Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: Parker Kligerman on Penske, Potential & Golf?

Parker Kligerman may have been the ARCA Re/MAX Series runner-up last season, but it’s his association with Roger Penske that has him bursting onto the national scene. A Nationwide pole at Kansas last year has led to hopes for a full-time schedule in the near future, teaming up with Justin Allgaier and Brad Keselowski to form a potent 1-2-3 punch in NASCAR’s second-tier division.

Until that funding comes through, Kligerman’s gaining experience and building his career with Team 42 Racing’s Dodge program. How has the 19-year-old Connecticut native handled that transition from ARCA to the cusp of NASCAR superstardom? Recently, Frontstretch‘s Phil Allaway took some time to speak with him on the future of his program, what he needs to become more competitive and… golf?

Phil Allaway, Frontstretch: Your current ride in the Nationwide Series is the No. 42 Dodge for Team 42 Racing. You were put into the ride at the end of last year at Homestead. Is there some kind of support relationship between Team 42 and Penske?

Parker Kligerman: Yeah, the best way to put it would be a satellite team, not even a satellite team as much as Eddie Smith (Team 42 Racing owner) and Penske giving me a place to race if we were able to spot the engines. The crew chief is Chris Carrier, my crew chief last year in ARCA. We use Eddie Smith’s shop and his cars, and we basically put Penske engines into them.

We work with the other two Penske cars (No. 12 of Justin Allgaier and No. 22 of Brad Keselowski), but it is mostly separate because the equipment is so different. Those cars that [Team 42 Racing] have are two or three-year-old Ganassi Nationwide cars, whereas at Penske, we’re building brand-new cars on a regular basis.

So, for what we have, I think we did well the first few races. At California, we should have finished in the top 15. We really had the speed there at the end of the race, but we couldn’t get a Lucky Dog. Las Vegas, we were running about 20th and ended up blowing a transmission, then we went to Bristol and we wrecked in qualifying after a little mishap.

For how quickly we put the deal together and the fact that it’s not a full deal with either Team 42 or Penske, I think we’ve done well with what we have. I know that our next race will be the Talladega race [Aaron’s 312].

Allaway: What are the plans for the rest of the year in the No. 42?

Kligerman: Well, it’s all up in the air. The original plan was for me to do the first three [races], which was Daytona, California (Auto Club) and Las Vegas. What happened with Daytona was that it rained out qualifying. Then, they filled in the field by random draw. The No. 42 was 36th in points last year, but it didn’t mean anything if you were outside of the Top 30 in points, so we got knocked out of the field.

That put us behind the 8-ball, just because of pure circumstances. I think that it’s allowed us to do Talladega because we have that car ready and sitting there [in the shop] because we didn’t get to use it.

The rest of the year, I know we’re going to do the four CoT races. How we do them, I don’t know. It could be with Team 42 Racing, or with someone else – I don’t make these decisions, I just go where they tell me. We’re putting some things together that will allow us to do two of the three road courses this year, which would be Road America and Montreal. Anything beyond that five or six races is up in the air.

I think that schedule there, I’ve learned a lot just with what we’ve done so far. If we were just to do what I said there, I think I would be ready to go on to the full Nationwide season next year. Hitting the short tracks and the superspeedways and the road courses is all the experience I need to go for the full season.

Allaway: What are your goals for those remaining races this year?

Kligerman: Well, at the beginning of the year, we circled a few races on the calendar and said, ‘If we do well here, we could possibly attract a sponsor.’ If we can get a sponsor to come on board, we’ll go do a race, something like a Richmond or a Charlotte, something not on the West Coast.

As goals for any of these races, we need top 10s, we need top fives. I think for the road courses, I really think we can run up front, that’s my background. From when I first started racing, I did road courses, so I’m very familiar with that sort of racing. And, for the “New Nationwide car” races (not supposed to say CoT), those races, I feel like since I’ll finally be in the same equipment as Brad and Justin, I think that those races, we should be contending for the win. It depends on how the Challenger is out of the box.

