The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has seen a number of young drivers come into the series in the past few years. One of those drivers is Jake Garcia, who joined the grid on a part-time basis starting last year at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway at the age of 17.
When the 2023 season started, Garcia was not yet 18. As a result, Garcia had to miss the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. He turned 18 prior to the second race of the year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and has been full time ever since as a teammate to Christian Eckes.
Earlier this year, Garcia talked with Frontstretch’s Phil Allaway about racing with McAnally-Hilgemann Racing.
Phil Allaway: So far, it seems that things are going decently. You’re 14th in points right now. You had a fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway and a sixth-place at Bristol Motor Speedway. How would you describe your rookie year to this point?
Garcia: We’ve done pretty good so far. We’ve had some top-10 finishes and we’ve been showing speed. Ran really well at Darlington; that’s probably been the best we’ve been. Crashed at the end of that one, unfortunately.
We’re fortunate that we’re not too far back, especially with missing a race. We’ve been coming back from that, but the last few weeks have really hurt us a lot, so we’ve got to get back to where we can run up front every week. If we can do that, then we can get ourselves in contention for a playoff spot.
Allaway: This year, you’re teamed up with Christian Eckes. He’s a veteran of the series, having been here a couple of years. What have you been able to learn from him?
Garcia: He’s done a good job of teaching and explaining things to me. Definitely good to have someone like him to lean on instead of not having a good source of information. He’s done a really good job of helping me out. He’s done a good job of driving his truck as well.
It’s good to have both of our trucks running competitively. Definitely glad to have him as a teammate.
Allaway: MHR is an offshoot of Bill McAnally Racing, which has competed for what seems like forever in ARCA Menards Series West. What is the team like?
Garcia: I think we work well together. We’ve got everybody working together in order to try to win races. That’s a good thing.
I haven’t been up there at the shop too much. A little bit, but not every day. I just graduated high school a couple of weeks ago and I’m trying to get my stuff moved up to an apartment in Mooresville, N.C. Once I get that finished, I’ll be up there pretty much every day. I’ll be able to build the chemistry with the team.
Allaway: Were you going to high school in person or remotely?
Garcia: I was in person at Athens Academy in Athens, Ga.
Allaway: It must have been quite an issue getting the necessary time off to go out and race.
Garcia: Yeah. There was definitely a lot of missed school. I’ve been missing school to go race almost as long as I’ve been in school. Started out in kindergarten and I was racing at 5.
It’s been [a situation] where I’ve just missed more and more school. I kind of worked my way towards it, so it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t like it was coming at me all at once.
I think I missed 50 or more days this year. It’s a lot, but I kept my grades up and managed my time correctly to get good grades. The school let me come out and race.
Allaway: I’m surprised that they let you miss that many days. Under normal circumstances, most schools don’t let you miss more than 20 days in a year.
Garcia: Well, it was a private school, which helps. Then again, I’ve been doing it for so long. Keeping my grades up was the biggest thing. I graduated with a really good GPA and did things right so they’d let me go. I had to focus on school a lot along with racing. I did well enough that [the school administration] said I could miss days.
There was also a lot of help from my teachers, who were nice to me. They got me caught up and spent extra time with me.
Allaway: You have Mark Hillman as your crew chief this year. What does he bring to the program?
Garcia: He does a good job. He’s really, really focused on bringing fast trucks to the racetrack. It’s good to see his passion. Getting to work with somebody, it takes a while before you can really work well together, just getting to know him.
He’s been great to me so far. He’s brought me fast trucks. Hopefully we can keep it up and I can give him better feedback throughout races. He can also pick up better on what I’m trying to say. That way we can make the correct adjustments.
Allaway: Your background is primarily in late models, competing at places like Five Flags Speedway, Crisp Motorsports Park/Watermelon Capital Speedway, Montgomery Motor Speedway and others. What did you learn on those tracks that was most applicable in the Truck Series?
Garcia: I think it’s all applicable, especially at the short tracks. There are certain things that you learn, even if it isn’t like at an intermediate track.
You still learn how to race people correctly. Restarts as well. It was a good place for me to learn how to drive a stock car, and I like to still go back to those places, because there are really good people — and it’s fun racing, too.
We go to some pretty fast tracks in late models, too, like Winchester [Speedway], Bristol and places like that. That helped me get used to the speed a little bit.
When I came for my first Truck start, I wasn’t completely scared or anything. I had an idea of what it would feel like.
Allaway: In late models, there are a lot of younger drivers in there these days. Not as many veterans as there once were. You’ll still learn a certain amount regardless, but does not having much of a veteran presence hurt your development in late models?
Garcia: I don’t think so. If you know who to learn from, you can still be good. There are still drivers like Bubba Pollard and Stephen Nasse racing. Those guys are really good. They are good people to learn from and if you’re aware of that while racing them, you can figure it out quicker.
The young guys coming in now, they’re expecting to win races quick. It’s tough racing, but a lot of them do win races.
We have lost a little bit of respect in all forms of racing the last few years. Hopefully we can get back to racing each other clean and having respect for each other in the garage area.
Allaway: Is there an over-aggression problem in the lower levels of short track racing right now?
Garcia: I wouldn’t say that it’s too bad in super late model racing. I can’t speak for late model stock racing.
In the Trucks, people are really aggressive, even for 18th place. People put each other in really bad positions, and if someone’s here and another truck is coming up the racetrack, they won’t lift for them.
Things like knowing what lap it is and what spot you’re battling for I feel would be beneficial for everybody, including myself. It’s easy to get amped up, but when there’s 100 laps to go and you’re running for 16th, maybe it’s better to let that guy go than trying to race him hard and put him in a bad spot.
Allaway: What would you describe as your greatest moment in your late model career?
Garcia: There’s a lot to choose from. Nothing too stellar. I didn’t win any of the three or four big late model races. I did finish second in the Snowball Derby [in 2019]; that was pretty big for us. I won the Alabama 200 at Montgomery Motor Speedway, which is a pretty big race.
Ran really good at Bristol, which I was really proud of. I was 15 at the time and was a little scared about it, but I went out and did well. I’ve had a few shiny moments, but never won the Snowball Derby or the Winchester 400.
Allaway: Still planning on attempting those big late model races in the future?
Garcia: Sure. I’m not sure what our schedule looks like for the end of the year. There’s a lot that goes into planning a race, but I’m hoping to run some big super late model races towards the end of this year and even during the summer. It’s all about finding a good race on an off weekend for us, but we’ll definitely run some supers.
Garcia has done some super late model racing this year. Back in July, Garcia won the North/South Super Late Model Challenge at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. This was a co-sanctioned race between the ASA Southern Super Series and the JEGS/CRA Super Series.
Allaway: When you entered this season, what kind of goals did you set for yourself?
Garcia: I just wanted to try to make the playoffs. If we ended up too far behind from that, then try to set a different goal. If we ended up making the playoffs, then we’d make a new goal, like win the championship or make it to [the Round of 8].
… That was my main goal entering the season, that and not tearing stuff up. Bill doesn’t like it when you tear stuff 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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