In the Hot Seat with Parker Kligerman

All things considered, Parker Kligerman still has game. (Photo: Luis Torres/TPF)

All things considered, Parker Kligerman still has game. (Photo: Luis Torres/TPF)

By all means, 30-year-old Parker Kligerman wears many different hats quite efficiently. Certainly, this part-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitor also works with NASCAR on NBC’s broadcasts as a pit reporter.

Moreover, Kligerman simply loves motorsports and cars. All things considered, whether it’s on track or in the sim racing world, the Stamford, Conn. native is passionate about the thrills of competition.

Without a doubt, Kligerman carries his head up high with an earnest optimism. This young racer has an old school driver’s love of NASCAR and motorsports with new age attitude. Likewise, Kligerman’s energy rivals the high powered machines that he wheels on Proving Grounds or at your nearest NASCAR track.

Originally making a name for himself in the ARCA Menards Series, Kligerman’s journey in motorsports is best defined as unique. Much like the Chumbwumba song, while he’s been knocked down at times, he gets back up again. All in all, the Bee Gees likely sang about Kligerman because he’s a prime example of how you “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.”

Although it’s been nearly two years since last catching up with this energetic and competitive racer, the dry spell ends now. Now, it’s time to catch up with this fellow New Englander. Let’s all get “In the Hot Seat with Parker Kligerman!”

Rob Tiongson : Since we last spoke, I think either NASCAR and Texas heard us or common sense prevailed with having the fall Texas NASCAR race weekend not clash with the US Grand Prix at COTA. And we’re racing at COTA in May. How excited are you about the fact that NASCAR will race at COTA. And how about the potential that fans can get the best of both motorsports’ world this October?

(Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

(Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Parker Kligerman : It’s awesome. I think it’s cool for Texas and American motorsports to have all of that connected that way. For us, in NASCAR, going to COTA is so cool. I’m a huge proponent of motorsports not needing to hold itself in a box. The biggest advantage that we have as a sport is that it’s incredibly dynamic.

We never play on the same surface. The cars are always changing. The technology’s always changing. And there’s very few consistent factors in motorsports. Unlike baseball or football where it’s the same game as they’ve been playing for 100 years, ours changes every week.

And I think it’s one of the things that we need to embrace. When we look at the schedule that was created for this year, it’s embracing that. Going to a dirt track, going to different road courses, heck, why not? I always say if we put all of our stock cars in a parking lot, we’d get the same amount of people to show up and watch on TV.

So, there’s no reason to put ourselves in a box. I think COTA is another example where 20 years ago, it’d have been an absolute no for NASCAR. Now, when you look at it, it’s like a why not? It’s going to be awesome, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be different, and hopefully, it’s going to be a helluva show!

Tiongson : You’ve been able to wear many different hats as a NASCAR on NBC pit reporter and analyst, host of “Proving Grounds,” racing for Henderson Motorsports’ No. 75 Truck team, and your eRacr.gg platform with your buddy Landon Cassill. How in the world do you keep your life balanced so you’re able to give each of these your absolute effort and energy?

Kligerman : I think it’s a (mix of) determination and motivation to be successful. And it might sound ridiculous but there’s a buddy of mine, one of my best friends growing up said, “You know what’s the most annoying thing about you? Everything you do is through 1000%.” I was like, “Is it annoying or is it a compliment?”

For me, I’m very curious about the world. I’m curious about different facets of the world. I feel like motorsports and racing provided me a platform that’s very unique to go out there and do different things.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take advantage of that. I’m not someone that you’re going to find enjoying a quiet day on the couch. I’ve just always been an active person and maybe not in a typical way of saying I want to go hiking. But it’s more like I want to research some crazy thing going on in the world. Or I want to understand why this business works the way it does. Or how can I build something like that?

That’s the stuff to me that really piques my interest and trying to build things and make a difference in the world and do unique stuff. It’s a lot. I no doubt have days where there’s almost so much that’s going on with all of the different things that I feel like nothing’s going to get done.

And then there’s weeks where everything’s working seamlessly and it’s like, “Ah, this is one of those good weeks.” And all of the different things are doing what they should be and going in the right direction. And I feel great about it. It’s a hectic existence.

At some point, some thing’s gonna have to give. But, I feel just young enough and the energy’s high enough to keep doing it all. Hopefully, I end up in a spot that I’m very happy with through it all.

