Our weekly series of NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Parker Kligerman, who drives for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Camping World Truck Series. We sat down with Kligerman recently in Charlotte.
SBN: What percent of your career races can you remember?
PK: They always say it's the worst ones you remember the easiest, because you don't want to relive them. But I think as an athlete in any professional sport, you've got to have a short-term memory. It's the only way you can get past things that happen out of your control.
But I'd say I can remember 90, 95 percent of every race. You may not remember every lap, but you might have a turn where you got inside a guy and battled him, and you'll remember that.
SBN: What was the first win you got in any form of motorsports?
PK: My first win was in go-karting. I raced at a little karting association called Norwalk (Conn.) Karting Association, which was in a parking lot next to a beach about 10 minutes from my house. They set up cones and like 80 kids would show up to race, and that's where I got my first win.
SBN: How'd you celebrate that big victory?
PK: I was the only kid who worked on his own go-kart and I was the only one that didn't have a dad there, because my dad didn't like racing. Everyone would say I was too serious, because I wanted to win so bad. But I remember winning, and it was just like, "Woo! OK, let's win the next one."
SBN: Who is a clean driver in the Truck Series you enjoy racing with?
PK: There's a bunch. There's more of 'em that you like to race around than not, otherwise you'd have a hard time. Todd Bodine has helped me out a lot. He's one of those veterans you can count on to give you advice and tips out there.
And then out of the new kids coming up – and this might be surprising after his brother and I weren't the best of friends – but Ty Dillon has really impressed me. We raced a lot at Rockingham, a little bit at Kansas and I'm totally comfortable around him. He's a good racer, he gives you room. He could have that mentality that he's better than everyone else – he obviously walked into a championship ride – but you don't see it in him or the way he drives. He's really down to earth and a great racer.
SBN: On the opposite side of that, who is someone in the Truck Series that always seems to give you a hard time?
PK: He won't take this offensively – he knows he's tough – but Ron Hornaday (Editor's note: Kligerman said this just hours before the recent incident with team owner Brad Keselowski and Hornaday). He's a hard-nosed racer, he's made a career out of being that way. It's not that he races you dirty, it's that he races you hard. And he's been successful doing it.
I respect him for it. I've learned some things from him about how to be a little more aggressive and to use my truck to my advantage in track placement. He's a super nice guy out of the truck, but that's just how he races.
SBN: What's your personal code of conduct on the track?
PK: Up until the win, I'll race you how I want to be raced. When it's for the win, I'll do what it takes. I'll do whatever it takes to win, simple as that. Wins in this sport aren't just about glory and championship points anymore; for a lot of young kids like myself, it's about having a career or not. At the end of the day, you've got to do what it takes.
SBN: Do you have a mental list of people you owe for on-track payback?
PK: Yes, you obviously keep a list. They know when you've gotten them back, they know when it's even and they know when you're coming. And if they don't, they probably aren't paying attention.
I've read this question for a couple guys, and we've all got the same answer: We've got a list, you're never going to talk about it, you don't focus on it because you don't want to dwell on one person, but if the time comes when there's a chance you can prove your point or send a message, you'll take that opportunity.
SBN: Who is a driver from the past you'd like to team up with if you could turn back time?
PK: First off, I would say Dale Earnhardt. You'd want to learn from that guy and see what made him the American icon he was. Being able to watch Brad up close and be part of his rise to the top, seeing things he does on his jet or in his bus to prepare for a race weekend, it's been hugely beneficial for myself to see what level of commitment it takes and what work ethic I need to get to. You think about that, and then you think about a guy like Dale Earnhardt and go, "What did he do (to prepare)?"
And then someone who I would have just loved to meet and see what he was like in person was Tim Richmond. He was just such a character, and I would have wanted to know what made that guy tick. What was the real story there?
SBN: When was the last time you got nervous about something?
PK: Well, I get nervous a lot, but I don't really show it. But the last time I was visibly nervous was in '09 at qualifying for the Homestead Nationwide race. And I'll never get nervous again, because I screwed up.
I had sat on the pole in my first-ever Nationwide race, and so there was a lot of pressure to live up to that. I let it all get to me. I hit the wall and I missed the race. My career hinged on that race, because I still had to re-sign with Penske, and a lot of other things were going on.
