K&N Pro Series

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Hailie Deegan, Derek Kraus working their way up NASCAR’s ladder

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In many sports, for an athlete to succeed at the highest level, they will generally hone their skills in a developmental league. NASCAR is no different. 

Just as up-and-coming baseball prospects have to prove their worth in the minor leagues before making the majors, many future Cup stars begin their NASCAR careers in a lower division such as the K&N Pro Series.

Comparable to single-A baseball, the K&N Pro Series, which is geographically split into two separate West and East championships, is the one of the first steps on the NASCAR developmental ladder. The K&N East and West Series will run together Friday at Iowa Speedway with NBCSN’s broadcast scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on July 31. In K&N Pro competition, young drivers not only fight for wins but also future rides.

For two of the most popular drivers in K&N competition, Bill McAnally Racing teammates Hailie Deegan and Derek Kraus, winning means everything. All other drivers – including teammates – are the competition. 

MORE: Hailie Deegan – “I see why a lot of these other girls haven’t made it” in NASCAR

MORE: Dale Jr. Download – Hailie Deegan says “I’m a racer, not a model”

“You really have no allies,” Deegan told NBC Sports. “In the end, when it comes down to a couple of laps to go, no one is friends.

“You might be ‘buddies’ in the beginning and not run each other hard, but when it comes down to it, a win is a win, and I’ll do anything to get it. You focus on yourself in the end. You’re battling for rides. You’re battling for seats and equipment.”

Deegan proved she isn’t afraid to race even her teammates hard to win a race. In June, Deegan won her second West Series race of the season at Colorado National Speedway by making contact with Kraus on the last lap. Kraus spun, and Deegan went on win the race.

Kraus was less than pleased with the result, and would later Tweet “Mama always told me if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all!”

With her two K&N West victories so far this season, Deegan is second in the series points standings, eight points behind Kraus. In the East Series, where she competes on a part-time basis, she is 10th in the standings. Kraus, who is competing in both championships full-time, also leads the East points standings. 

Kraus, who turns 18 in September, is looking to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win both the East and West championships in the same year. 

In 13 K&N Pro starts this season between both series, he’s accumulated five wins, eight top fives and 12 top 10s. In his most recent K&N West victory at Douglas County Speedway in Oregon on June 29, he led all 150 laps from the pole.

Even though he makes it look easy, Kraus admits that fighting for the win in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series week in and week out is no easy task.

“I think there’s a lot of good competition,” Kraus said. “You have Hailie, Kody Vanderwal, the Sunrise Ford cars (Jagger Jones and Trevor Huddleston), Todd Souza. There’s a bunch of other people where K&N will go to their local track and they’ll jump in a car and be really fast. 

“I feel like there’s a lot of good competition on both the East and West Coasts for the K&N season. There’s a lot of aggressive, hungry younger drivers that are in this series.”

That hunger and aggression has propelled many K&N Pro Series alumni to stock car racing’s highest levels. Former series champions who currently race in the Cup Series include Kevin Harvick (1998 West champion), Joey Logano (2007 East champion), Kyle Larson (2012 East champion), and William Byron (2015 East champion).

Earlier this month, 2016 K&N East Series champion Justin Haley won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, and 2018 East Series champ Tyler Ankrum won a Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Kentucky Speedway to earn a playoff spot.

So how does a promising 17 or 18-year-old driver handle the pressure of being one of NASCAR’s top prospects? Learning the ropes of stock car racing can be tough enough, but when a driver has expectations placed on them that they’re going to be the next best thing, constantly living up to those expectations can be tough. 

“You definitely think about that when you’re outside of the car and at home and hanging out with friends and stuff,” Kraus said. “But once I put my helmet on and get all strapped in and the race starts, I feel like that’s my happy place.”

Deegan, however, believes that the pressure is what you make of it.

“If you prepare beforehand and know that you’re in the best possible situation that you can put yourself in, there’s no reason to feel the pressure – because you’re doing the best you can,” Deegan said. “The only reason you’d be nervous is if you didn’t prepare beforehand.”

