On Track with Parker Kligerman (Part 1)

Certainly, Parker Kligerman makes the most of his opportunities in NASCAR. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

Certainly, Parker Kligerman makes the most of his opportunities in NASCAR. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

By far, Parker Kligerman may easily take the title of “NASCAR’s busiest racer.”  After all, how many drivers in any of the top three national series can claim that they compete and contribute to a network’s coverage of stock car racing?

Most likely, there’s only a few, but the 28-year-old from Stamford, Conn. does both at 110 percent.  Without a doubt, the driver of the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota Camry provides insights for NBC and NBC Sports Network as proficiently as he does with wheeling a stock car.

All things considered, this young man has the talent and knowledge to succeed in NASCAR.  At the same time, he realizes that he’s making the most of his opportunity in the sport with a team that’s growing with a focus on quality over quantity.

Of course, Kligerman makes his presence known as an amiable, savvy, and genuine racer and athlete whose passion for motorsports and NASCAR seem nearly unparalleled.  Much like how illustrious singers can make a phone book sound musical, the Constitution State native can make a technical aspect seem very relatable to any race fan.

With this in mind, earlier this year, the racing world got a bit interesting as two New Englanders turned an interview into an authentic conversation that may seem like two friends conversing.  Indeed, Kligerman’s candor and knowledge is matched by his kindness and humility, qualities that are admirable with any driver, much less, any professional from all walks of life.

To say the least, it’s a treat and honor to not only share Parker’s racing story, but to get his insights and perspectives on a plethora of topics.  As we covered multiple topics, we’re splitting this into a two-part interview! So, let’s hit up the track and start the first part of “Dropping the Hammer with Parker Kligerman!”

Rob Tiongson :  So Parker, you’re racing with the Gaunt Brothers Racing team, a team that’s definitely made some strides over the past few years, but it’s no secret you guys fight an uphill battle. So, as a driver who’s been through that throughout his career, how have you been resilient in persevering through all these challenges?

In spite of a partial schedule in 2019, Kligerman fights hard on the track for Gaunt Brothers Racing. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

In spite of a partial schedule in 2019, Kligerman fights hard on the track for Gaunt Brothers Racing. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

Parker Kligerman :  I think everyone has different trials and tribulations, as you said. And for myself, I’ve been with the biggest teams in the sport. I’ve been with some of the smallest teams. And I think it gives me a great perspective of what it really takes to be successful in each endeavor.

If you’re on the bigger teams, you’re focusing on tiny little minute things that make the difference at that part of the field, whereas down at the other end of the garage you’re focusing on the basics. You’re focusing on lower hanging fruit, but stuff that you know, if you do the basics right, then you’re probably going to beat the people you should be beating. Right? That’s just sort of the way you’ve got to look at it.

So, Cup is a little different, though. I mean, Cup is Cup. It’s tough. It’s really tough. It pushes every person, piece of machinery to the nth degree because that’s what you need in this level. The only level I think that compares to this really in terms of pushing anywhere is Formula One.

I think in terms of us building our own cars and building our own parts and all that stuff, there’s nothing like this except Formula One. So, it’s a very intense level, but it’s very rewarding when it goes right because you think, “Wow, I’m really achieving something large.”

Rob Tiongson :  Absolutely. And you’re building a lot of things with this team. They’ve been through DJ Kennington, Jeffrey Earnhardt, and now you’re the latest driver. So definitely knowing your experiences working with Team Penske and Brad Keselowski’s team, what are some of the things that you’ve been able to bring to the table to help improve the team’s performance?

Parker Kligerman :  Oh, I don’t know. (laughs) A smile, hopefully? No, I don’t know. I’d say Marty Gaunt and Mark Hillman and Mark Chambers and everyone who is involved in GBR have done a great job to kind of set a good base for this race team. It’s a cool position to be in in the Cup series because we sort of do this quality over quantity sort of thing.

We’re not showing up every week and we’re not on a charter and kind of extending budget further than it wants to go. We’re showing up on weekends that we feel like we can be competitive. Weekends that we feel like improve our program. So, it’s fun because it’s the type of racing where you’re not doing it as a slog. You’re doing it because you want to be here, and you think you should be here. So, I like that, and I think the thing that we’ve been able to do is be realistic about where we need to run.

There’s a certain level of cars we know we need to beat budget-wise. Then there’s the ones that, once we’re beating those, we’re overachieving. So, if we’re running 30th or so, we’re doing what we need to do. 29th, we’re in the money. And then 28th, 27th, 26th, we’re starting to beat cars that have vastly larger budgets. So, we look at the weekend as saying, “Okay, first and foremost, beat the cars we need to beat. Then let’s beat those next tier.” And that’s when we’re really overachieving.

Rob Tiongson :  Now, what’s your schedule looking like for this season? Because you definitely are a busy man between this and your NBC Sports gig.

