Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: A Surging Sophomore Relives His Rise to NASCAR

Parker Kligerman pilots one of the two, full-time Dodge trucks in the Camping World Truck Series for Brad Keselowski Racing. He is currently sixth in points with two top-10 finishes in four races. Not only will he be racing in the Truck Series all season, but he’ll also be running cars in select Nationwide Series events for renowned car owner Roger Penske.

Frontstretch caught up with Kligerman while he was on his way to Nashville Superspeedway for a test and touched base on many different aspects of his racing and non-racing lives.

Mike Neff, Frontstretch: Are you an employee of Penske Racing or Brad Keselowski Racing?

Parker Kligerman: Technically I am a Penske Racing development driver. I don’t have a contract with Brad or anything like that, in that respect. I’m there because of the Penske connection and Brad and all of those things that kind of came together to make this happen. I do have a contract with Penske racing though.

Neff: The reason I asked that is because, in talking with Justin Allgaier a couple of years ago during the Media Tour, I inquired about doing the Chili Bowl and races like that. He said that Roger really frowns on doing outside stuff that could negatively impact your full-time job racing for him. With that said, do you get the chance to do any kind of racing outside of the Camping World Trucks and Nationwide Series?

Parker Kligerman: It is about the Trucks. In essence the truck is my Penske racing vehicle until I get the chance to step in that Nationwide vehicle for a couple of races this season. It isn’t a Penske racing car but it is what they say you’re going to drive this year. That is your deal. So anything outside of what they deem to be your full-time ride is extracurricular and you have to ask permission.

It is understandable, obviously as drivers we’re a valuable part of the organization and if we went out there and did something stupid to get hurt in a racecar that we shouldn’t have been in then that is our fault and they kind of try to avoid that by saying don’t do it.

Neff: I completely understand that. I know Allgaier had stated that if he could guarantee Roger that a midget would be 100% safe then he could go run the Chili Bowl. You know as well as I do, any time you get into a car and try and race it, it can’t be 100% safe.

Kligerman: Absolutely and it is completely understandable. I come from midgets and I would love to, once in a while, go do that. But it doesn’t really make sense right now. This is my career and this is what I care about. To improve from here and get to the top of the sport you have to focus on this 100% to go out and beat these guys, so it is almost something that, in the end I don’t want to take away from my focus, so I don’t really think about it.

Neff: Do you have any pets?

Kligerman: I do not have any pets. I have a dog back at home, but not dogs or pets that are mine. I’ve never really had any pets. My pets have been racecars. I do have funny thing that people who follow me on Twitter will know,

I have a large, stuffed animal, giraffe, that we consider our pet at my apartment. He’s the best pet in the world because you don’t have to clean up after him and he doesn’t do anything. We don’t have to do anything for him, he’s self-sufficient so he’s the best pet I can ask for.

Neff: How about hobbies? Do you fish? Do you hunt? Do you listen to music?

Kligerman: I’m not cool as far as the fishing or hunting thing. I grew up on the ocean so I have fished before, I did when I was younger. So that is not something I haven’t been exposed to. I’ve never hunted. My hobbies are, I would say right now my biggest interests are; I love to work out and I love music. I am a huge music geek and music fan. I love all types of music and finding new music and those types of things.

At this point in my life I kind of wish I’d taken up a musical instrument or something because I have such a love for music. And lastly would be golf. I love golf. I’m trying to get better at it. Trying to be a better golfer and enjoy going out there and getting away from everything.

Neff: Speaking of golf, do you ever get the chance to play with Denny Hamlin? I know he’s become quite the golf nut of late.

Kligerman: No, no. (laughs) It sounds to me like he is a lot better than I am at this point and in the foreseeable future. Maybe one day, but not for now.

Neff: You got your start doing go-karts and midgets and some other open-wheel type stuff. How did it end up you got steered toward full-bodied stock cars?

Kligerman: When I got out of go-karts I went and did open-wheel cars which were kind of Formula cars they’re called. Almost like an Indy car or Formula-1-type of racecar, obviously a lot smaller scale. I wanted to go to Europe.