We’ve been working on it diligently and I hope it will be up front just like the cars we have now. I have no reason to believe that it won’t be. The Cup drivers will have a little bit of an edge because they’ve been driving the CoT for so long, but I think that we should be at the front, contending to win those races.

One thing that would be excellent to walk out of this season with are a bunch of top 10s and top fives, and maybe one win, and I’ll be happy.

Allaway: Last year, you made your debut in the Nationwide Series at Kansas Speedway in the No. 22 and won the pole. Can you talk a little about that experience?

Kligerman: In some respects, I’m happy that it happened and it was great, but I think that in the last few months, it’s become the only highlight that I have in the five Nationwide races that I’ve done. That’s a bit upsetting to me. I’d like to get away from having that as my only highlight.

At the time, it was an awesome thing, but I don’t feel that it was really astonishing because it’s just qualifying. In the Nationwide Series, the guy that qualifies on the pole doesn’t always run all that well in the race because the setup doesn’t always translate to the race very well.

In that weekend, it was a cool thing to do as a rookie. We were fast in all the practices in the car. For that race, we did do well. We did what we came to do, which was to finish on the lead lap. We just finished outside the top 15 but overall it was a successful weekend for my first Nationwide race.

Allaway: How’s your team chemistry with Team 42 in the races that you have attempted and raced so far this year?

Kligerman: I think it’s been OK. As we’ve seen in the past with these satellite deals, it’s tricky. The hardest thing is that, a lot of the time, people think that if you’re connected to the larger Cup team [in this case, Penske’s Nationwide program], the pressure is always put on you from the outside to run as well as [the parent team] even though you’re not exactly in the same equipment or the same situation.

I think that’s an issue that comes with doing these satellite deals that hurts a lot of young drivers. As for us, when we can get that out of our minds and act like we’re our own deal, then we can be competitive and not worry about how the other team’s doing.

That is one thing that makes or breaks these satellite teams. As for our team, this really wasn’t put together until the end of January. So, we walked into Daytona having only known each other for two or three weeks. In California and Las Vegas, we increased our on-track performance immensely, mainly because we were just getting to know each other. At every race we get to do this year, we’ll just keep getting better and better.

Allaway: It’s definitely an advantage still having Chris Carrier from last year, right?

Kligerman: Oh, definitely. Chris is the main reason for most of our small successes so far this year. When everything was changing, I needed to have some kind of constant from last year that I could bring over because I was coming into a new series with a new team. When I got to the team, I asked them, “Can I have Chris come over?”

He’s been a huge help. He’s been helping me learn the series and learn the cars, how to race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. I think that’s been a big help, and will be for the rest of the year.

Allaway: Just for our fans that like to learn a little bit more about their favorite drivers away from the track, what kind of general interests do you have?

Kligerman: General interests? Well, I do a lot of Sim Racing [online computer racing]. I’ve been doing that since I was about 13 years old.

Allaway: You mean like iRacing?

Kligerman: Yeah, iRacing, rFactor, you name it, I’ve raced it. I try to do that every night. I’m in leagues and such, racing against Cup drivers. I’ve been doing it about as long as I’ve been “real racing.”

Other than that, there are things that I’d like to do that I can’t as long as I’m racing. Snowboarding… I’m a big fan of wakeboarding. Can’t really do those the last few years since you can’t get hurt when you’re trying to create a career. I also love to play golf.

Allaway: How are you at golf?

Kligerman: Well, actually, just this weekend, I went out and bought a whole new set of clubs. I haven’t had my own set of clubs for the past couple of years and after using makeshift sets, I decided that if I was going to become serious about it, I’d have to get my own clubs.

This will probably be the last summer, since we’re only doing the part-time Nationwide schedule, that I can try and get better. I get them next week, so we’ll see what happens.