Confidence is key, but for a young driver to achieve the most out of their potential, a level-headed approach also is equally important.

“It’s funny because I think there’s a difference between confident and cocky,” Deegan said. “I feel like a lot of drivers are cocky, and I don’t want to be cocky.

“I want to feel confident in my abilities to where I’m not questioning myself. I want to be able to feel confident in my car, which I do right now, and I feel confident in my ability (to race) just because I’ve been putting a lot of work into it. I’m not trying to be cocky, I’m trying to show all of the work I’ve been putting into my racing.”

Hard work, by the way, has paid off for both drivers. For Kraus, his dominance in the K&N Pro Series led to his first Gander Outdoors Truck Series start for BMR at ISM Raceway in November, where he started and finished eighth. Kraus also competed in two Truck races earlier this year, at Martinsville and Dover, and will make two more starts later this year at Las Vegas and ISM Raceway.

Deegan competed in the first of a six-race ARCA schedule for Venturini Motorsports at Toledo Speedway in May and will make her final two scheduled starts for the team in October at Lucas Oil Raceway (Indianapolis) and Kansas Speedway.

With several months remaining in the 2019 NASCAR season, it may be too early to tell where each driver will be racing next season, but it is likely that both will race at least part-time at a higher level next year. 

“I’ve had people talk to me about opportunities to race full-time in Trucks and although I think I could go out there and have some good races, I want to go out there and come out swinging,” Deegan said. 

“Every single level I want to hit, and I want to make sure I can be good. I want to at least be in the front pack of every single level at minimum before I move up.”

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GMS Racing to field Sam Mayer in K&N, ARCA Series

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GMS Racing will expand into the K&N Pro Series East and West and the ARCA Racing Series next year, the team announced Wednesday.

The team will field 15-year-old Sam Mayer in each series where he will drive the No. 21.

Mayer is also scheduled to make four starts in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series with the first set for August at Bristol Motor Speedway after he turns 16 in June.

The native of Franklin, Wisconsin, joins GMS Racing with seven K&N starts and three ARCA starts in his career.

“GMS Racing has had tons of success over the past couple years, especially this past year,” Mayer said in a press release. “Knowing that a great team is behind me going into next season gives me a lot of confidence that we will have success, too.”

He earned two top fives in his six K&N East starts.

Mayer made his ARCA debut at Iowa Speedway and finished 10th and later placed seventh at Lucas Oil Raceway.

He will make his debut in the K&N East season opener at Smyrna Speedway on Feb. 10.

“We are excited to add K&N, as well as ARCA to our organization in 2019,” said team president Mike Beam in a press release. “Mayer is very talented at such a young age, and I see a big future for him in motorsports. I’m glad that he chose us to pursue his career in racing. Our goal has always been to build championship caliber teams no matter what series we participate in. With Mayer behind the wheel and Mardy Lindley leading the team, I do not doubt in my mind they will be successful in 2019.”

NASCAR reveals key points for ARCA, K&N Series for 2020

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NASCAR shared details Saturday on its plans for the 2020 season for the K&N Pro Series and the ARCA Series, which NASCAR acquired earlier this year.

Full integration of the ARCA Series to NASCAR will be in 2020. Here are NASCAR’s plans:

  • Drivers will have the opportunity to compete for four championships, all of which feature an enduring commitment to grassroots short-track racing:
    • The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and K&N Pro Series East championship calendars will feature approximately six to eight events, competing on historic short tracks (under 1 mile) within their traditional regional footprint.
    • The ARCA Racing Elite Series presented by Menards will be made up of approximately 20 races, with at least half on speedways (over 1 mile) that include traditional companion events in both the ARCA and Pro Series.
    • The fourth championship will be the Stock Car Invitational. This championship will consist of the remaining approximately 10 races of the Elite Series, and will be on premier short tracks that have long been part of both ARCA and the K&N Pro Series. To be eligible for the championship in this three-way combination series, East and West competitors must compete in a minimum number of races across those series.
  • The chassis and body will be roughly the same across all four championships. Teams competing in the Elite Series will run the current ARCA engine package, while teams competing in the Pro Series East and West will run the existing engine package in those series. Teams choosing to compete for the Stock Car Invitational title must race with the same engine they used in the Elite or Pro Series East / West.
  • Drivers must be at least 15 years old to compete in the Pro Series East and West as well as the Stock Car Invitational. Drivers must be at least 18 years old to compete in the Elite Series.

