NASCAR driver Parker Kligerman was kind enough to give Beyond The Flag an opportunity to speak with him prior to the final Food City 500 practice on Saturday. Kligerman discussed a variety of topics including his goal to be the best rookie and what it’s like to be in a wreck when your car flips over. The entire interview can be read below.
When did you first know that Motorsports was going to be a career for you?
When I was younger I was really interested in cars, I had a ton of model cars and toy cars. I was nine years and we got cable and speed vision, that’s when I saw racing for the first time. I saw some kids go-karting on there and thought that I needed to be doing that and four years later I started go-karting for the first time.
In 2012 you pick up your first victory in the Craftsman Truck Series. What was that experience like for you?
Our first victory in the truck series was more of a relief honestly. I had previously finished second the most times of anybody without a win and that’s not a record I’d like to hold. We probably had four or five races in that year and a half span that got away from us. So it was just kind of a relief to get that win out of the way and obviously a great day. I would have liked to have won a couple more that season. When I got into that No. 7 truck we were by far the fastest truck and we just let wins slip from our fingers too many times. It was a good day but I would have liked more (wins).
In 2013 you made your Sprint Cup debut with Swan Racing and produced the team’s best finish of the year. What was it like to have a debut like that?
That was a really great day. Anytime you can come to this level and perform like that, this is obviously a level that nothing else can prepare you for what you experience at this level. Going in with Swan Racing, it was a growing team at the time and I didn’t know what to expect. To be able to go out there and have the best debut of any of the rookies who debuted last year was pretty cool. I think it validated a lot of things about me as a driver and what I thought of myself and my abilities as a Sprint Cup driver. I’ve always felt most comfortable in Cup cars than the others cars just because of the horsepower. It was one of those days where you kind of put a feather in your cap for a job well done, an impressive debut.
In your first two races with Swan Racing at the end of 2013 did you know that there was an opportunity for a full-time ride in 2014?
Yeah, I knew that they were going to decide on a driver; at the time I thought it would be one (laughter). Homestead was the first time that I knew of possibly a two car operation. I just made sure that we had the best runs that we could possibly have. I thought we had two great and clean runs. I felt that if they were going to decide on one driver that I had the upper hand there. They went with two cars and we are going through that right now. In a lot of ways I’d like to say that we are a growing team, we are in the infancy of that. There have been growing pains but we will get through it and be stronger for it.
Take us back to your wreck this year during Daytona practice. What’s it like to be in a wreck like that and was it the worst of your career?
That’s the first time I have ever flipped over. I always thought that would be something that was more terrifying but it wasn’t, it kind of just happened. From there the only way that I can best explain it is if you have ever been in the ocean with big waves and the wave pulls you under. It’s one of those things where you kind of let it happen and then you spring back up on the other side. That’s the kind of feeling that you get, it’s like a 3400 pound wave just whipping you around, you’re just along for the ride. As for it being my worst wreck ever? No. My worst wreck ever was in a midget at ORP when the left rear tire came off at the end of the straight away going into turn one and I hit the wall on the left side really hard. It was one of those days where it was about 150 MPH which is pretty fast to hit the wall in those cars.
You’re entering 2014 with one of the most touted rookie classes in NASCAR history. What is it like to be a part of a rookie group with some much expectation?
It’s an honor first and foremost. I’m grateful to have the opportunity and to be a part of such a great rookie class. You look at the talent and its guys that I have raced my whole career and I find it funny that we all got here at the same time. There is nothing higher than this (Sprint Cup) so now we are all trying to make our mark and our legacy. Watching each other go through that has been an experience so far and will be fun to watch all season. I just want to be the best of them. I think looking realistically; Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson are in chase eligible rides. Those are rides that have made the chase and contended for wins. Dillon’s ride finished third last year and Larson’s ride has made the chase multiple times. It’s one of those things where I look at those two and then the rest of us who are growing teams. Our teams are trying to beat those types of teams in 3-5 years. Being third in the rookie class would be great or even second. For us at Swan (Racing) we look at more of a point’s situation and where we want to finish in the points. First and foremost it’s top-25; from there top-20 would be great. Historically if as a rookie you finished anywhere from 18-22 in the points you would win rookie of the year in the last 10 years or so. I know this year’s class may be a bit different though.
Being a teammate with another rookie in Cole Whitt, is there any special competiveness between the two of you?
Anytime on the track you try to work with teammates as much as possible until the green flag drops and you can only do so much. You don’t race your teammate quite like you race everyone else but it’s one of those things where you have to have that competitive fire or you wouldn’t be here. As for growing Swan Racing, the only way that we can get better is if we work together as a team. In the best interest we do work together but you can only do so much for teammates at this level in this sport.
Is the perception that drivers don’t want to work with rookies accurate?
I think it’s one of those perception things. It’s one of those ideologies that get ingrained in a generation and they don’t seem to lose it. If you look at the way the rookies have run this year already, it has been impressive. The veteran drivers are very willing to help; I have spoken to a lot of them. It helps them to race you better if you’re doing better and racing them the right way. The mantra of it’s a “good ole boys” club isn’t 100 percent accurate. I think if you show respect and make the right choices than you’ll be around for a long time and have the respect of drivers.
Is Bristol one of the hardest tracks to race at?
I wouldn’t say it’s the hardest to race at. I’d say it’s one of the hardest to give respect to others while racing. You almost have to come in with an offensive mentality and make sure that you respect your racecar from the events around you. Everything happens so quickly and everything is so tight; there isn’t time to react and there isn’t anywhere to hide. You have to race hard every lap and hope everything falls your way. This weekend especially because the tire doesn’t seem to be laying down a lot of rubber and marbling. We are stuck at the bottom of the track right now.
Are you confident with your car heading into the Food City 500 on Sunday?
I am looking forward to it. We have a lot of good ideas and I think that we can work on it and get this car into the top-25 in regards to speed.
Have you ever been in awe of a driver or a moment during your career?
I did some really cool things when I first got started. I won my first pole in Nationwide in my first start, beating Kyle Busch. At the time I didn’t think it was anything but looking back it’s a pretty cool moment. From there probably the Sprint Cup debut because I really felt like we accomplished something running as well as we did at this level. I was very proud of that and grateful for the opportunity.