Two weeks ago, on March 25, the NASCAR Xfinity Series experienced an upset at Circuit of the Americas.
During practice, that is.
With only one race ever run on the 3.4-mile circuit the year prior, it’s a track that NASCAR drivers and teams alike are still getting used to, and it showed.
For most of the session, drivers were unable to get any laps completed for on-track incidents. However, the closing minutes of practice opened a small window of just enough time to get a couple laps in. When that train of 30-plus cars finally finished crossing the start/finish line, all eyes went to the top of the scoring pylon.
But at the top, it wasn’t the series championship regulars.
Instead, it was Preston Pardus, a three-time Spec-Miata Champion out of New Smyrna Beach, Florida driving for DGM Racing, and he was almost two-tenths faster than second place.
It wasn’t a win. It wasn’t even a pole, but it was enough to have FOX Sports interview him for the first time since he had began racing part-time in NASCAR in 2019 – three years ago.
In those three years, Pardus has raced part-time with DGM Racing on almost all of the road courses on the Xfinity Series calendar. In 15 starts, he has earned three top 10s, with his highest finish coming on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL in seventh.
But Pardus’ exposure to the NASCAR scene didn’t start three years ago. In fact, he grew up in it. After all, he’s a second-generation racer.
His dad, Dan Pardus, raced in the Xfinity Series and ARCA Menards Series part-time and even made a Cup Series start in 1998 at their home track, Daytona International Speedway.
Or at least, it’s their NASCAR home track. Because the Pardus family lives even closer to New Smyrna Speedway, where Dan Pardus was track champion in 1980 and 1981 and where Preston began his racing career competing in quarter-midgets.
So, how did the son of a short track champion — one that had never raced a road course in his life — become the same Xfinity Series road course ringer that’s teaching sports car veteran Boris Said‘s son how to race on them?
Frontstretch talked to him to find out.
The following Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Dalton Hopkins, Frontstretch: Tell me about your dad, Dan Pardus… about what your relationship was like growing up with your dad?
Pardus: Yeah, it’s a little different. I feel like it’s a lot different than (most) father-son racing dads and stuff. When he was racing and actually got done racing, I was like 4 or 5, so I never really got to really remember a bunch of the NASCAR stuff. Not saying I was shielded from it, but I didn’t really live the life like, Chase Elliott, for example. I mean he grew up when his dad was racing still in his prime and stuff, and when he started racing as a kid, his dad was still doing NASCAR, so that was obviously a little bit different for us, but we got into it.
Anyway, my dad was doing broadcasting still when he got done doing NASCAR for awhile and then from there I was 7 or 8 and we started out doing quarter-midgets. Just kind of as a hobby, more or less. We really never took it seriously. We only stayed at our local track in New Smyrna, so we really didn’t travel a lot like a bunch of kids doing quarter midget racing. We did it as a hobby probably four or five years. We did a lot of dirt biking and stuff like that, but nothing really serious.
We ended up getting a Miata and started taking it a lot more serious than we did before with the go karts and stuff. Probably two or three years went by, and I actually got pretty good at it. It’s been fun. The whole time I’ve been racing, my dad’s been right there. In Spec-Miatas he was my crew chief. In the Xfinity stuff, he’s basically my car chief/crew chief half the time.
Hopkins: Your dad was the track champion in New Smyrna Speedway which you mentioned growing up around there … New Smyrna Speedway is a short track for late models and it’s an oval. What got you into Spec Miata racing on the road courses?
Pardus: Yeah, that’s the really funny part about probably this whole thing is my dad never raced a road course in his life. He had only did Skip Barber (Racing School in his) teenage years when he was doing oval mini-stock stuff, so it’s really awkward, more or less, that we got involved with it, but really when we were getting on quarter midgets we were trying to find something affordable.
As everyone knows, motorsports is super expensive, so we’re kind of searching around. Obviously, New Smyrna’s in our backyard. It’s only 10 minutes from us, but it was kind of hard to justify spending a lot of money up to six digits just doing late models and really you stay in New Smyrna and race with the weekly guys all the time, which isn’t a bad thing.
It’s a different culture, more or less. It’s kind of like the old Formula Four days back in the 90s. It had its peak when there was a ton of drivers doing it. We had a family friend recommend it and then watched one of their weekends and it’s probably the coolest class out there. I mean you got a bunch of guys. I think we had almost 100 at the national championships, so we got a ton of drivers. You got a lot of former pro drivers, got a lot up-and-coming drivers.
There’s a bunch of carting kids are coming up we got a bunch of national champions in carting. We got Connor Zilisch. Some people might know of him. He’s a world champion in carting. He got in Spec Miatas a few years ago, so it kind of really speaks volumes. I think for the class of people like that are attracted to it, and it really makes people a better driver, more or less, when you’re racing against those guys every week at the big events and really you can’t find that, I feel like, at a regional level when you go to a short tracks on the weekly events. I mean, obviously, you got the Snowball Derby, probably one of the hardest events out there in the country, but best bang for your buck, I
would say probably with Spec Miata and like I said, I’m really happy we found it.
Hopkins: Your dad said something along the lines of Spec Miata racing is going to make you a better racer in NASCAR. What’s the actual driving difference between Spec Miatas and then getting into those heavy stock cars?
