Chat with... NASCAR driver, Westport-native Parker Kligerman
WESTPORT — Parker Kligerman got his shot, in 2013, at racing in NASCAR’s top league.
As a rookie in what was then called the Sprint Cup, the Westport-native could hardly have imagined a better start. In his first race, he placed 18th. In his second, he finished 25th on the lead lap, beating out many of his peers who are now established drivers.
“Things were going great in 2013. I had a better start than any other young driver that year. I felt like things were going down the right path,” Kligerman, 27, said. “Then in 2014 the team kind of overextended.”
But then things started to unravel. He had a wreck. His team suffered financial woes and sponsorship dried up. By 2014, he was out of the Sprint Cup.
“I started down a new, unconventional path,” said Kligerman, who got hooked on racing at age 9, when his family got cable, and then worked his way up from go-karting, to open-wheel racing, to NASCAR.
In the years following, he found himself racing in NASCAR’s Truck Series, testing Indy Lights cars and as a stand-in driver for legendary racer Kurt Busch. All the while, much of his time was spent out of the car and on television, as an analyst on NASCAR on NBC.
“I got a call from NBC Sports out of the blue. At the time, the lease was up on my place in Charlotte, my team had folded,” Kligerman said. He moved back to Connecticut — NBC Sports is based in Stamford — and took the job.
Kligerman parlayed his on-air opportunity into a successful career as an analyst. He also hosts a racing podcast, called Kickin’ it with Kligerman, and contributes articles to the online blog Jalopnik. But still, he had aspirations of racing at the top level once again, though he doubted that he’d get a second shot in NASCAR’s highly competitive top series, now called the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“About a month ago, maybe two months ago, my girlfriend asked me if I thought I was ever going to drive in cup again and I laughed and said I think that ship has sailed. If the right opportunity were to come then it would’ve happened,” Kligerman said.
He was wrong.
Recently, he got a call from Marty Gaunt, president and CEO of Gaunt Brothers Racing, with whom Kligerman has long been close through his involvement in the sport. Gaunt had a question for Kligerman: Would he like to represent Gaunt in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600?
The race is a grueling 600-mile long marathon — the longest on the series — held annually on Memorial Day Weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It takes more than four hours to complete, and drivers often find themselves battling North Carolina’s sweltering late-spring heat as they dart around the blacktop. He’s had little time to prepare for the race, which is this Sunday at 5 p.m. and has the disadvantage of several years spent out of the series.
“I thought it wasn’t hard enough the first time so I might as well do the hardest race there possibly is,” Kligerman joked, before adding, more seriously, “I’m looking forward to it. There’s been a lot to learn in a short amount of time.”
Though Kligerman acknowledges the difficulty of the task ahead of him, he is not phased by it. He’s stayed in shape, Kligerman said, by racing in the Truck Series, and has a lifetime’s experience behind the wheel to guide him. His sole focus is making the most of his second chance this weekend in Charlotte.
“If I’m ever going to give it another go, this is the time and place to do it,” Kligerman said.
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