Terra Talks with Josh Bilicki, Vol. 3

Josh Bilicki runs under the lights at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Image: Michael Guariglia / The Podium Finish)

Since we last spoke in March, Josh Bilicki has had a roller-coaster stretch of races. However, along the way, he has secured two career-best P23 finishes, a commanding feat for Rick Ware Racing. The first came at an incident-filled Martinsville, while the second came at his home track of Road America.

In this installment of “Terra Talks,” we hit on aero packages, off-track experiences, doubleheaders, and new tracks. Additionally, you’ll learn what Olympic events the Wisconsin native would compete in given the chance!

Smaller organizations rely on many small businesses to get them on track each and every week. Without them, their season wouldn’t be possible. (Image: Sean Folsom / The Podium Finish)

Terra Jones: Over the past month, fans have been allowed back at the track in full force. How great has it been to have so many people back at the track and finally be able to race in front of packed houses again?

Josh Bilicki: It’s awesome! I mean, from a fan perspective, it’s great for them to be at the track, in person. But also, from our perspective, a team and myself, we sell sponsorship. It’s great to have fans back, but have sponsors back in the pits, too. That’s a huge sell for small teams. There’s a lot of small businesses that enjoy being in the sport, bringing guests whether it’s customers, employees, family, to the track and in the pits. So on all angles, it’s a win. And we’re not quite normal yet. But we are very, very close.

Without a doubt, drivers are happy for the normalcy returning to the track. (Image: Rick Ware Racing)

Jones: Yes! All those baby steps will add up very soon, I hope. 

Bilicki: I agree! 

Jones: It’s definitely been great to see the packed grandstands on TV, so I know everybody’s enjoying that. Now, I want to back up and talk about some recent races. Martinsville was one you said you were looking forward to in terms of the speed you were hoping that your team could bring to the track. That was a very weird Martinsville – a lot of unique, on-track incidents. You brought home a P23 finish – the first of two so far this season. How satisfied were you with the results that weekend when you look at your speed, your finish, and the overall performance of your team?

Bilicki: That was a pretty chaotic race! I’m glad we were not involved in any of the wrecks. We had a great car that day. Matter of fact, we actually lost a position there. Looking back at that race, we had a right rear tire go down with like 15 or 20 laps ago. So we lost the position to our teammate. But for our small team, Rick Ware Racing, we had a great day – as an organization and for me, too. That was a career-best at the time, P23, so that was an awesome day.

I love short track racing. It’s not my background and it’s still fairly new to me. But it was awesome to go there, be competitive, and learn all I can because obviously, we go back there another time this year. I love going to the short tracks. I prefer them over the 1.5 miles and I just look forward to them every time they’re on the schedule.

Jones: And that was only your second time at Martinsville, wasn’t it?

Bilicki: Correct! Yeah, my first time at Martinsville was actually last year at the end of the season in Cup. I didn’t run any trucks. Obviously, Xfinity hadn’t gone there until last year. So it was new for me last year at Martinsville. Like I said, I’m still learning! It was on my bucket list for sure last year. It reiterated that the track is awesome. I’m looking forward to it again. And, we go back on Halloween this time. I’m sure we will have a pretty special paint scheme for that one.

Jones: Can’t wait to see that! Now, prior to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, you had the opportunity to ride in a different kind of Mustang –  a P51 Mustang Fighter. What are some other memorable off-track moments from your time in NASCAR, be it people you’ve met or other experiences that maybe wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t in the sport? 

NASCAR drivers have the opportunity to experience some once-in-a-lifetime moments – on and off the track. (Image: Josh Bilicki Racing)

Bilicki: You know, that’s a tough one. That was up there! Flying a P51 Mustang was really cool. This year with Rick Ware Racing and our sponsor, Nurtec, we’ve gotten to do a lot of really cool military base visits. I haven’t done all of them, but I’ve done a few with the team, and we’ve gotten to see some pretty cool things. Earlier in the year, before the season started, and actually before we had announced that I was full-time, I went with Rick Ware Racing and Nurtec with one of the show cars to an Air Force Base outside of Washington, DC. It was where they store all of the Presidential helicopters.

So it was really cool to see those and to see the actual one that he flies in. That was awesome! And at the time, it was still pretty tough to get places because of COVID, so I know they had to make some special exceptions for us. But, that was really, really cool to see that. And just looking back at some of the things I’ve been able to do too, it’s awesome to be in the position that I am to be able to do some of these things.

Jones: That is really something to treasure! Now, Darlington and Nashville both had the higher horsepower, lower downforce aero package. You tweeted after Darlington, “I wish we ran this package more! It’s a ton of fun to drive.” From a fan perspective, it’s definitely a lot of fun to watch. But for you personally, what do you like so much about that package?