Make no mistake, this young racer understands the give and take nature of motorsports. (Photo Credit: Andrew Fuller/TPF)

Make no mistake, this young racer understands the give and take nature of motorsports. (Photo Credit: Andrew Fuller/TPF)

Parker Kligerman :  Yeah, I’ve already done 30 flights this year alone. I’ve lived on a plane. I was at home for five days in February, basically six or seven days in March. I’m going to hit the highest tier of American Airlines this year, which is pretty cool, because I’ve been filming my show, Proving Grounds. We’re getting a Season Two. We got a special that we filmed at Indy in April. I’ve got NASCAR America. I’ve got this. The Truck series team.

So, it is quite a schedule. But I’m having a lot of fun. I think I’m in a unique position. I’d say, I’m definitely the only guy who has his own TV show and drives in the Cup series. So, I like that I’m unique. And hopefully I can stay there, and hopefully I can keep all of it going in the right direction so that it all helps each other, because I really think it does. That’s what I feel like, more than anything on the performance side of this race team, I feel like… yeah, we’ve done great things together in terms of the road courses last year.

We’ve had some great speed this year. We had top-25 speed at Vegas and just got caught a lap down on the first run. So, we’ve shown some incredible speed. Performance-wise, we’re achieving well. And then what I bring, you asked before, is that through the TV shows, through NASCAR America, pit reporting, all that stuff, making myself more visible, hopefully we can attract sponsorship to improve the race team. So, I think that’s my overall goal is that doing all those things helps improve this race team.

Rob Tiongson :  And I know that the new package was somewhat… there’s a conception that it’s supposed to have been the equalizer, but we’ve seen there’s still some work in progress, at least from my perspective. But from you, what are some of the things that you would have changed to make this a more level playing field?

Parker Kligerman :  Man, that’s a tough job. So Steve O’Donnell and everyone at NASCAR, I mean, I don’t envy their position at all, because you have a series that, if you really wanted to have put a stop to all this, you would have done it 15 years ago, 10 years ago, when everything was booming. And unfortunately, no one could foresee what was going to happen.

You couldn’t foresee that there was going to be large organizations and megateams that were going to run away with everything. And so, the one thing I look at is just how we compare to the years’ past. So last year in the fall race, we were like 1.6 seconds off in 30th place, and now we’re like six-tenths or eight-tenths, and so that’s a big difference. And we’re basically running the same cars.

For us, I think it has helped. I think it’s made us more competitive. It’s brought us closer to some of the cars that we feel like we can beat when we’re overachieving. So I think it has… although it might not look it from the outside, if you look at the numbers from our perspective and from our view, which not many people are, but if you do, you’ll see that we are more competitive.

So, I think it has helped in that sense. It’s odd – when we go out to qualify tonight, we’ll be trying to negotiate a draft. Who knows? It’s kind of a crapshoot. I think if we went out there right now and everyone ran single car, we’d probably be like 28th place in speed, but we ended in practice like 30th or 31st because we didn’t get a good enough draft. So that’s unique, and unique for Cup racing. But I think we’re definitely in the conversation of cars that we weren’t last year because of the change in package.

Rob Tiongson :  Absolutely. Now let’s talk about friendships and camaraderie in the garage area.

Parker Kligerman :  Do we have friends here? (laughs)

Rob Tiongson :  I think so! The guy next door should have been your friend.

Parker Kligerman :  Oh, yeah. I consider him a friend.

Rob Tiongson :  We can sell him out though in this interview and he’ll pay me back tomorrow.

Parker Kligerman :  Is that Landon over there?

Rob Tiongson :  Yeah, I think so. The one with the nice hair.

Generally speaking, Kligerman's attention to detail likens to that of a crew chief. (Photo Credit: Andrew Fuller/TPF)

Generally speaking, Kligerman’s attention to detail likens to that of a crew chief. (Photo Credit: Andrew Fuller/TPF)

Parker Kligerman :  Oh, yeah. But I think he cut it all off. I haven’t seen it, but yeah. You know what? Landon’s a good dude. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him because he’s done the mid-level and back-end Cup stuff for years and he’s been very successful, and I think he’s kind of underrated in a lot of ways in terms of what he can bring to a race team.

I’ve always respected him for doing that because I think if was to do what he’s done for some years, I would have lost my mind running back there in some of the teams he’s dealt with and such. So, I’d say I think through that we became a little bit of friends, and then he did some TV stuff last year, and so that’s when we really became closer friends. But we have a lot of similar interests, and obviously we both love racing, so it’s a natural fit.

I’ve never really had a lot of drivers who are friends. So, I’d really only consider him and Ryan Truex and maybe one or two others as friends. Otherwise, I’ve always kind of had the view that you bring your friends to the racetrack.

You don’t make them here. I think that’s what you need to be successful. But it’s only natural with how much darn time we spend in this place and inside these little bullrings that you’d make friendships with some people.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Parker, Hudson Hall, and the folks at Gaunt Brothers Racing for this incredible opportunity!  Along with TPF and his appearances on NBC Sports Network and NBC, keep up-to-date with Parker through FacebookTwitter, and his official website! Stay tuned for Part 2!

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *