This happens all the time in NASCAR. A driver who has never won a race finds himself on a well-funded team and suddenly becomes a winner, or even a championship contender.
NASCAR is an expensive sport. The old adage “Money buys horsepower” has never been more true, and it applies to more than just the NASCAR Cup Series. It takes money just to reach the upper ranks of NASCAR. Most of today’s top drivers grew up racing in their youth, racing quarter midgets or other series. While young soccer or basketball players can pick up a simple ball and hone their skills on a field or hoop at the local playground, there is no cheap entry-level motorsport for young drivers.
All of this leads us to a common question: Do the best drivers in NASCAR rise through the ranks on talent alone? Or is it impossible to succeed without significant financial support, sometimes starting with wealthy parents?
Fans aren’t the only ones debating this topic. Parker Kligerman, who has competed in all three of NASCAR’s national series, says the topic has been the subject of “massive debate” in the sport. Kligerman, now best known to many fans for his role as a NASCAR pit reporter on NBC, discussed the issue with host Brandon Contes on the latest Awful Announcing podcast.
Contes got straight to the point by asking: “To what extent does the success of a professional racing driver depend solely on talent, and to what extent does it also depend on sufficient financial support?”
“So that’s a really good question,” Kligerman said. “I think it’s been a massive debate within the sport for a very long time, and I think it will continue to be a debate for as long as the sport exists.
“You know, I tend to believe that the cream rises to the top and that if you want to compete in the NASCAR Cup Series or the Indycar Series or Formula 1, you have to be in the top 1% in something . Whether you’re in the top 1% of stock car drivers in the world, who would be an AJ Allmendinger, right? »
But talent alone cannot make a great driver a consistent winner. It’s no coincidence that the best drivers in the NASCAR Cup drive for teams with more consistent and lucrative sponsorships. Stories abound of drivers who go from lower level teams to a super team and suddenly find success.
Yet even this requires some marketing talent. It’s no surprise that many of today’s best drivers are well-spoken, marketing-friendly people.
“Whether you’re a top 1% of short track runners or a top 1% of marketers, I think that’s an important (skill), right? » said Kligerman. “If you go for it, you have the opportunity to get sponsorship at a level that no one else can. It’s a top 1% skill that can put you at the highest level of the sport.
Driving skills are therefore important, but Kligerman admits that funding is key to helping a driver climb the ranks and reach the top of the sport.
“Yes, is there a financial need and a financial barrier to entry?” » said Kligerman. “Of course, and you know, the pool of people who can get into this sport and try to get to the highest level is probably smaller because of that.
“I really think it’s not as big a barrier for the greatest talent to rise to the top. If they want to make it, if they have the dedication and if they are willing to make sacrifices, they will find a way.
Without naming names, NASCAR has seen a number of drivers in recent years who brought lucrative sponsorships to a team, only to fold because they didn’t know how to drive. So Kligerman says succeeding in NASCAR requires both talent and funding.
Yet talent can take a driver a long way from humble beginnings.
“It’s not just the most talented that make it, but it’s the combination of all those things,” Kligerman said. “And then I think there’s, you know, there’s 1 percent that are so good…they just have elite-level ability to drive a race car.
“They will find themselves at the top of the sport because they have no other choice. And sport will channel them in this way.
Kligerman, who drives the No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series this season, is on track to make the playoffs.
(Horrible Announcement Podcast)