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In the Hot Seat: Parker Kligerman

Parker Kligerman considers the situation heading into the Playoffs in his latest “Hot Seat” appearance. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

FORT WORTH, Texas — Parker Kligerman has persevered through it all to realize the rewards of his hard work and determination.

The 33-year-old Westport, Connecticut native has been resilient and resourceful throughout his stock car career. From his pit reporting duties with NBC and USA’s NASCAR coverage to a pivotal NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory last year at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Kligerman’s career trajectory took a major step in a rewarding direction.

This year, he is more than just the driver of the No. 48 Big Machine Spiked Light Coolers Chevrolet Camaro. He is a catalyst for Big Machine Racing’s NASCAR XFINITY Series efforts and a believer in his team’s direction and progress.

Paired with crew chief Patrick Donahue, the cagey but still young racer has achieved remarkable feats this year. After a sample start with the No. 48 team last October at Talladega Superspeedway when he started ninth and finished sixth, this combination have built a strong bond with equally impressive results.

Tallying seven top fives and 14 top 10s after 27 races, Kligerman made this year’s NASCAR XFINTY Series Playoffs. While it has not been the best start in the Round of 12, the Granite State native has confidence in his team’s potential to win or reel off strong results.

Likewise, Kligerman absolutely loves motorsports. When he is not behind the wheel of his unmistakable No. 48 Chevrolet, he can be heard and seen on The Money Lap podcast with Landon Cassill each week as both offer their hot takes about racing’s latest happenings.

Most of all, Kligerman has a new lease on life with Big Machine Racing. Certainly, he does not take it for granted as he pursues his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series victory while seeking this year’s championship.

Kligerman is a man of the people, often the first to sign autographs, take selfies and ensure the fan experience is as memorable as his racing efforts. Away from the track, he interacts with fans with his authentic, genuine passion for auto racing.

More importantly, Kligerman is proof that focus and desire still mean something in today’s world. His path to race for one of the top, competitive rides in NASCAR can be defined by faith, belief and diligence with his multiple racing roles.

Ahead of the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Kligerman chimed in about a myriad of topics, including his team, balancing his schedule and the Playoffs. If anything, Kligerman is ready for his latest stint with The Podium Finish‘s longest running feature series as he has shown in the past.

Now, let us all get “In the Hot Seat” with Parker Kligerman here on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson: Welcome back to another edition of “In the Hot Seat” here on The Podium Finish! I’m pleased to be joined by my friend Parker Kligerman, driver of the No. 48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers, Chevrolet Camaro fielded by Big Machine Racing.

Before we get started, how are you doing today?

Despite a busy schedule, Parker Kligerman is ready to rock and roll at Texas. (Photo: Cole Penning | The Podium Finish)

Parker Kligerman: Good, buddy. Appreciate it. Yeah, it’s been busy. I got back down to North Carolina. I went up to Connecticut for two days on Saturday (and) Sunday, which was nice, and back down to Charlotte. Had the sim this morning early, all through the morning. And we had a little TV show and now joining you here.

So, it’s busy, but it’s a good busy because it means we’re making waves and people want to talk to us and they want to hear what we have to say and what we’ve got going on, which is really cool.

Overall, it’s what you want when you’re succeeding at the front of a series like the XFINITY Series and that you get the attention that we’re getting, which is really cool.

Tiongson: Certainly. And it’s well deserved because you’re certainly making some headlines this year. And in fact, I’m trying to dodge your car on my Zoom background.

Kligerman: I see that.

Tiongson: Try not to hit me during this interview!

Well, first of all, congratulations on making the Round of 12. I mean, just the path to get there was as exciting as watching the race victories as the drivers battling for the regular season championship. But your story is just as exciting.

Despite the fact you had that tough result at Bristol, how do you feel about your chances to go and contend for this year’s championship, starting with this weekend’s race at Texas?

