NASCAR’s Next Generation: Q&A with Austin Hill

Leave a comment

Austin Hill doesn’t tweet that often, but his tweet on Nov. 16 was kind of a big deal for the 21-year-old driver.

It announced the birth of his and his wife’s first child, Lynnlee Ann Hill.

The announcement came months after a faulty test almost led them to believe they were not pregnant.

“We ended up getting a test because she thought she was,” Hill told NASCAR Talk in a phone interview. “She looked at it and said ‘Well, it’s negative.’ I was like, ‘alright.’ She walks out and I get to looking at it and I noticed that there was another line that looked a little faint and a little dull. I said ‘Ashlyn, you might want to look at this.’ We looked at it and that’s basically how we found out …We had a double take on it. ‘Oh, we’re having a baby.'”

Lynnlee’s father is a five-time winner in the K&N Pro Series East and a two-time member of NASCAR Next, a program that spotlights the sport’s emerging stars.

Hill, whose father owns a steel fabrication company called Division Five, is a first generation driver who has spent the last two years in the KNPSE racing for Bryan Hill but is hoping to continue his NASCAR dream in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NASCAR Talk: What has it meant to you to be part of NASCAR Next for two years in a row?

Austin Hill: It’s been really good. It seems like it’s helped me out a lot, getting to know people and when we go to the tracks or different places and been able to do events, talk to the fans and stuff like that, it seems like it gets your name out there a little bit better then if I was just trying to do it on my own. It helped me out a lot and then we’ve done a lot of media stuff and other types of stuff like that, talking to the owners. We got to meet a couple of the Sprint Cup drivers.

NT: You finished third in the points this year, up from fifth last year. How impressed are you by how well you’ve been doing able to perform that last two years?

Hill: Last year was kind of a learning year a little bit for us. Since we do things on our own and don’t run for a team and it’s family operated, last year me and the team were kind of getting acquainted to each other. Then this year we feel like we had a really good season. We’re almost like family, me and my guys that work on the car and the crew chief and everything. It seems like we know exactly what each other is trying to say when we’re at the race track. If I’m trying to tell him an area the car might be tight or loose in, the crew chief kind of knows basically in my tone of voice how much change I need to go faster. That’s been a real improvement for this year and we’ve had a couple of misfortunes.

NT: You will be back in the K&N Series next year?

Hill: No, we actually sold our K&N cars and I think next year, it’s not set in stone or anything, everything is kind of up in the air, but we’re trying to run 10 Truck races possibly. That’s kind of on our mind but we don’t know if we’re going to do it ourselves or if we’re going to do it for somebody else. We’re trying to find the sponsorship so we can go racing in the truck series for 10 race or possibly, hopefully more.

NT: What’s your learning experience been like in the six Truck races you’ve been in?

Hill: I think the biggest thing as getting used to the radial tire versus the bias ply you have in the K&N car. Once I got used to that I was pretty comfortable in the truck and knew what changes I needed and wanted to be done to make the truck better. We’re definitely looking forward to next year, trying to get with a little bit better team. We were with a mediocre team and are trying to get either with a better one or do it ourselves and see if the outcomes come a little bit better because we had some misfortunes on pit road … Just as a group, when you’re renting a ride for one-off races, it makes it hard to just go in there and run good when you don’t know the crew chief really well and you don’t know the team really well. So hopefully we can keep our team together for next year and do something together.

NT: Of your five K&N wins, which one are you most proud of?

Hill: That year that we won that first Dover race we were only running five races and it was just the five big races … We ran five races total that year, and really weren’t even looking for a win, we were just looking for experience and just hopefully get a top 10, top-5 finish and we had a good seventh-place coming at Richmond and I was pretty happy about that. Then going into Dover, I really had no intention of winning that race because that was my first time ever at that track. It was the biggest track I’d ever been to. A 1-mile track, banked and it’s super fast. When we got out on the track it seemed like I just caught on really fast. When I caught on, we had a really good car and I was able to go out there and pick up the win.

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 10: Austin Hill, driver of the #20 A&D Welding/Don Rich Ford, practices for the K&N Pro Series East UNOH 100 at Richmond International Raceway on September 10, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
Austin Hill practices for the K&N Pro Series East UNOH 100 at Richmond International Raceway on September 10, 2015. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

NT: Do you come from a family of racers?

Hill: No, actually my dad has always liked to watch racing and his favorite driver is Jeff Gordon as well. He kind of got me watching it on the TV and we would watch the Sunday races together when I was little and it escalated from there. Got a quarter midget. Got into the Bandolero and Legends cars series and then ran some Late Models and then got into K&N. Now we’re just trying to get into the Truck and see how many races we can do next year.