NASCAR stated it is continuing to gather feedback from teams, competitors and industry stakeholders.

Details, such as series names, TV coverage and race sites, will be finalized over the coming months.

K&N Pro Series, Whelen Modified broadcast schedule on NBCSN

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NBCSN is again set to exclusively air broadcasts of NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East and West races along with broadcasts of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

All the broadcasts will be tape delayed.

NBCSN will air 37 regional series events, culminating with championship races for all three series. Fans can watch victors crowned in the K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour on Oct. 11 and Oct. 18, respectively, followed by the K&N Pro Series West championship on Nov. 1. NASCAR’s touring series will also be featured in regular highlights and reports on “NASCAR America,” weekdays at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The first K&N West broadcast, of the season opener at Kern County Raceway, is set for 11 p.m. ET on March 20.

The first Whelen Modified race will air the following day at 6 p.m. ET.

The first K&N East broadcast, from Bristol Motor Speedway, is scheduled for 1 a.m. ET on April 20.

Below is NBCSN’s full broadcast schedule for all three series.

All times are Eastern.

 

RACE DATE SERIES TRACK TELECAST DATE TIME (ET)
Thu, Mar 15 K&N Pro West Kern County Tue, Mar 20 11 p.m.
Sat, Mar 17 Whelen Modified Myrtle Beach Wed, Mar 21 6 p.m.
Sat, Apr 14 K&N Pro East Bristol Fri, Apr 20 1 a.m.
Sat, Apr 28 K&N Pro East Langley Thu, May 3 11 p.m.
Sat, May 5 K&N Pro West Tucson Wed, May 9 6 p.m.
Sat, May 5 K&N Pro West Tucson Thu, May 10 6 p.m.
Sat, May 12 K&N Pro East South Boston Sun, May 20 1 p.m.
Sat, May 12 K&N Pro East South Boston Sun, May 20 2 p.m.
Sat, May 19 K&N Pro West Orange Show Thu, May 24 6 p.m.
Sat, Jun 2 K&N Pro East Memphis Wed, Jun 6 6 p.m.
Sat, Jun 2 Whelen Modified Seekonk Wed, Jun 6 7 p.m.
Sat, Jun 9  K&N Pro West Colorado  Thu, Jun 14 6 p.m.
Sat, Jun 16 K&N Pro East  New Jersey  Mon, June 18 *
Sat, Jun 23 K&N Pro West Sonoma Thu, Jun 28 6 p.m.
Sat, Jun 23 Whelen Modified Langley Thu, Jun 28 7 p.m.
Sat, Jun 30 K&N Pro West Douglas County Fri, Jul 6 1 p.m.
Sat, Jul 14 K&N Pro East Thompson Tue, Jul 24 6 p.m.
Sun, Jul 15 K&N Pro West Spokane Tue, Jul 24 7 p.m.
Sat, Jul 21 K&N Pro East New Hampshire Wed, Jul 25 6 p.m.
Sat, Jul 21 Whelen Modified New Hampshire Wed, Jul 25 7 p.m.
Sat, Jul 20 Whelen Modified New Hampshire (All-Star) Fri, Jul 27 6 p.m.
Fri, Jul 27 K&N Pro (Combination) Iowa Thu, Aug 2 6 p.m.
Fri, Aug 3 K&N Pro East Watkins Glen Wed, Aug 8 6 p.m.
Sat, Aug 11 K&N Pro West Evergreen Wed, Aug 15 6 p.m.
Wed, Aug 15 Whelen Modified Bristol Wed, Aug 22 6 p.m.
Fri, Aug 24 K&N Pro (Combination) Gateway Thu, Aug 30 6 p.m.
Sat, Sep 1 Whelen Modified Oswego Thu, Sep 6 6 p.m.
Sat, Sep 8 Whelen Modified Riverhead Thu, Sep 13 6 p.m.
Thu, Sep 13 K&N Pro West Las Vegas Fri, Sep 21 2:30 p.m.
Sat, Sep 22 K&N Pro East New Hampshire Thu, Sep 27 6 p.m.
Sat, Sep 22 Whelen Modified New Hampshire Thu, Sep 27 7 p.m.
Sat, Sep 29 K&N Pro West Meridian Fri, Oct 5 1 p.m.
Sun, Sep 30 Whelen Modified Stafford Fri, Oct 5 11 p.m.
Fri, Oct 5 K&N Pro East Dover Thu, Oct 11 6 p.m.
Sat, Oct 13 K&N Pro West All American Thu, Oct 18 6 p.m.
Sun, Oct 14 Whelen Modified Thompson Thu, Oct 18 7 p.m.
Sat, Oct 27 K&N Pro West Kern County Thu, Nov 1 6 p.m.