Allaway: Good luck with that, Parker. I haven’t played golf in about three years and when I did…

Kligerman: When I was younger, I went to a bunch of golf camps and got really good. Then, when I started racing, I kinda quit it for three or four years. Now, I’m getting back into it and learning things over again.

Allaway: What do you consider to be an acceptable handicap level?

Kligerman: I don’t know. Below whatever I am now. A good friend of mine when I was younger told me, “Never do anything at less than 110%.” I guess that’s one thing that helped me in my racing career. So, I guess, based on that, I’d like to be a scratch golfer. I don’t know if it’ll ever be attainable, but I’ll put that as my goal.

Allaway: Can you describe the atmosphere last year with Cunningham Motorsports in the ARCA Re/MAX Series, where your team was operating from week-to-week at times?

Kligerman: I’d say that everything that I’ve done in my career, my motto has been “Underfunded, but Overachieve.”

With Penske Racing, there were no guarantees at the time, since I signed on as a test/development driver. Thankfully, we were able to put together a program with Briggs Cunningham and his team with Penske to do eight ARCA races. We decided to do the first eight ARCA races and that’s it.

I entered the season knowing that I was a “big-time rookie” with only 24 or 30 races ever on ovals. It was a huge opportunity, but with no expectations. I just wanted to do the best I could, and hope that it was good enough.

After finishing seventh at Daytona, we went to Salem and finished third and led some laps. It was at that point that I realized that we belonged here [in ARCA]. From there, we went on to win race after race after race. This got the powers that be to say, “Maybe we should try to do as many races as possible.”

We would act like we were going to the next race, but we never even knew if we were going to the next race, so we ran every race like it was going to be our last race and we were able to win a lot. I think the whole team never really thought about it being our last race. They just thought that we needed to do great.

We came up a little bit short at the end of the year, but in my eyes, we were the champions. We won more races than we were supposed to and they were champions in that regard. It was a huge achievement for everyone involved and a big thanks goes to both Penske Racing and Cunningham Motorsports. They gave me my opportunity to advance up into NASCAR racing and hopefully, I’ll be able to repay them.

Allaway: Winning nine races and finishing in the top 10 in all but three of them is a great season, regardless of funding.

Kligerman: The cool thing, too, was winning the two dirt races, because those two were circled on the calendar with “What are we going to do here?” and we ended up winning both of them.

It was the first time for myself on dirt, first time for Chris. We were all a little lost during the first practice at DuQuoin. (Editor’s Note: Parker misspoke here. Springfield preceded DuQuoin on the ARCA schedule.)

Allaway: Sadly, fans of the series haven’t been able to see these races on TV. How do the cars drive on dirt?

Kligerman: (Chuckles) It’s interesting. The reason that I think we were successful was that when I got into the car for the first practice, I had no idea what to expect. So, I went out and did about five laps, then I came on the radio and said, “I can’t really tell you what it’s doing… so, can I come in and debrief a little? Just out of curiousity, how’d I run?” Chris said, “You’re P1.”

You start off the first practice sliding around sideways because the track’s muddy. It’s almost like you’re driving a dirt sprint car, completely sideways the whole time. As the day goes on, the track dries up and gains grip. By the middle to end of the race, you’ll have huge potholes the size of the… whole left side of the car that you’ll be driving through.

One thing that was really cool was that the setup meant nothing. It just comes down to making the car turn in the middle of the corner. If I could show you throttle and brake data, you would see that compared to an asphalt course, you would do about five or six different things with your feet in the corner, gas-brake, gas-brake, gas-brake, then drive off the corner. It was something I really relished in the car.

Unlike at Talladega and Daytona, where you can outspend your competition, on the dirt tracks, it’s between the driver and the car. I think it’s the great equalizer, like rain on road courses.

Allaway: That’s excellent. On that note, I thank you for joining us today, Parker.

Kligerman: Thank you. I like the Frontstretch website a lot. Keep it up!

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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