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

Hill: I honestly hadn’t thought about that a whole lot cause we’ve always been travelling and racing every year and stuff like that. I probably have to say maybe climbing Mount Everest or something like that. Doing something daredevilish like jumping out of an airplane and skydiving. I’ve never really had fear in me so I’d like to do something crazy like that one day, that’s for sure.

NT: You don’t have fear in you?

Hill: I’ve never really seemed like it. Especially when it comes to racing. The speed of it doesn’t ever bother me, it never really has. From the first time I jumped in a quarter midget to the first time I jumped in Late Model or K&N car, it’s just like a different car, a bigger car. You just get out there and go and push it to the limit. It just seems like anything else that we do I don’t really ever any fear of it. The only thing I’m afraid of is snakes and spiders. That’s about it.

NT: Did you have a bad experience with a snake as a kid?

Hill: I do a lot of hunting nowadays, like in our offseason I hunt a lot. Sometimes I’ll go into the woods and walk up on a snake. One time I almost stepped on one and it about bit me. Ever since that day if I see one, I try and stay as far away as I can. Spiders, I just don’t like how spider look. They just look really nasty to me. I don’t want what it is about spiders. When I see a spider I want to stay away from them or kill it.

NT: What was the last song you got stuck in your head?

Hill: Probably “Hey Ya’ll” by Cole Swindell. I don’t know what it is about that song that gets me all pumped up about my day. It seems like I’m listening to that song more than any other song lately. I just like the beat of it. The lyrics to it. I like that song a lot.

NT: What phone app that’s not related to social media do you use the most?

Hill: Amazon. It seems like I’m buying stuff off of Amazon almost every day. I don’t know why. I might not even need it. I’ll start looking on Amazon and I’m like ‘I’m going to buy this.’

NT: What was the last thing you bought on Amazon?

Hill: I want to say some bottles for Lynnlee.

NT: I’m guessing you’ve been buying a lot of baby stuff off of Amazon.

Hill: I’ve been buying a lot of baby stuff. Sometimes I buy my Christmas stuff off of there. I hadn’t done that this year.

NT: Best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

Hill: When I was a little younger, I always wanted a four-wheeler because I like stuff with speed. I ended up getting a 350 Grizzly four-wheeler for Christmas one day. that day, on Christmas, it was snowing. I was out running around on the four-wheeler. Me and my buddies were actually running on the four-wheelers together and one of my buddies wanted to drive it. I said, ‘alright, that’s fine.’ He was driving it and he ended up running it into a tree and ever since that day we hadn’t got it fixed. It still drives but the fender on it is all busted up. It’s still drivable and I left it down in Georgia for my family to use since I can’t really use it up here. But when I go down to Georgia I drive it through our woods and acres that we have.

Previous NASCAR Next Q&A’s:

Brendan Gaughan set for Daytona road course after COVID-19 recovery

Leave a comment

On July 15, part-time Cup Series driver Brendan Gaughan became the second NASCAR driver to announce he’d tested positive for COVID-19.

After quarantining for two weeks and testing negative for COVID-19 twice more than 24 hours apart, Gaughan has been medically cleared to go racing again.

And he won’t even have to wait until the Cup Series regular-season finale on Aug. 29 to do it.

Originally scheduled to only compete in the season’s four superspeedway races with Beard Motorsports, Gaughan will suit up to drive the No. 62 Chevrolet in Sunday’s race on the Daytona road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

He joins Jimmie Johnson in having tested positive for COVID-19 and returned to race. While Gaughan last competed in the June 22 race at Talladega, Johnson only missed the Brickyard 400 before returning to the track.

“I feel fantastic,” Gaughan said in a press release. “I’m finally out of the house. The toughest part of the whole ordeal was the mental aspect. I truly feel for people who struggle with depression and have to deal with COVID-19, because this thing is tough. You literally get stuck in a location by yourself. Fortunately for me, I had my puppy. I missed my two children tremendously. But it’s amazing now because we live in the age of the Jetsons that we can pick up a phone and look at their faces.”

To get clearance to race, Gaughan tested twice for COVID-19 in more than 24 hours and also had to get a doctor’s note saying he was good to go.

“That was it,” Gaughan said. “As long as I’m negative, they are good with it. They still have their protocols in place, so when we get to the track we are all still separated. The drivers don’t get to mingle with the teams right now. NASCAR has done a phenomenal job with it and they have been able to stay open for business while having very, very minor effects from this.”

While he was originally just going to race at Talladega and the Daytona oval, Gaughan says this weekend’s road course race “technically counts.”