I wanted to go F1 racing and do road-course racing and it became very apparent that you needed a lot of funding and my dad only wanted to help me for that first year so the only opportunity for young drivers who believe they want to be professional race car drivers was NASCAR. It was the only place, as a young driver, that you could find a ride and find funding and find places that you didn’t have to have family funding to be able to make it in the sport.

So that is where I went and midgets is where we decided to go. So we went over there and I only did 12 races the first year, kind of funding it myself with an early inheritance from my grandpa. Between those two things I was able to fund about a 12-race season. From the end of that season we were able to put a deal together to drive the Cunningham Motorsports midget team, which was connected to their ARCA team.

That was my second to last year of midget racing. At the end of the year, after doing a good job in midgets, I got the opportunity to do two ARCA races and qualified second at my first one and finished sixth. I finished ninth at my second one.

After that I signed my development contract with Penske Racing and the next year we decided to do ARCA. It was pretty quick. I was always in the right place at the right time I guess. I took small opportunities and turned them into large opportunities.

Because of that, people don’t really believe that I got to where I was so quickly, without family funding or anything, but we really did it with very little family funding and very little corporate support at all. I just happened to be in places where they needed a driver to do well and was there to do well.

Neff: You did some midget racing, so you’ve at least competed on dirt, is there any interest in, as your career advances, doing any fun racing on dirt or are you pretty focused on asphalt?

Kligerman: I actually never competed on dirt. We only ran asphalt stuff. I ran two races on dirt in ARCA and I won them both, so at this time I have a perfect record on dirt and I don’t plan on hurting that record any time soon. I look forward to doing some dirt racing in the future but at this time, having a perfect record is kind of an amazing thing to say so, I’m two for two and I don’t plan on messing that up.

Neff: So you won both of the ARCA dirt races you ran?

Kligerman: Yeah, that was my first ever time on dirt. Funny story about that would be, Ken Schrader was at the first one and I can’t remember which track it was between the two, but I’d never been there before and we talked before the race and he was giving me some pointers and stuff and I said thanks.

So after the race I saw him and I’d won the race. I think we’d led the most laps and won the race in pretty convincing fashion, I mean I was going 85% and leading the race by two seconds, so it wasn’t hard at all. I walked up to him and said ‘hey, not too bad for my first time on dirt.’ He turned to me and said ‘that ain’t real dirt’ and he walked off. I guess I don’t know. It seemed like dirt to me. When I was avoiding pot holes in turn 1 I felt like it was dirt.

Neff: Education-wise, did you get out of high school and then move to Illinois to go midget racing or did you do some college or anything like that?

Kligerman: I still was in high school when I midget raced. I actually graduated from high school during my ARCA season and moved down to Charlotte shortly thereafter. To be near Penske racing at the time and that was in August. I went to UNC Charlotte for a semester and a half and then actually halfway through my second semester I had to stop because we were travelling so much I just couldn’t keep up the attendance, it was getting so crazy.

I actually had good grades, I had a 3.0, I just couldn’t keep up the attendance. I obviously could have done it online but I kind of looked at it and said ‘I’m going to put my full focus on racing because you only get one shot at this, you can always come back to that.’

Neff: Do you ever get to hang out with Brad Keselowski away from the track?

Kligerman: I just saw him at the shop the other day. We don’t really, aside from seeing each other at the racetracks or traveling, not really. It is very much a business relationship. He’s a mentor is the best way to put it, I guess. There is a lot of lessons to be made. I wouldn’t say we’re not friends but y’know we’re obviously not buddies as much as we’re, he’s the mentor and I’m the pupil. That’s the basis of our relationship.

Neff: Being around Roger Penske, do you ever get to sit around and just talk racing and pick his brain?

Kligerman: Absolutely, whenever we’re at the track and he’s there we sit in his bus and talk racing and what’s going on. It is amazing that, when I first signed on at Penske Racing at the age of 18, to be a part of one of the most iconic American race teams and probably one of the most historic American race teams there is in all forms of motorsports.