But I looked at myself afterward and said, "It ain't that serious. Don't ever get worked up like that again. Even if it's the end of the world, it's always worked out – always has, always will. You know you can do your job, and if you do it to 10 tenths, that's all you can do."
SBN: Fans can ask awkward or uncomfortable things sometimes at driver appearances. Do you have any recent experiences along those lines?
PK: At Martinsville this year, I was wearing my race suit at a signing. And this guy comes up and asks me if he can feel my race suit. It was all sweaty and everything, and I said, "Do you really want to touch this race suit?" He said, "Yeah, I really want to touch the race suit." So I said, "OK..." I kind of leaned forward and let him touch my race suit. It was awkward. And I mean, it was not dry by any means. I sweat a lot, so I felt kind of bad for the guy.
SBN: If you had to choose between one of these jobs when you retire, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or a high-ranking NASCAR official?
PK: Whoa. That's big. You know what? I love the camera, I love doing all that stuff. You don't ever want to think about retirement and when it ends, but I have thought a little about what would interest me most. I'm someone who is absolutely dedicated to seeing the sport grow and become the biggest and best it can possibly be.
I have tons of ideas – some people like them, some don't. Some of my ideas make people angry, some make people happy. But it's the way the sport has to go to succeed and grow, and I would love to be able to have a say in being part of that.
So I guess being the high-ranking NASCAR official would be big, though obviously I'm conscious of the fact they fight a lot of variables we don't even know about. They know the contracts, they know all the people they're trying to please. But at the end of the day, I'm a huge fan. I was a racing fan before I was a driver, and I'll die a racing fan – not a driver.
SBN: Since you mentioned your many ideas to improve the sport, I have to ask you what some of those are.
PK: Oh no! Oh no, I'm going to get in trouble. Alright...I'll give you one that I really like.
When I walk through the parking lot and I look at road cars, do I ever see a splitter or a spoiler? No. Why do we race with them? All we fight is aero. So if you took the aero away, the cars would be back off the ground, we'd be back to conventional springs. We'd have to rework the way we set up the cars, but at the end of the day, we wouldn't be fighting what we fight now.
The speeds would be 20 mph slower in the corner, but when we go to Atlanta and we race 20 mph slower than we qualify, does anyone care? No. If the racing is better, no one would care. The cars would run closer, the racing would be completely different. You could open up the engine rules so the straightaway speeds are just as fast.
I just always thought the greatest race series in the world would be a race series that's completely non-aero-dependent and over-horsepowered. Think of sprint cars. They get 5,000 people to show up in the middle of Indiana, and there's no (big) names and no sponsors. Why? Because it's awesome and it's great to watch. Now, take that and put it on a national stage with a NASCAR stock car, with sponsors and drivers and 100,000 people watching.
I saw Carl Edwards said this same thing, too, so I know I'm not the only crazy one. I thought it was crazy when I said it two months ago, and then I saw him say it and I was like, "Yeah! There you go!"
SBN: But then there were some conspiracy theories, because Carl got penalized at Richmond after making those comments.
PK: Really? Oh, I'm screwed. (Laughs) That's OK. Are they going to penalize me $100? I don't make any money.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
PK: I don't get tired of any questions. If someone wants to know something, I'm not going to hold back. I'm super privileged to be a part of this race series and be a part of NASCAR at the age I am, and if anyone wants to know something 600 times, I'll say it to them. Because at the end of the day, if they want to know just a slice of what this life is like, I'd like to give that to them.
That's why I love Twitter. I love to say, "Here's what life is like as a race car driver and as a young kid growing up in this sport, and someone who is so privileged to have the opportunities and life I've had."
SBN: I've been asking each driver to give me a question for the next guy. Unfortunately, last week's scheduled interview fell through and it was a specific question for that person. But can you help me out with a question for the next guy?
PK: OK, well just ask whoever is next: "What do you think about racing without spoilers and splitters? Why do we race them?" There you go. I want to go after this thing. Yes, the cars would be hard to drive, but if we all drive the same thing, what does it matter?