Sweet 16: Todd Gilliland’s path to historic NASCAR championship

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Do you remember what you were doing at 16?

Bill McAnally was “fighting to get $2 to put gas” in his pickup in Ukiah, California, where he hauled bales of hay.

David Gilliland helped his dad, Butch Gilliland, field his entry in his first full-time season in NASCAR’s Winton West Series, which became the K&N Pro Series West circuit.

Chris Lawson, the son of parents who work in the insurance industry, chipped away at his own racing dreams in Dayton, Ohio.

In the last 15 years, McAnally won five of his record seven K&N West titles as a team owner. David Gilliland competed in 398 races in NASCAR’s three national series, including 332 in Sprint Cup. Lawson embraced the life of a crew chief.

All three men would help Todd Gilliland become NASCAR’s youngest champion.

THE NEW KID

McAnally only made 56 starts as a driver in what used to be the Winston West Series.

One race weekend, at All-American Speedway in Roseville, California, stands out to the owner of Bill McAnally Racing thanks to the helping hand of Butch Gilliland.

Gilliland flew from Anaheim to help McAnally with his car after he ran behind him in a previous race and saw how bad it handled as he ran behind it.

After they were done, Gilliland refused to let McAnally pay for his plane ticket.

“’I’m just glad you’ll be in a better car so I’m not in harm’s way,” Gilliland said.

Two decades later, at the same .333-mile track in Northern California, McAnally doused Butch Gilliland’s grandson, Todd, in a Gatorade bath, yelling “Congratulations, Champ!”

Todd Gilliland finished eighth last month in the Toyota / NAPA Auto Parts 150 to clinch the K&N Pro Series West title.

At 16 years and 5 months, the Riverside, California, native became the youngest NASCAR champion in history, topping the mark set a month earlier by Cayden Lapcevich (16 years, 10 months, 16 days) in NASCAR’s Pinty’s Series. Before that, Joey Logano held the distinction after winning the 2007 K&N Pro Series East title at 17 years, 3 months, 28 days.

“We had a lot of family there, that’s where almost everyone is from.” Todd Gilliland said a week after winning the title. “They all came out to the track to support us. It’s super cool to be able to take a picture with everyone I’ve grown up around.”

The path to those championship portraits started at Roseville in August of last year. McAnally held a two-day driver expo at his team’s shop and All-American Speedway.

Todd Gilliland, who won his first ARCA Racing Series start in May, was among the drivers invited, including Brandon McReynolds and Chris Eggleston.

Also present: former NASCAR crew chief Larry McReynolds, multiple NASCAR officials and representatives from NAPA Auto Parts, Toyota and the WIX Corporation.

Waiting for the drivers at the track were six K&N cars prepared by McAnally’s team. On the first day, each driver made three, 15-lap runs. After tune-ups based on driver feedback, they made  mock qualifying runs.

It was before the initial practice session that McAnally had his first lengthy talk with Todd Gilliland. McAnally said he thought the young racer seemed “really nervous.”

“His driving showed it,” McAnally said. “He wasn’t consistent, he wasn’t smooth. David (Gilliland) was on the radio leaning on him. The coach we had with him was calming him down, and by the second session he had calmed down and he went out there and ran some smooth, consistent laps. By the next day, he was the fastest, smoothest driver out there by far.”