It’s fun. In a lot of ways, would I be doing all of these things if everything had gone to plan and I was in that tier 1 Cup ride? Absolutely not. None of this stuff, starting companies and doing TV would’ve been on the radar. It would’ve been just racing and find a way to win races and maybe this stuff toward the end of my career.

It didn’t work out. But I still have the platform and still get to do what I love in terms of racing. And therefore, it’s allowed me that opportunity to at least do all that stuff and it’s been a lot of fun.

Tiongson : You’ve been running really well for Henderson Motorsports this year, a team you’ve got familiarity with. Looking ahead, what’s your expectations and which tracks do you feel you’ve got the best chance to get that third Truck win?

(Photo: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

(Photo: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Kligerman : Well, the reason that we’re so competitive is that we pick our schedule based on quality. We’re not trying to go to every race. We look to do up to eight to 10 races a year and we’ve been doing that since 2017. And I got linked up there with Chris Carrier who was my crew chief in ARCA and my early NASCAR starts with Penske.

When he was over there, they were looking to make a change and have some help in getting a little more competitive. I was in between Truck rides. We always said to each other that we wanted to get linked up again and we did.

That year in 2017, we won Talladega. And we had a stellar year. We’ve had two or three years where we’ve been really competitive. And the craziest part is that Chris Carrier is the only full-time employee.

So, we compete at a really high level but we’re making sure to spend our resources in the right places. For us, looking at the schedule, obviously, with the superspeedways, there’s always a chance for us to win. I think we look at the road courses like COTA, Watkins Glen, and MoSport as places that we could definitely go and win.

I think Bristol is the Super Bowl for my team because they’re out of Addington, Virginia. We’ve gotten two top fives at Bristol and I think I’ve finished three times in the top five and one time in second. So I’d really like to win Bristol. It would be absolutely huge and monumental for Charlie Henderson and the whole Henderson family. We’d love to win there.

We’re going to the dirt race there this weekend which is gonna be something I haven’t done since ARCA when we won those two dirt races. So, I’m going in with a very open mind. And I’m hoping that we can find some of the magic that we had in ARCA on the dirt there. God forbid, if we were to go win this weekend, that would be absolutely insane. But, I think there’s very few places that we can’t win.

This past weekend at Atlanta and last weekend at Vegas, not to put ourselves down, it’s just some of our lesser performances that we’ve had probably in about a year and a half. We’re going to work. We’re trying some things. And obviously, with no practice, it’s tough to work on new stuff to catch up. When our really bad days are eighth and 14th, that makes me really excited for when we’re going to be back on it for top fives and challenging for wins.

Tiongson : When you got those two Truck wins at Talladega, you planted the checkered flag on the grass. What’s the story behind this celebration?

Kligerman captured that flag. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Kligerman captured that flag. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Kligerman : Funny enough, coming out of ARCA and into NASCAR, I was living with two buddies and we were going to UNC Charlotte at that time. We were hanging out one time and they were like, “Man, what are you going to do when you win a NASCAR race?” And I was like, “I don’t know. I’ve never thought of it. What should I do?”

And we were batting around ideas. And they were like, “You’ve got to come up with something unique. You’ve got to have a thing. Kyle Busch does the bow. Kurt Busch at that time does the backwards, unwind lap in the Miller Lite car. You’ve gotta find your thing.”

I don’t know where it came from, but somehow, I was like, “When you win a track, you conquer that track.” And I was like, “Why don’t we just plant the flag? Why don’t I shove it on the ground?” And they were like, “What if you win at a track where there’s no grass?” I said I’d stick it in the SAFER barrier. And that was like in 2010.

Obviously, I didn’t win until 2012. I couldn’t believe I remembered to do it. But it just sorta hit me on the cooldown lap and when I did a burnout. I was like, “Wait a second! I’m going to shove that thing in the ground!” It was cool.

The best part about the second win was when I got out of the truck and I started walking toward the grass, the crowd knew what I was going to do. And that was a really cool moment. I was like, “This is awesome! They remember it.” And I thought that was really fun.

Tiongson : While it’s been a bit quieted down during the COVID-19 pandemic, what was the origin of the whole #godatupgrade that you share on Instagram? I never have that luck so how’d this start?

Kligerman : I don’t even know where the genesis of it was other than I was flying so often on American Airlines because I live up in Stamford, Conn. just outside of New York. So, I went back up here in mid-2014 after Swan folded.

NBC was up here and called me and said, “Wanna go do some TV?” And I was like, “Where are you at?” And they said, “Stamford, Conn.” And I said, “Oh, wow! That’s where I’m from. I’m gonna go home.”

