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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Justin Allgaier on Disney World, first cars and bad pre-race meals

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When it comes to traveling in the NASCAR community, Justin Allgaier calls himself a “weird one.”

“(I) really enjoy traveling and going to the race track and having that normalcy,” Allgaier told NBC Sports this month.

NASCAR has one of the shortest offseason in sports, but Allgaier, who drives JR Motorsports’ No. 7 car in the Xfinity Series, objects to the term “offseason.”

“It should be called the non-racing season because I’ve been home probably less than 15 days since Homestead,” Allgaier said.

Since last year’s finale, the 30-year old driver has raced in Brazil and in the Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the middle of that he squeezed in a trip to Walt Disney World with his wife and daughter, who is 3 years old.

“I’m glad we did because just watching her give the princesses hugs and seeing the eyes closed and enjoying every moment of the hug, ok, that was totally worth the money we spent to come here,” Allgaier said.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: How old were you when you first to Disney World?

Justin Allgaier: I have no idea how old I was. I know we raced there. I raced quarter midgets there one or two years and was fortunate enough to win there. I can say I actually won a race in Disney (World). That was in the mid to late-90s.

NBC: At the race track they used to have there?

Allgaier: This was actually in a parking lot. It was quite the experience.

NBC: Do you remember the first time you saw for your face or name on merchandise?

Allgaier: Yes, I was probably 7 or 8 at the time. A company we were associated with printed T-shirts. And what’s really crazy about it is that my dad still wears that t-shirt to this day in his everyday wardrobe and it’s lasted. He literally wears it once every week and half to two weeks. It’s so funny to see that shirt because it brings back a lot of really good memories.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 23: Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 BRANDT Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the Dash for Cash at the NASCAR XFINITY Series Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
 Justin Allgaier celebrates after winning the Dash for Cash at the Xfinity Series Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23, 2016. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

NBC: What’s the design of the shirt?

Allgaier: It’s a picture of my quarter midget that I drove and it’s got my name on it. My name’s in purple and it’s got the car which is red, white and blue. To this day it’s still one of my favorite design T-shirts. It’s a true racers t-shirt. it’s got racing style. I just remember, ‘how cool is this I have T-shirt with my name on it?’

NBC: What was your first street car?

Allgaier: A 1995 Camaro Z-28, red. I bought it at an auction.

NBC: How much was it?

Allgaier: $4,000. … I was 14 at the time when I bought it. My dad had promised me that he would buy half of whatever I would want to buy for my first car. That was our agreement. He’d buy half of it. I had up to I think it was $5,000 he would spend. Once he bought that, I had to cover my own insurance, my own gas. That was kind of the deal. I totally undersold it, right? He would pay up to five (thousand), so I could have bought a $10,000 car and ended up buying a $4,000 car, which was not very smart. I remember bidding at the auction and the auctioneer took two or three bids of mine and then he stopped the auction, this is like a car dealer auction, so there’s people everywhere. He stopped the auction and said, ‘Is he allowed to bid?’ My dad said, ‘He’s holding up his hand isn’t he?’ The guy then said, ‘Alright then, let’s keep going.’

So I bought this car and that was my first. My dad regretted it though, because we went outside and they had a little side road you could test drive cars on and not being 16 I couldn’t drive it on the street, but I was able to go drive it on a side road and it had been raining. A Camaro Z-28 is plenty fast enough for everybody, let alone a 14-year-old kid. But I had been racing up until that point, I’d been racing late models. So I gassed this thing up, spinning the tires, sideways, drifting it down this road. My dad realized rather quickly that a Camaro Z-28 was a bad plan for a young kid.

NBC: Have you ever named a car?

Allgaier: Oh yeah, all of my dirt cars get named and always have since I can remember. So last year we had “Darla” from Little Rascals. We had “Happy.” The car I ran at the Chili Bowl this year was named “Aligator.” We’ve had all kinds of them.

NBC: How’d you get Aligator?

Allgaier: Typically we let the car builder, whoever it is, name them. The car builder that built that car, his nickname is “Flea.” That’s what everybody knows him by and he named it for me, he named it “Aligator.”

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 15: Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 BRANDT Chevrolet, races during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 15, 2016 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Justin Allgaier enters his second season of driving the No. 7 for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

NBC: You and “Aligator” went for a ride at the Chili Bowl. Your wife posted an Instagram video of your tumble. What was that like from your perspective?

Allgaier: That ride honestly, in the olden days when I wouldn’t have had the safety gear that I had, probably would have hurt pretty badly. I wasn’t even sore the next morning. I didn’t have a bruise, I didn’t have a headache, I didn’t have nothing when I woke up the next day. I was pretty pumped on that fact.

NBC: What’s your least favorite part of race day?

Allgaier: Making time to eat. Because I don’t think about it and then I get to the car and I’m starving. You’re so busy on race day that don’t ever think about it and you got all these things going on. Then I get to the car and we’re starving. So then you try to cram food down, which is never a good idea, or you just don’t eat and you’re miserable. Lunch is probably the worst part of race day.

NBC: What’s your typical pre-race meal or favorite one?

Allgaier: For me, chicken. Any type of grilled chicken. My truck driver Matt is an awesome chef. Not only is he a good truck driver, he’s a great chef as well. He cooks chicken and all kinds of fixens on the side. Usually I’m trying to raid the hauler before the start of the race to get something good. But ideally something that’s not super heavy. I did try Italian Polish sausage one time.

On the way to driver intros I was starving and it was the only thing I could find and I ate two of them on the way to driver intros at Talladega one year. That was the longest, worst race I’ve ever had in my entire life. My stomach and my heartburn was so bad in the car I could hardly even concentrate on driving.

 

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

Photo courtesy Talladega Superspeedway
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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.

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

NASCAR Twitter
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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
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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.

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

Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports
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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.