Kligerman: Yeah, I think it is possible for us to go all the way. And I think it comes down to just doing what we’ve been doing. You mentioned the the pressure packed situation we’re under at Kansas to get into Playoffs. That’s the mode we’ve been in since the beginning for us or throughout the last two months for Big Machine Racing. We’ve just been in this mode of being in a position where it’s do or die. Every race matters a massive amount. And so, I just think… we didn’t have to change a thing going to the Playoffs.

And therefore, you know, this past weekend, we were super fast in practice. I literally said 5 to 8 laps in, “We’re going to win this race.” We qualified well. And then we got in the race, and we had a lot of speed in Stage 1, and we just unfortunately had a right front issue. But our team did a great job getting us back out on track and gaining five points, which was huge.

So that might be big come two races from now at the ROVAL, you never know. So, if we just keep doing what we’re doing now, if we show up to Texas and have the same level of speed that we’ve had the last month or so, we’re going to be fine. We’re going to go challenge for the win and we can do that the ROVAL. I think we could win one of these two or both of them. And if not, we can point our way to the next round.

I just have that confidence in this race team. And it comes from people (who) kept asking us, “All right, what do you do?” And you get the question, “How do you approach this?” That sort of thing. And I was like, “It’s really easy. We just keep doing what we’ve been doing and we’re going to be just fine.” And I really… I truly still believe that.

Tiongson: Things are working out just perfectly because you and (crew chief) Patrick Donahue have just been clicking. The chemistry has been good all season long.

Considering the fact that you’re their first full time driver since they decided, “Hey, we want Parker in this ride,” how do you feel about the progress and and successes that you’ve built upon with this program for Big Machine Racing?

Kligerman: Yeah, that’s been the key for us. The first half of the year was a lot of learning, a lot of figuring out parts and pieces and processes and people and that sort of thing. And that’s what race teams are all about. At the end of the day, we’re all pretty much working the same parameters mechanically.

It’s about getting the most out of your people and the processes that you have to put those mechanical pieces together. That was a big part of what’s made us better in the second half of the year because we had to go to work on a lot of those things the first half. Patrick Donahue and everyone, Keith Barnwell, and everyone at Big Machine Racing has done a great job of that.

I like to say we’re a young race team. We’re a young race team, which means we have to go through all those things and figuring that out against established organizations that have been doing this for the better part of more than a decade, or if not, just at a decade. Or more than or many decades in the case of RCR. So, it’s a building process.

It’s always going to be and it’s been really cool to be a part of because it’s something I think a lot of drivers want is that opportunity to step into a young race team and be a part of the process of making it better and seeing the results of those things that you’re putting in place and the results of the parts behind the scenes that no one can see and they’d never notice and they never know it’s actually happening.

But you actually see… you put all those things in place, and you put them in the right place.

Things start to come together and then the results happen, right? And then that’s the really cool payoff. So that’s been the rewarding part for me. But I think we have a really high ceiling, and we haven’t even gotten close to it.

And we’ve got a lot more room to grow and continue getting better. I think we can make waves in the playoffs even with a disappointing start.

At the end of the day, we had speed and I think speed can fix everything lost in race teams. If we bring that same level of speed going forward, we’re going to be just fine.

Tiongson: You guys have got the speed showing all season long and even Cup drivers are noticing that. Like you said during last week’s media availability, you had Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin come up to you and say, “Hey, good job, Parker,” “Great job making it in.” And if they’re saying that and they’re Cup drivers, they’re recognizing, “Man, you still got it.”

By all means, Parker Kligerman has thrived in his full-time NASCAR XFINITY Series season efforts with Big Machine Racing. (Photo: Eric Parks | The Podium Finish)

Kligerman: I don’t know. Yeah, I guess so. It’s always… I don’t know if I still got it or what, but it’s nice to get the respect of your peers and people like that who I respect a massive amount and have accomplished so much in the sport at the highest level and are people I admire, not just in the driving side, but in all they’ve accomplished in their lives. And to be a part of this as long as they have and to be as successful as they have at such a cool thing and have those nice comments from them… for me, it’s not the validation I need.