“We said all of the Daytona races,” Gaughan said. “What happened is that as soon as it got added to the schedule immediately my mind went, ‘Wow, I would love to race the Daytona road course.’ There’s very few of us Cup drivers that have experience on that race course. And with no practice and no qualifying, that gives about 10 of us a very large advantage over the field.”

Brendan Gaughan
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Gaughan competed on the road course and earned a class victory in the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona, with his team beating second place by a full lap. He’s ran in the Rolex 24 twice since, finishing third in 2016 in the Prototype Challenge class and 14th in 2018 in the Prototype division.

“I was immediately enticed by it,” Gaughan said of the road course race. “Then you know how much I always speak so highly of Richard Childress Racing. Richard called and said, ‘Hey, come on man, you know you want to do it,’ and I kind of chuckled because everyone knows I love my road racing. I talked to the Beard family and said, ‘Hey, you want to add a race to the schedule?’ It wasn’t in the budget. It wasn’t planned originally, but the Beards were on board.

“They are in the same boat as me. This is a retirement year like me and they are having the same fun I am. They went, ‘Ooohh, we can do well there.’ So we called Richard up and he built me a brand new Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro from RCR that we were able to rent for Beard Motorsports to go race.”

Gaughan, who will start last in the race due his lack of owner points, dissected how different it will be navigating the road course in Cup compared to the sports car he drove the last time he raced on it.

“I need to remember that the last time I raced there in an LMP car, I could lift at the ‘1’ sign going into the chicane on the back straightaway,” Gaughan said. “Now if I lift at the ‘1’ in a Cup car, I will end up at the airport. So I need to remember that I’m going to need a little more braking zone room. But you basically already know the line and you know where you want to be. You know the feel of the place.

“You know where some passing zones are. You kind of know how to run that race, which is the big advantage that comes with it. Having a car built from Richard Childress means that I don’t have to worry that it’s going to have parts and pieces that aren’t any good. And I still have Darren Shaw, my crew chief, who I’ve been working with at Beard Motorsports. We’ve still got our guys working it and our guys doing it, so I kind of have the best of all worlds here. And there is an advantage for people that have been there. I also gave myself a little bit of an insurance policy. I offered to sponsor Andy Lally in the Xfinity race. To me, Andy Lally is the premier sports-car racer in America.

“I don’t think anybody can argue that there is anybody better than Andy Lally. So, I offered to sponsor Andy because he’s racing Saturday. I told him he has to stay over Sunday and do some driver coaching and give me his notes. Not only do I have experience on the track, I will have notes from a stock car on the track from the day before.”

Christopher Bell: ‘Pretty scared’ about future before re-joining JGR

Leave a comment

Early last week, Christopher Bell was “pretty scared” about his NASCAR future after Leavine Family Racing, the Toyota-backed team the rookie driver competes for in the Cup Series, announced it would sell its assets to Spire Motorsports.

That left Bell’s relationship with Toyota, the manufacturer that’s been the “centerpiece” of his racing career since 2013 and 2015 in NASCAR, up in the air.

“I’ve said it time and time again, but Toyota has been my – they’re the ones that got me here,” Bell said Tuesday in a press conference. “They’re the ones that took me from dirt track racing to pavement racing to Truck (Series) racing to Xfinity racing and then obviously made this deal happen with LFR too. At the time, it’s either the 20 car (at Joe Gibbs Racing) or I’m done with Toyota. There’s no other options. It was very scary. I didn’t want that to end.”

Bell acknowledged that despite his 2017 Truck Series title, his seven Truck wins and 16 Xfinity wins, a lack of sponsorship backing didn’t make him the most valuable hire for another team.

“The sponsorship piece is a huge part of it,” Bell said. “It’s no secret, you have to have sponsors in order to succeed in this sport and I’ve been really fortunate to have Rheem with me for the last couple of years. If I get pushed out of the Toyota group, I don’t really have much to say, ‘hire me.’”

Bell said, “I knew that once LFR shut down, there was only one place for me to go and the 20 car has obviously got a great driver in there right now.”

That driver was Erik Jones, who has been with Joe Gibbs Racing in Cup full-time since 2018 and been a Toyota driver in NASCAR since 2013 in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“‘How is that going to work?'” Bell asked himself. “‘How am I going to be able to go to JGR whenever they’re full?’ Unfortunately my homecoming so to speak was at the expense of another driver.”

Two days after LFR’s announcement, Joe Gibbs Racing revealed Jones would not return to the team in 2021, a move that “blindsided” Jones.