Pardus: Yeah, it’s a huge difference, more or less, than anything. It’s a production car. It’s a Mazda Miata you can go find on the street, so that’s the big downfall about it. But the nice thing about the Miata is it’s so basic. It’s really a street car with a race roll cage in it, and you’re only allowed to change a few things on it. Obviously, Spec Miata is a Spec class kind of like NASCAR, more or less, so everyone got the same car, and that really allows you to develop as a driver. It’s not about how much money you have, obviously, if you got money, you’re going to get the best motors and all that. In Spec Miata, tire budget is good, but you’re not worried about having a car that’s way down. You can go through a short track and you can get a really cheap late model, or you can get the car that cost us as much as a Xfinity car. So, that’s kind of the difference you have there.
In Miata racing, it’s nice. It’s all about driver. Few modifications. There’s no ABS, no traction control. They’re an H-pattern shifter, so it’s really dumbed down. You see a lot of GT cars out there now. A lot of cars have TC, ABS and it doesn’t really allow you to learn, I feel like, the dynamics of a car and being a Miata, it’s only 120 horsepower, so you got to really learn about momentum and stuff like that. So, it might not be a stock car, you know, making almost 700 horsepower and 3400 pounds, but, it allows you I feel like to learn as a driver more than you would in the sports car where it kind of assists you. It’s almost like a video game, I kind of look at it you know. As a kid, you’re playing Forza or whatever, a NASCAR game, it’s got all these assists on and that’s kind of what I feel like sports cars can be maybe. The Miatas are so pure, it’s like you got all this stuff and it helps when you drive a stock car because they don’t have any of those assists. I feel like it’s a pretty good parallel. The only difference is you don’t go to the ovals in those cars, but it’s something you got to learn every time.
Hopkins: You got some mention on the Dale Jr Download. Boris Said was on there. He talked to Dale Jr. about how much of a rising talent you were, and now you’re teaching his son. Tell me about what that’s like.
Pardus: That’s probably the craziest thing I’ve dealt with in racing. As a kid that was the guy on road racing. I mean you watch him and that he was the best, and he still is the best. I don’t think there’s anyone comparable to him out there. Now it’s funny, we went to COTA last year. I knew his kid was racing Miatas. Never met him or anything, but you see his name pop up in results and stuff. I knew Boris was racing that weekend and we didn’t even get on-track yet. During practice, I had to go Medical Center give the normal weigh-in … I got back in the crews like, ‘Hey, Boris Said came by. He was looking for you. He was telling us, ‘You’re really good.’ And then he actually came back by again before practice. It was funny because all the guys are like, ‘Man, did you do something to him?’
But no, it was cool. He came up and just said how awesome it was watching me in the Miata. He said he watched some of the Miata broadcast and he was watching my in-cars and just said I did a great job, which coming from him that was very easily, I mean just really crazy. Then he said, ‘You know, my son’s getting involved.’ and of course, I feel like with Miatas, there’s so many people out there that helped me develop as a driver the first few years I started. It just seemed right to send him some notes for a few tracks that we were going to, and one thing turns to another. I’m helping him quite a bit. He’s turned into a really good driver. Boris Jr. has. He’s only done probably I think six or seven cars starts and he’s top 10 at nationals now. So it’s really cool to see him develop really quick. It’s really cool getting to know him and his dad on a friend level.
Hopkins: With all this behind you and now you’re with DGM. Tell me about how that relationship came to be.
Pardus: So 2019, we did our family team first two starts of the year. My first two Xfinity career starts. Then in 2020, COVID happened and all that. Being down here in Florida, really, it’s just us. Then Mario is actually two hours from us. He’s right near Sebring, in Lake Wales. When I did my first two starts, we talked to him quite a bit just for advice and stuff like that. Got to talk with him quite a bit, and then one thing led to another, and we actually did starts for him in 2020 in the 36 car, which is cool. It’s helped us out a lot, I feel, help me as a driver just learning stuff. I got teammates now to reflect on. I had Josh Williams and then Alex Labbe at the time, and it’s awesome because you can actually go to people you know, and it’s not like when we’re doing our own family stuff when I was my only guy out there.
I didn’t know anything about the cars and I know NASCAR and people like Josh Bilicki and stuff like that. I feel like on a teammate level, it’s a lot different. You can really compare notes and stuff, and not feel too bad about not giving answers and stuff. So yeah, it’s worked out with Mario (Gosselin) quite a bit. I’m on a really close level with him and his family. It’s a really cool thing. It’s kind of like what we had going as a family team. It’s literally him and his wife and his daughter running that team, which is cool. Then they got three cars which is crazy, so it’s been really cool to get to know everybody and run some starts with them.
Hopkins: Mario Gosselin at Atlanta mentioned that he really wants to get you in all the road courses in 2022. The DGM team has now downgraded to two cars full-time… Is that still on the table? Are (you) still planning on running all the road courses for 2022?
Pardus: At this time I can’t really say. I think we’re kind of doing event-by-event basis more or less. That’s the goal at least. Run them all. We have in the past few years, so something could change. We don’t know yet, but I would say we already have a few scheduled. Not all of them, for sure since it comes down to sponsors at the end of the day too. So we’ll see. Hopefully, we can maybe do some left turns too along the way. We’ll see what happens. Obviously, as you said, the downsize kind of changes maybe a little bit of it, but we’ll see what happens.
Check out the full interview below.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after a staff writing position with IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.