Bilicki: Yeah, you just nailed it. It’s harder to drive. I also think that it doesn’t separate the small teams, like us, from the big teams as much as the high downforce package. These big teams are spending millions of dollars at the wind tunnel and on the chassis simulator making sure that they’re getting every bit of downforce they can with this package – and it shows.

At Atlanta, I think I went 12 laps down. Now, we did have some issues at the beginning of the race, but, at Nashville and Darlington, we were able to stay on the lead lap for the longest time. It felt really like a short track. 

And that’s one cool thing about Martinsville, too, and some of these short tracks – you’re not getting lapped every 15-20 laps like you are at a mile and a half track. So for us, as a small organization, it helps us be more competitive. But as a driver, too, it just puts a little bit more into our hands. And I think that kind of goes back to one of the reasons why it is better for our small teams. There are some very talented drivers at the back of the field and I think we can showcase that more with cars that are harder to drive.

Josh Bilicki runs pit road at Darlington with a throwback paint scheme and an aero package he loves. (Image: Luis Torres / The Podium Finish)

So I’m all in favor of it. Obviously, I know NASCAR has their opinion. But hopefully, as we move forward with the new car, we can find a good balance – maybe not as much downforce and maybe not as much horsepower. Even if we had the 550 horsepower package with the low downforce package, I think that could be a win right there. But at the end of the day, obviously, it’s not our decision. I’m just happy to drive a racecar – whether a full-blown spoiler on the back or nothing!

Jones: Whatever it takes! 

Bilicki: Exactly! 

Jones: So, far, we’ve had four new tracks to the series this season – the Bristol Dirt Race, COTA, Nashville, and Road America. Of those, which has been the most fun to race and which has been the most challenging?

Bilicki: I think definitely Bristol Dirt. That was so unique. I had never run anything other than a dirt Go Kart. And that was just a couple laps at a friend’s house that race week. So that was challenging. I was actually pretty nervous for that one. I was not sure where we were gonna sit, I wasn’t sure if we’re gonna be three seconds off the pace. But as soon as we got out there for practice, it definitely clicked right away and I felt pretty comfortable. It was that way throughout the race, too.

We didn’t have the best finish. Honestly, I think we could have had a top 25 but we, unfortunately, had mud stuck to our grille on lap 10 and we had to pit. And being at Bristol, we lost two laps and we could just never get them back. But, we were faster than cars that we probably shouldn’t have been faster than. So that track itself was super, super challenging. The race itself was challenging because you couldn’t see!

And then another race that I really, really enjoyed was Road America, being my home track. That one was on my bucket list. I was just excited for that one as I was for the Daytona 500. This sounds a little silly because the Daytona 500 is the Daytona 500, but to me, Road America is my Daytona 500 because it’s local. I still live here in Wisconsin, just 45 minutes away from the track. 

Racing at home just feels different. (Image: Mike Moore / The Podium Finish)

So I would say those two, but realistically, even Nashville. Nashville was awesome. The atmosphere around the event was incredible. It was packed. Nashville as a whole was excited. I went downtown Nashville Saturday night for dinner, and just to see all the people wearing NASCAR hats and shirts and all the NASCAR banners and signs. It was really incorporated into Nashville as a whole that weekend. So that was a super cool event, too. So those three definitely stand out. And I really hope that they stay on the schedule.

Jones: Next was the doubleheader at Pocono. How does a weekend that is scheduled like that change the “normal” plan and strategy for your team as opposed to just going out and running one, long standalone race on one day?

Bilicki: Going into the Saturday race, we know that that car needs to make it through Saturday. So you may not race as hard. But sometimes when you have that mindset, more mistakes happen, believe it or not. It’s like at the end of the race, if you’re in the top 20, and you tell yourself, “Alright, I just need to finish this thing off,” well, then you start making more mistakes because you’re not as focused on hitting your marks. So that’s kind of the thing with the Saturday race at Pocono.

And I think we saw that last year, too. It was fairly aggressive. There were some wrecks and really aggressive racing. But for my small team, we knew that we just needed to make it through the race.

And that is kind of our mindset for the majority of these races, especially a mile and a half tracks. We know we need to get the car home clean because chances are, we need to run this car again – maybe not the next week, but the week after. And we also know it’s an expensive fix if something goes wrong there. So the mindset for us is just bringing the car home clean. 

Not much really changes other than the fact that on Saturday night, we need to service the car and just maintenance it. That means new fluids, nuts and bolts, everything. And we threw a whole set of changes in the car Saturday night. I know our guys worked really hard. Unfortunately, it did not pay off on Sunday. We were even slower on Sunday. But I know, for the guys, it’s a tough weekend for them, because they’re non-stop all Saturday and Sunday.