On Monday, JGR announced Bell’s ascent up the ranks would finally land him in the No. 20 next season.

“It was very, I mean, uncomfortable is a good way to put it,” Bell said. “I don’t think any of us – myself, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota – none of us expected the whole LFR deal to go down like it did, so I think that put everybody in a little bit of a box. … I’m extremely grateful that I get to continue that relationship and that I get to continue to drive Camrys on Sundays and race with TRD for hopefully a long time to come.”

How does Bell see his relationship with Jones playing out over the final 14 races of the season?

“As far as me versus him, that situation is already done, so I don’t know how he’s going to race me going forward,” Bell said. “I’m going to be cheering for Erik, just as everybody is at Joe Gibbs Racing, just hoping that he gets a nice solid deal and lands on his feet. I’ll be cheering for him and trying to race him with as much respect as I can, just like every other competitor. I hope he performs well, and obviously, the better he performs now in the 20 car, the better off I’ll be at the start of the year with the owner points standings. It’s really important that he does well this year in the 20 car for my future next year as well.”

Bell observed that it’s “absolutely crazy” to look back at his career path, which began in UASC Midgets and has led to him driving a “house” Toyota Cup car at JGR next year.

Going into 2021, Bell said he still has a “great relationship” with the people at JGR from his time there in the Xfinity Series.

“Whenever I was on the Xfinity side, I still got to mingle and interact with the Cup shop a little bit, so I have a rough idea how everything operates there,” Bell said. “I got in a little bit deeper with the LFR deal, and having that technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, but it’s going to be very nice to be able to go back home.”

Spire Motorsports confirms purchase of Leavine Family Racing

Leave a comment

Spire Motorsports confirmed Tuesday that it will acquire the assets from Leavine Family Racing upon the completion of the 2020 season. Spire Motorsports also will expand to a two-car team in the Cup Series in 2021.

The purchase will include LFR’s charter, the team’s race shop near Charlotte Motor Speedway and all of its owned inventory. LFR’s fleet of cars and chassis will be returned to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Spire, which began competing in 2019 after it purchased Furniture Row Motorsports’ charter, fields the No. 77 Chevrolet. It has made 58 starts for more than a dozen drivers since last year, including an upset win in the July 2019 race at Daytona with Justin Haley behind the wheel.

The team is co-owned by Jeff Dickerson and Thaddeus “T.J.” Puchyr.

“This is an exciting moment for Spire as we take the natural next step in our long-term plan to build our race team and prepare for the Next Gen car in 2022,” said Dickerson in a press release. “Bob Leavine invested more than money into LFR and this industry. He built a team brick-by-brick and we have long admired how he took his own steps in the garage. He also did it with his family at his side. We won’t let that be lost in this transaction. When you build something with your family, it always means a little bit more. His ability to connect with fans was genuine and we are thankful he chose us to carry this team forward.

“These are no doubt trying times, but I have never been prouder to be part of this sport. NASCAR has managed several difficult situations this spring and into the summer. We believe in the ownership model that NASCAR has built and where this sport is going now more than ever.”

The team said details about drivers and manufacturers for 2021 will come later.

Daytona road course entry lists

Leave a comment

NASCAR’s national series will make their debuts on the Daytona road course this weekend. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck events will be held without any practice or qualifying.

NASCAR is prohibiting drivers from competing in more than one series this weekend on the Daytona road course in an effort to get extra track time. NASCAR states that is to make the event fair for everyone.

Sunday’s Cup race will be broadcast on NBC.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the races at the Daytona road course 

Cup – Go Bowling 235 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Thirty-nine drivers are entered for the race at the Daytona road course.

JJ Yeley is in the No. 27 for Rick Ware Racing.

Joey Gase is in the No. 51 for Petty Ware Racing.

Gray Gaulding is in the No. 53 for Rick Ware Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is in the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports.

Timmy Hill is in the No. 66 for Motorsports Business Management.

Reed Sorenson is in the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports.

Click here for Cup entry list

 

Xfinity – UNOH 188 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-eight cars are entered.

Andy Lally is back in the No. 02 Our Motorsports car after finishing fifth last week at Road America.

AJ Allmendinger, who finished second last week at Road America, is in the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing.

IMSA driver Earl Bamber will make his Xfinity debut this weekend in the No. 21 for Richard Childress Racing.

Brandon Gdovic will make his second start of the season, driving the No. 26 for Sam Hunt Racing.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

 

Truck – Sunoco 159 (Noon ET Sunday on FS1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered in the race that will be held before the Cup event on Sunday on the Daytona road course.

Alex Tagliani will drive the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Click here for Truck entry list