So I went up here and my life became getting on a flight to Charlotte. And I started to accrue all these miles. And I started doing the pit reporting for NBC. That was week after week after week and I was racing as well. And I started noticing, “Man, I’m really climbing up the status thing!” And then I started getting upgraded all of the time. So I was like, “This is hilarious!”

And I figured at some point, I just decided one day, I was like, “Man, I’ve gotta let people know. I’ve got this upgrade. It’s awesome. It’s at least some small excitement for having to travel and being a road warrior.”

A lot of people would tell you it’s a life as you probably know as well. It’s a small bit of excitement. It became something that people really enjoyed and connected with and all of the people who travel in the industry connected with it. So I kept going with it.

Lately, I don’t have the chance because I’ve been having to fly different airlines with everything that’s going on. It’s definitely funny to see it take off. I’ve threatened to make t-shirts and hoodies around it and all that stuff but I never did. It’s definitely hilarious. People, to this day, still tag me and #gotdatupgrade and it’s awesome!

Tiongson : You’ve been one of the biggest advocates for sim racing. I was one of the regular full-time journalists who covered eNASCAR last year. Given your experiences and those who are pursuing a full-time career, from a practical and financial standpoint, how much do you see sim racing being an step ladder series for someone wanting to be a full-time, on track NASCAR competitor one day?

Undoubtedly, Parker Kligerman has faith in sim racing's potential. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Undoubtedly, Parker Kligerman has faith in sim racing’s potential. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Kligerman : 100%. I think the connection between sim racing and real racing will only get stronger. I think the people who are down with it take racing too seriously and take other things too seriously. At the end of the day, there’s no sport in the world that has a virtual counterpart that connects so closely to the real thing. In motorsports, if we didn’t take advantage of that and didn’t try to harness that, we would deserve to be in a position where we’re weren’t a sport anymore.

How many people during the start of the pandemic and the Pro Invitational Series reached out to me from the baseball and football worlds and were so jealous of what we were doing in the motorsports world? And knowing that it can continue and it’s something that we have at our disposal as a sport.

As far as the future, it’s shocking. Look, there’s people that thought, “Oh my God! Is this going to replace real racing?” No, because guess what? We’re simulating real racing. So if there’s no real racing, we’re not going to simulate anything.

Secondly, I think the idea that because a Cup champion wasn’t as instantly as fast as some kid who spends thousands of hours racing online, that meant it’s not close to real life. No! That means there’s obviously a difference because of course it’s not exactly like real life. Because it’s not real life.

I find all of those arguments and discussions ridiculous. At the end of the day, it connects closer than any other sport. It’s going to continue to build a bond between the two that’s stronger than I think some people don’t even realize. And I think that, over the next decade, will become integral to the development of young drivers.

Whether it’s their skills, their followings, the drivers that are creating fans and cult followings by being stars in the sim racing world, making connections with sponsors and partners and all of those things, and maybe that translates to them getting in a short track car, I think the connection will just continue to get stronger and the two will both benefit from each other.

For myself and Landon Cassill with what we’re doing with eRacr, that’s an initiative where we wanted to continue to show people how interesting this world is and how awesome sim racing is. And with a lot of the things we’ve done there, it’s about doing some things that maybe real racing can’t or won’t do that’s possible in the sim racing world.

It’s all in an effort to show people, “Look, this is the power of what we have here. This is motorsports at scale. We can do anything. We can put on a tournament with 400 competitors over three weeks and create content, and hours and hours of live content around that. And we can offer them a huge prize pool. We can create this great entertainment which you wouldn’t be able to do in real life.”

You couldn’t ask people to be there for three weeks with 400 entries. It just wouldn’t happen. And that’s a small example. One day, it might be 2,500 competitors or 10,000 for all we know. The point is that sim racing offers motorsports an unbelievable opportunity. And with what we’re doing with eRacr, we want to be a part of that and show people that it’s possible.

iRacing has an amazing platform that allows that. There’s other sims out there that are doing a great job with European racing and such. So, I think motorsports will take advantage of that. And if you’re not behind it, you’ll be rudely surprised or annoyed in the next five to 10 years when it becomes even more connected with it.

Tiongson : I’m glad I got on board with it because that’s the best selling points I’ve heard with sim racing. If people gives me issues about live tweeting the Pro Invitational race at Bristol on Wednesday night, I’ll send them to you so you can give them the business for me.

Kligerman : Definitely, anytime!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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