Todd Gilliland also was impressed.

“We saw the A+ operation he had going on there, the people he had in place,” the driver said of McAnally in May. “We just felt it was the best fit for us this year.”

McAnally and his sponsors agreed.

Gilliland ran the No. 54 Toyota for McAnally at Phoenix at the end of the year. In his first K&N West start, he led six laps and won.

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 21: David Gilliland, driver of the #35 Dockside Logistics Ford, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 21, 2016 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
David Gilliland (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

FATHER-SON TIME

While David Gilliland had a hand in building his son’s cars, he didn’t get to see much of Todd’s career.

That’s what happens when your Sprint Cup Series career takes priority for 10 years.

But David was there when his son did donuts in a quarter-midget in a dirt lot across the street from the family’s Riverside home. He also saw Todd’s first quarter-midget race on his son’s fifth birthday, his ARCA win and the 2015 Phoenix race.

Without a Sprint Cup ride for the first time since 2006, David Gilliland finally experienced a full season of his son’s career.

And he did do so in his least favorite racing role – as a spotter.

“’I just didn’t want to be part of a problem or making a mistake or something like that,” David Gilliland said. “It was something (Todd) really wanted me to do.”

Instead of having a driver coach, spotter and crew chief taking to his son, David Gilliland would be the coach and spotter.

“I think that’s something that’s helped me a lot this year to have him tell me when I’m doing something wrong or right,” Todd Gilliland said. “He kind of makes myself better throughout the entire race. He also knows a lot about those cars and different situations that he’s been in before.”

The other voice talking to Todd Gilliland was Lawson, the crew chief who has worked with the Gillilands since 2014.

With that arrangement, Todd Gilliland won his first four K&N starts, tying the 60-year-old record set by Dan Gurney. His eight wins in 2016 surpassed the mark set Joey Logano (2007) and Dylan Kwasniewski (2014).

Source: Bill McAnally
Source: Bill McAnally

FILLING UP THE BOARD

McAnally was concerned.

Todd Gilliland hit his first real bump by finishing ninth in his second K&N East start at Bristol in April.

“All of sudden we’re off on our setup,” McAnally says. “We missed it. We had a top-10 car. So he finishes the race. I’m shaking my head, ‘How’s he going to be getting out of the car?’ All he’s ever done is win in a K&N car and now he’s fighting to be in the top 10.”

When he arrived at the No. 16 car, McAnally found his driver sitting on its door in good spirits.

“Lead a lap, top-10 finish,” Todd Gilliland announced. “I get two more splats on the board!”

On the wall of McAnally’s shop is a 10-by-20-foot board labelled “2016 Team Checklist.”

The board has 11 items that can be checked off by McNally’s four drivers for any given race. They include finish race lead lap, top-three finish, win race, and at the bottom, win championship.

Todd Gilliland was the only teammate to put a “splat” in every box.

While Todd Gilliland enjoyed a rookie season no one else has, including being named to the NASCAR Next class, he’s enthusiastic about learning what he hasn’t from his owner, father and crew chief.

Lawson saw that enthusiasm during the K&N East race in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Todd Gilliland was in second on a restart with two laps to go. Corey LaJoie, a veteran of 37 K&N races, led.

“(LaJoie) just smoked us on the restart,” Lawson said. “He just wore us out bad, and right after the restart was over, literally going down the backstretch, Todd is about four car lengths back off of him and goes ‘Man, that is awesome. I need to learn how to do that.’

“To me that’s cool, not only that he realizes it, he understood what happened, he wants to step his game up to be that good. He wasn’t mad, saying we got beat. He said ‘man, I want to do that. I want to be able to do that.’”

He’ll get that chance next year, whether it’s in the K&N Series, ARCA or venturing into the Camping World Truck Series.

Before that, Todd Gilliland will celebrate his title Dec. 11 at the NASCAR Touring Night of Champions Awards.

Then he can start preparing for next season and giving people reasons to consider what they were doing at 17.