wore during the race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier that year.

“He was pretty excited about that,” Blaney said. “Just being able to talk to a guy like that for 20 minutes, someone who didn’t really know a lot about racing, but wanted to learn everything about it 20 minutes. Just the way he asked questions, (he) was so interested in it, to me I could see where they call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ comes from and how he used it in basketball to become so great.

“That was the coolest moment. I don’t get star struck very often. I knew all the answers, but I was getting nervous that I would answer wrong when he was asking me questions he knew nothing about. That’s just his atmosphere.”

Bryant didn’t pepper Blaney with the cliche questions one expects from those uninitiated with auto racing.

“I just didn’t expect the amount of interest he showed, he wanted to learn everything about it,” Blaney said. “It wasn’t like the (how do you use the) bathroom question. It wasn’t ‘do you get dizzy?’ It was technical stuff and shows what kind of amazing, intellectual person that he was. That was something that really tickled me, how excited he was to learn about it.”

Blaney, who said he was a Bryant fan growing up in the ’90s before LeBron James arrived on the scene to play for his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, said it was a “shame” he was never able to get Bryant to attend a race weekend.

“For somebody who has inspired so many young boys and girls around the country for decades, the social media stuff the last day and half has been unbelievable to see people who looked up to him growing up. I did too, I ain’t lying, how can you not watch Kobe Bryant when you’re growing up as a kid? A terrible loss. I hate that for his family and the other family involved.”

Bryant didn’t forget about their steakhouse encounter. He later sent Blaney a signed copy of his book, “The Mamba Mentality.”

Blaney keeps it on display on a bookshelf.

“Just really neat,” Blaney said. “You respect other great athletes and people and their work ethic. I think that’s what impressed me the most about him was his work ethic at everything. He’d outwork you at every little bit. You’ve got to respect somebody like that, who will figure out how to beat you and if he can’t do it with talent he’s going to outwork you really hard. I don’t know, it’s just amazing to get a privilege like that. It’s hard to describe.”

Brendan Gaughan to run 4 final Cup races in 2020, including Daytona 500

Photo: Beard Motorsports' Twitter account
1 Comment

Brendan Gaughan will kick off his 23rd and final season of NASCAR racing in the 62nd Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports.

Gaughan – who is using the hashtag #NotGaughanYet to symbolize his final season — will drive the No. 62 Chevrolet at Daytona. If he qualifies, it will be his fifth time in the 500 field, with his best finish coming in 2017 when he finished 11th.

The 44-year-old Gaughan is slated to drive four races this season in NASCAR Cup for Beard Motorsports. In addition to the Daytona 500, he’ll also race April 26 at Talladega Superspeedway, August 29 back at Daytona and will make the final start of his racing career on October 4 back at Talladega.

The Las Vegas native has made 12 previous starts for Beard Motorsports, all at either Daytona and Talladega.

“I love racing, and competing with Beard Motorsports these last few years have made for some of my most enjoyable moments in NASCAR,” Gaughan said in a media release. “We do a lot with a little, so when we run up front and lead laps, it’s very satisfying because you know all the work that went into it.”

Last April, Gaughan led five laps at Talladega and gave Beard Motorsports its second top-10 finish in the Cup Series, finishing eighth. Gaughan also finished seventh at Daytona for Beard Motorsports in July 2017.

“I wouldn’t want my last races as a NASCAR driver to be with any other team,” Gaughan said. “(Team owner) Mark Beard Sr., and his entire family are passionate about racing, and NASCAR in particular. We’re all competitive and want to perform, but we’re going to have fun doing it. That’s how we all got started in the sport – because it was fun. And as I wrap up my career, I’m going to make sure it stays fun.”

Gaughan has made 62 prior starts in the Cup Series dating back to his rookie season in 2004, when he earned his best career finish in the series (fourth at Talladega).

He also has made 219 starts in the Xfinity Series with two wins, and 217 starts in the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series with eight wins.

Gaughan’s effort at Daytona will be in a chassis built by Richard Childress Racing and powered by a motor from ECR Engines. He’ll be sponsored by Beard Oil Distributing, South Point Hotel & Casino and City Lights Shine whiskey moonshine.

He begins his quest to qualify for the 40-car field with Daytona 500 qualifying on February 9. His lap will determine his starting spot in the Feb. 13 Duel – twin 150-mile heat races that set the rest of the field for the Great American Race.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

UniFirst to sponsor Chase Elliott in three Cup Series races this year

Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports
Leave a comment

UniFirst will be a sponsor of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 Chevrolet in three Cup Series races this year, Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday.

The company will be on Elliott’s car at Phoenix Raceway (March 8), the All-Star Race (May 16) and the playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 27).

A work clothing and uniform supplier, UniFirst has been a Hendrick Motorsports sponsor since 2016. It sponsored William Byron in four races in 2018 and three last year.

UniFirst also will be featured as an associate sponsor for all races in 2020.