ALPHARETTA, GA – Like most17-year-olds, Chase Elliott is anxious to get the car keys on the weekends, but the car keys he wants start up a NASCAR engine. He just won his first NASCAR Truck Series race Sept. 1 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Ontario, Canada in just his sixth series start. Driving the No. 94 Dream Machine, he also became the youngest winner in the NASCAR Truck Series history.
The King’s Ridge Christian School student signed a development deal with Hendrick Motorsports to run in NASCAR's K&N Pro Series East. If he keeps winning, he will certainly earn a ride at the big tracks one day.
So how does a teenager break into the NASCAR business the way Chase has? Well, you could say it is in his DNA. He is the son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott so when Chase went to see his dad at work, it was at a race track.
But Chase realizes names don’t win races.
“People say it should be easier because of who my dad is. But it is not his career. It is still up to me to learn from him and improve. Ultimately though, I have to make it on my own,” Chase said.
Racing has changed a lot in the last five or six years as technology has revolutionized the sport. Just think of how the Smart Phone has changed in that time. The same is true of racing technology.
It has added to the racing team as well. You have to have people who can monitor the sensors and computers and an engineer to keep the engine purring.
None of that fazes Chase, however. This is going to be his career if he can make the grade.
“I’ve never really wanted to do anything else,” he said.
He started racing go-karts at the age of 8. He graduated to quarter-midgets then got into Legends racing when he was older still. This is racing in 5/8 scale cars that look like racers from the 1930s and ’40s. It keeps the costs and the speed down but teaches young drivers the ins and outs of winning races.
By the time he was13 he was racing full-sized cars. Now he is racing in the Truck Series, which is analogous to baseball’s minor leagues. It’s exciting because the next step is racing with the big-name drivers, big-time sponsors and the big-time tracks.
As the years have gone by, Chase realizes what it will take to pursue his dream.
“And you come to understand the commitment level it takes to it,” Chase said. “There is so much time away from home. It’s a lot of travel and hotels every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. But I enjoy being there.”
But there is no question he wants to make racing his career. He hopes to find a sponsor because this is an expensive sport. A racing weekend will cost $70,000 to $100,000 now. There’s a limited number of rides at the top, so only the best of the best make it.
“Your parents can only help so far. I know it is hard to break in, but racing is always what I wanted to do. If I don’t get picked up, I’ll apply to some colleges. But that is for later,” he said.
In his first win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, it was a two-truck duel going into the last lap with Ty Dillon. He pulled even with Dillon, but Dillon had the inside track and Chase had to go wide in the next turn.
Drafting behind Dillon, in the final turn he shot around to the inside. There’s a saying in NASCAR – “if you’re not rubbin’ you’re not racin’.” That means to win you have to be willing to let some paint fly and hold your position.
Dillon moved to cut off Chase and Chase did not hesitate. He hit Dillon’s rear end and spun him into the tires and held on the capture the checkered flag. After the race, he told the ESPN announcer:
"That's not how I race and that's never been how I've raced before. I had a shot. I was up next to Ty and I knew he was going to try and chop me off. I tried to make up the difference. Sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do to get to Victory Lane."
Spoken like an Elliott.