Terra Talks with Josh Bilicki, Vol. 2

It’s truly a team effort at Rick Ware Racing. In Josh Bilicki’s first full-time season with the team, it’s been a learning curve, but the pieces are falling in place. (Image: Rick Ware Racing)

After the conclusion of the Bristol Dirt Race, I was able to catch up with Rick Ware Racing‘s Josh Bilicki for the second installment of our quarterly interviews.

Throughout our time, he was very forthcoming about mechanical issues that have plagued his team this season. Willingly, he shared all the details behind “The Vegas bet.” Beyond the track, I picked his brain on iRacing and the development aspect.

Additionally, he shared how fun it was to race on dirt for the first time ever, even how snowmobiling helped him prepare!

Josh Bilicki noted that dirt racing felt very similar to snowmobile racing. Without a doubt, the snow is cleaner than dirt! Here, Bilicki races in the 2019 World Championship Snowmobile Derby where he came out the winner. (Image: SpeedShot Photography)

Betting Ways

Terra Jones: To start, I wanted to talk about “The Bet.” Chuck Brennan, CEO of your Las Vegas sponsor, Dollar Loan Center, placed $10,000 on you to win that race. Did you know that was happening? And what were your thoughts when you heard about it?

Josh Bilicki: (laughs) I did! Chuck had reached out to me prior to the race and told me about his idea. Obviously, being a small team, there are different categories of winning in NASCAR. For us, a win could be a top 20, bringing the car home clean – especially at a mile and a half, where we’re down on horsepower, we’re down on aero. So, I explained these things to him. I told him what we spend for a season and what a big team spends, and he completely understood.

He’s a big race fan himself, so he understands the sport. He really wanted to do this. Obviously, he put a lot of faith in me as an underdog – maybe something could happen and we could get lucky. But also, from a marketing standpoint, he thought it would go viral, which it did! It was more of a marketing ploy, and it got to the broadcast crew! Mike Joy mentioned something during the race! The money he spent, which was a $10,000 bet, got him triple or quadruple the value he spent just in advertising and marketing. I think for him, it was a winning scenario, and to see his car on track as well, without that, that wouldn’t have been possible.

 

All-Star Trial & Error

Jones: I thought it was marketing brilliance! Not only to get his company recognized but get all his customers pulling for you along the way! Next, the Quarterly Question for each driver in this series. This quarter is about the All-Star Race. We know this is an opportunity for NASCAR to try new things. What is something you’d like to see NASCAR try during an All-Star Race?   

Bilicki: For fun? Let’s go backward! That’ll be completely different! I’m kidding. But that would make for something crazy and I think a lot of folks would be watching! A more realistic option would be to cover the track with dirt – but that would be a ton of dirt! I think it’d be really cool to see these cars on a 1.5-mile dirt track. 

But much more realistic, let’s take away all the aero. And that’ll probably put a small team like us at even more of a disadvantage because we don’t have the mechanical grip, our bodies aren’t hung as aerodynamically efficient as some of the big teams, and we don’t go to the wind tunnel. But I do think it would be pretty cool to take away all the aero – take away the splitter, take away the front air ducts that we run at the 1.5-mile track, let’s put the cars back at the horsepower they used to have, and just run with it. 

I think at a mile-and-a-half track that would work and I think it would be pretty interesting. We’ve seen NASCAR pull some pretty crazy things at some of the All-Star Races, so I think that’s something realistic they could do that would be exciting. 

Jones: That would be! And who knows who will read this interview. Maybe we’ll see that soon! 

Bilicki: I would hope a lot of drivers share the same opinion that some of these cars are a little bit too easy to drive on some of these tracks. We want the horsepower back, we want the downforce taken away. I think we saw that this past week at Bristol, where the cars were really hard to drive and I think it made for pretty good racing! 

Jones: No doubt, the fans want that too! 

Bilicki: Exactly! I think the whole industry does.

Josh Bilicki probably would not argue with an All-Star Race on ice! (Image: SpeedShot Photography)

Plagued by {Lack of} Practice

Jones: Now, you touched on this next topic a little. And, while it might not be a fun question to answer, I wanted to give you a different platform to elaborate on things. During Atlanta and Phoenix, you had some mechanical issues plaguing your car. Do you feel these are things that could have been discovered in practice and allowed your team to fix them, or is it simply the by-product of a smaller team?

Bilicki: At the end of the day, practice definitely saves small teams like ours money. There have been three or four races this season where we had mechanical issues that we would have definitely discovered had we had practice. At Atlanta, we had just a small mechanical issue that happened as soon as the car got to speed, and we would have discovered that the first lap of practice. Phoenix, we had a power steering issue that kind of plagued us the whole race. We didn’t really notice it till halfway through the race, but I definitely knew something wasn’t right at the beginning of the race. So I think we would have gone and taken a look had we had practice. 

To answer your question, practice definitely would have helped at those races, but at the same time, there have been races where we fired off great and it saved us money to not have practice. I understand why NASCAR is not having practice – it saves a lot of the teams the hassle of not being there three or four days as well, but for us and our sake, it definitely would have helped those couple of weeks.

Dirt Talk

Jones: Let’s look at the race at Bristol. It looked like you had fun. Was that your first dirt race ever? Additionally, what were some of your thoughts on the event as a whole?