But at the same time, it makes a lot more sense than going to Pocono at the beginning of June and then at the end of July. So, I hope that we keep doing that. And it was a packed house in the infield! I’ve never seen that many people in the infield at Pocono! So that was cool!

Jones: On TV, it looked like campers for miles! Very exciting. And you mentioned it earlier, but the next weekend you were at your home track of Road America where you ran a different kind of doubleheader between the Cup Series and Xfinity. There was a neat backstory with your Xfinity paint scheme. For the designer, it was his first time having an original design on track. I just randomly saw that mentioned on Twitter and had to know more about this!

Bilicki: Yeah! So that was really unique and exciting for us to have a new designer like that. We always try to give new designers chances. Insurance King is really good about that. So I went to Insurance King and said, “It’s Fourth of July weekend. Let’s run a patriotic scheme.” Then, I was on Twitter and I saw Cosmin had posted a rendering of Kyle Larson’s car with that paint scheme, and I was like, “This is awesome. This looks good!” So I messaged him right away, like, “Is this planning on being ran or was this just a design that you designed for fun?” 

He’s like, “This is just something I did for fun. I’d love to see it on track.” So then I shot him that idea. And Insurance King’s really good about changing the colors around to fit that design. So, it was a go from there! 

A tweet turned into an opportunity for one designer. (Image: Josh Bilicki)

I was excited and happy to see him get his first shot! The car looked awesome. It was honestly probably the best car I’ve ever ran in my NASCAR career. It was a top 10 car. Unfortunately, we didn’t finish there. But it was a really cool opportunity for Insurance King and also the designer.

Jones:  That’s really cool for all parties involved! So, I had compiled a few questions about the Next Gen car, but I did that before all the news came out over the last week or so. Given the rumors and speculation, I’m going to save those for the next time we talk in September, and hopefully all that will have died down and we have a better idea of where things stand with this car. I just didn’t want to put you in a weird spot to have to answer any questions given all the uncertainty surrounding it at the moment. 

Bilicki: That’s fine! And I can tell you, you’re in the same situation as I am. I’ve talked to drivers, whether it’s Hamlin or some of the top guys who are pretty well involved and communicate regularly with NASCAR, and not many people know what’s going on. And you can include this too, I honestly think that we’re gonna end up running the car we’re running right now at the beginning of next season. I mean, it’s getting to the point where it’s half a year away from the Daytona 500, and small teams like ours don’t have the chassis. That means the big teams don’t have the chassis either.

So, that’s from a safety standpoint. But, I feel like they’re lacking in communication as well. There’s a lot of guys who probably won’t want to run these cars right now not knowing what’s happening. It’s a pretty interesting time for sure. Hopefully, we get some updates in the next couple of weeks. But right now, I can tell you that I’m in the same boat as you. So is Denny Hamlin. And most of the top drivers, they don’t know what’s going on either.

Jones: Thank you for sharing all of that! Hopefully, things are clarified. I have two fun ones to finish up for this time. The Olympic break is coming up after New Hampshire. I personally am an Olympic junkie. It’s pretty ridiculous. Not much gets done for those two weeks! So if you could show up to the Olympics, Summer or Winter games, knowing you’d have a true shot at winning, what event or events would you participate in? 

Bilicki: That’s tough. Hm. Oh! Cycling is an Olympic sport, correct? 

Jones: Yes! 

Bilicki: Isn’t there indoor cycling? 

Jones: Yes! It’s like, (laughs) death cycling! It’s like Bristol, but indoors! 

Bilicki: Yeah! (laughs) That’s what I thought! I think that would be unique. I mean, that’s like, full-on Bristol. I’m a cycler, myself, maybe not as much as some other guys. But I ride, so I would definitely say that. And if it’s Winter Olympics, I think snowboarding or skiing would be cool, but I am not very well balanced at all. But since we’re just playing, snowboarding or skiing.

Jones: That works! Finally, the “Quarterly Question” for this stretch of races. If you had to put together an in-car playlist that you could listen to, without interfering with your team’s audio communications, what are one or two songs that would top the list?

Bilicki: That’s too hard to answer. I don’t know. I don’t really listen to music to get pumped up. Honestly, I listen to so much. I listen to everything from Post Malone to U2, to The Eagles – it really just depends on my mood that day. I might listen to some oldies and U2 and the Eagles or to some new stuff with Eminem and Post Malone. So, I don’t know.  I’m sorry I can’t give you a good answer! 

Jones: No! That’s great! Helps fans get to know you! 

A huge thank you goes out to Kate Fegley, Rick Ware Racing PR, and Josh Bilicki for making this series happen. We appreciate the quarterly insight and look forward to catching up in September.

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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