To be a part of that and be talking racing with Roger Penske at that young age, or still at this young age, is pretty amazing. Obviously it has been a lot to learn and I’ve been trying to take in as many lessons in as possible but it is still a lot to learn. I’m just thankful to have a mentor and someone to look up to be a boss and to have a boss like Roger Penske.

Neff: Knowing his connection to open wheel and knowing you came from open wheel, is there any possible interest or chance of you going the Indy car route at any time?

Kligerman: At this time, I would say no. I never even thought about it. I haven’t given it a second of thought. My thoughts are I’m going to be a Cup driver and one day I’m going to be a champion on top of this sport of stock car racing and NASCAR and that is what I look forward to and what I work everyday towards. Hopefully that will be with Penske Racing and hopefully I can repay him with a Cup championship for everything he’s done for me in my career.

As for the Indy car stuff, it is a major part of Penske racing but for me I am more of a fan of that than a participant and I don’t have any idea of being a participant. I think about the only thing I’d ever ask for is, if I were able to win a championship for Penske Racing, maybe a chance to test one one day. Other than that, no real want to do that. Maybe one day think about the Indy 500 but, other than that, no real drive to go Indy cars.

Neff: You’re from Connecticut. What are your sports allegiances to as far as professional sports?

Kligerman: New York. Yankees, Giants, Rangers.

Neff: Having been in the Connecticut area, did you ever race any of the big three up there? Thompson, Stafford or Waterford?

Kligerman: I actually didn’t. I never had the opportunity. We were going to back in ’07, try and do some midget races or something, but there just wasn’t, it is sad to say, but when we looked at what were the opportunities and what place would I get the most exposure. Obviously with midget racing that is the Midwest and Indiana. That is where it comes from and Indianapolis is midget racing Mecca.

It didn’t make sense to go up there and do lesser series or lesser things that didn’t get you any exposure or closer to NASCAR. I wish it wasn’t that way and I wish the Northeast racing scene was like it was 20 or 30 years ago, when guys were coming out of there to go Cup racing, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

With the lack of real eyes on the series in those places, there aren’t a lot of guys watching it or a lot of people paying attention to what is going on up there. There are a lot of great drivers but they aren’t going to get the exposure that they need to hopefully get noticed by an upper-level team in NASCAR.

Neff: Did you live in Indianapolis and what was your favorite track in Indiana?

Kligerman: I lived there in the summer of ’08 for a couple of months between sessions of school. I was still going to public school so I was flying back and forth which made it quite expensive for myself. I’ll say the favorite track I had out there with the midgets was Anderson, Ind. It is their version of Bristol for a midget.

It is about a 10-second lap and it is completely ferocious and awesome. It is high-banked and high speed. It is one groove and you have to move guys out of the way to get by them. It was by far my favorite track. I believe, I don’t know at this point but, when I was there in ’08, I held the track record on a regional tire for a midget. I had three pole positions there so I liked that place a lot and it fit my driving style.

It was just the kind of a place that had the Bristol sort of feel for midget racing. At the same time though, I loved ORP (now Lucas Oil Raceway Park) I ran there for the night before the 500. There is no track where you can sit on the inside and watch a midget qualify where you just watch the driver moving the wheel and smoke rolls off the right-rear wheel.

Neff: Last thing, why are you headed to Nashville?

Kligerman: I’ve got to test a Nationwide car. We’ve got two days out there with the No. 22 Discount Tire Challenger. I have to prepare for our first race coming up in Iowa in May. We’ll also be racing at Chicago and a couple of other tracks. It is in preparation to get in that Nationwide car a couple of times over the summer and into the fall. Looking forward to that, getting to go work with that team, they’re a great team, a championship-caliber team.

There is a lot to learn from those guys that I can bring over to the Truck side. They’re working on some things that hopefully we can apply to our Truck over in the BKR stable. Other than that it is just to get used to those guys and get ourselves situated and ready to go run some Nationwide races.

Kligerman is poised for a run at the championship in the Camping World Truck Series and very well could move up to the Nationwide Series in the next year or two if he continues to have the success that he has shown throughout his rise through the racing ranks. If nothing else, he can always use his considerable experience with stuffed giraffes and open a ranch to raise them for other bachelors who have little time at home.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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