Bilicki: That was the first time ever driving a car on dirt. The only other previous dirt experience I had was [the week before] I drove a buddy’s go-kart on a very, very small, dirt kart track. And that was the first time I’d ever been on dirt. The closest thing I have done to dirt racing was actually riding a snowmobile. It was an Outlaw 600 Snowmobile. You race them on ice, and that actually helped me prepare for the race – they’re similar in that you have to steer with your right foot, and that was a lot of fun! 

Josh Bilicki had an old-school NASCAR vibe after the Bristol Dirt Race, he just needed some racing goggles to round out the look. (Image: Josh Bilicki Racing)

I think this last weekend was a mix of dirt and asphalt. As the dirt started rubbering up, it definitely didn’t drive like it did at the beginning of the race – you had to drive it in a lot straighter. I would definitely love to see NASCAR do a couple more of these. I mean, you don’t want to have 10 dirt races a year, but I would definitely love to see some more.  

Jones: And now we know the Bristol Dirt Race will be on the schedule next season. Looking ahead, what’s something you would like NASCAR to change for next time?

While it was his first time racing on dirt, Josh Bilicki is ready to head back – hopefully with some minor changes to make the racing better for drivers and fans alike. (Image: Rick Ware Racing)

Bilicki: I definitely think racing at night would be better. Like I said, I don’t have much experience on dirt. I’ve watched a couple races and been to a couple. But from talking to a lot of the guys that do have experience on dirt, running the race at night would have fixed the visibility issue, the track wouldn’t have deteriorated as quickly as it did. So hopefully next year, they can run it on a Saturday night. I think that would be really cool and I think it would bring in a lot of TV views too.

Spot On iRacing

Jones: Next, I wanted to get your iRacing insight throughout the season because I know you’re big into that. But truthfully, it isn’t something I know a lot about. I asked our team at The Podium Finish and one of our contributors, Stephen Conley, had a great question.

He asked, “We know that the iRacing/Sim seat time can be very beneficial for drivers, especially with the current lack of practice time. However, now that there is a spotter aspect to iRacing, how beneficial do you think this could be in training and developing new spotters for the sport?”

Bilicki: That is something I haven’t really thought about! But looking at that, it definitely would help. The spotter I used at the Bristol Dirt Pro-Invitational spots local dirt track racing around here and I definitely think he has some aspirations to be a spotter full-time in NASCAR. But for him to spot a Cup Series event, even though it was virtual, I think for him, I don’t want to say it was a dream come true, but for him, it was really close! His idol is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Dale was in our heat race, and you could hear him fan-girling a little bit! (laughs)

I definitely think you can have some of these up-and-coming spotters, who might be spotting local short tracks, who are very talented, jump in. And maybe that would be a cool opportunity for some of us drivers too, to maybe work with some of these spotters who might want to get to the Cup Series.

It’s fun for us to be on iRacing, and we know at the end of the day the circumstances aren’t there like they are in real life to wreck a car, so maybe we can get some better opportunities with some up-and-coming spotters. I like that idea! 

Jones: Sort of a mentorship. 

Bilicki: Exactly!

Starting to Gel

Jones: When we spoke last month, you mentioned how beneficial the consistency of being with one team and working with one crew chief would be. Now that we’re two months into the season, what are some ways you’ve seen this consistency pay off?

Bilicki: Just working with Peter Sospenzo, my crew chief, every week, he knows what I need from the car. If he had two or three, or even four different drivers, that would be really tough for him this year so far. He is learning a brand new chassis – they’re different from what he ran last year. While he’s learning the chassis, it’d be really tough to work with three or four different drivers who all want something else from the chassis. So that consistency is key for him, to learn how to set my cars up, to learn what I like.

But on my end, I know what I can tell him and I know how to communicate with him. So it’s been a really big plus. And I definitely think this last weekend at Bristol, I think we gelled pretty good. And looking forward to Martinsville, I know we can put together a fast car for that race. Hopefully, some of these mechanical failures go away for us because that’s been derailing the “stay consistent” plan, and hopefully, the next time we talk, I can have a better answer for you!

Learning Along the Way 

Jones: Finally, looking at the first batch of races, we’ve had a road course, a superspeedway, some intermediate tracks, and a dirt race. Coming up, it’s another mixed bag. What are some lessons you’ve learned from the first stretch to carry you through the next stretch of races?

Bilicki: Really, making it to the end of the races is huge. There have been a few races where we’ve had mechanical failures. Daytona Road Course being one of them, and there wasn’t much differently I think we could have done there with a brake rotor issue. Maybe I could have used a little less brake since I knew we had a small issue? At the same time, as a race car driver, you want to push hard, and we were racing hard for a top 25. 

I guess it’s a learning experience for me, and for my team as well. They know what I need for the next road course. And some of these tracks, we’re going to for the first time where I’m working with Peter. Martinsville is another track where we need a lot of brakes, so he knows after Daytona, I like to use the brakes! So, he knows we need good brakes. We can’t use used parts, we need brand new parts for Martinsville. Richmond is another one. So definitely just learning to gel with my crew and crew chief. They know what I need now.

 

I want to extend another huge thank you to Josh Bilicki for taking the time to talk and to Rick Ware Racing for allowing this series to continue throughout the 2021 season. 

Terra Jones

As a life-long NASCAR fan and lover of words, I'm fortunate enough to put the two together here at The Podium Finish to bring our readers and motorsports fans news, features, and interviews from the world of wheels. Originally from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, I moved westward to graduate from Middle Tennessee State University. I now reside in central North Carolina with my husband, our three boys, and our dog, Charlotte. While my heart is at the race track, I also enjoy watching baseball, as well as college football and basketball. 

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