The validation is going out there and getting to Victory Lane. And that’s why I’m here. I came here to Big Machine Racing to help them build this race team, to make the Playoffs and to go win races. And I’ve ticked a couple of those boxes, but I’ve got to take that last one.

And I think for us, we can still get to the Championship 4 without winning. But I really would like to get ourselves in Victory Lane because there’s no better validator in the all of racing than getting to Victory Lane.

And I think a lot of us at our team know we can win but it’s there’s no replacement for the idea of or for the validation and the confidence that just knowing we did win. So we’ve got to go to work on that. But I think there is a lot of reasons to be positive, and it’s very cool to get those comments from guys like Denny and Kevin.

Tiongson: I think it’s huge because I have been noticing that since we met back in 2013. I’ve seen this throughout your career. And man, you’ve shown some speed. You’ve shown that you have the dedication and determination to be at one of the top levels of NASCAR, and it’s paying off at last. And you’re right, getting a victory would be validation on the stamp of a great comeback, a great season.

An athlete doesn’t want to just get in and be like, “Oh, here I am.” You guys are beasts out there. You guys want to win. You don’t want to just get a participation trophy and be like, “Hey, good job, Parker. You got two podiums, but no wins. But hey, how was your season?” You want to have that special sauce on it, you know?

Kligerman: Oh, 100%. 100%, yeah. Winning fixes everything in this sport, as we like to say. But it’s just why we all do it, right? It’s cool, all the other stuff and the validation of running well and good finishes. But my mom always just says, “There’s a rare special set of finishes that don’t need a story and that’s when you’ve won.”

When I’m asked, “How did it go?”, you say, “We won,” end of story. No one cares what the rest of the story was. So it is a nicer thing. It is the ultimate goal in all that we do here in racing… to be the fastest and to be first on race day.

Rome wasn’t built overnight. You can’t get there in seconds. You got to build up to it often. And I think we’ve done just about everything. But when we keep putting ourselves in position in the top five, we’ll break through here soon.

Tiongson: It’s just like Al Pacino with his movie career. It took him about 30 years to finally get an Oscar. I’m not saying it could take 30 years for you to win a race. I’m just saying greatness comes and in time. (laughs)

And your team has a vote of confidence in you because they said, “Hey, here’s a contract for next season. You’re coming back. We want you back in this No. 48 car.”

How exciting was that for you to sign on those dotted lines and say, “Yep, I, Parker Kligerman, I’m driving this car again next year?”

There is no doubt that Parker Kligerman is back in the saddle of the No. 48 Big Machine Spiked Light Coolers Chevrolet Camaro in 2024. (Photo: Kyle Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

Kligerman: Oh, it was awesome. It’s such a cool validation of what we’re doing here at Big Machine Racing. From Scott Borchetta, the owner, who has been so supportive and so amazing, giving me this opportunity to come in here and help them do this at Big Machine Racing and to be a part of this.

And to get to know him, after all that he’s been through this year, it’s really cool to be in this place at this time of my life, to have this opportunity for a lot of the sacrifices I’ve made to be here and the effort I’ve put into being here.

A lot of the time and dedication I’ve put into this sport across all different facets, to have an opportunity in one year, but then to know I’m going to be here again next year and get to build on the success of this year, that’s a really cool thing and it’s very rare. In my life and my career, I’ve never had it happen.

The earliest I’d ever known I had a deal was basically this deal last year in October, and now I’ve one up that by knowing I had a deal basically in July. I’m in uncharted territory.

But I’ll tell you what, it’s a way cooler place to be. It’s a really awesome place to be. I look at these races and these tracks and I think, “OK, all right, well, you know what? Could I go to my notes and write what could be done better next year?” Knowing that’s the case many times in my career, that has not been the case. So it’s just really cool.

And to me, I know where we’re going and where we’re headed and how things are getting better. I want to be a part of the success that we’re going to have here in the future with all the parts, pieces and people that were put in place. I know there’s a lot of rewards ahead, and I hopefully get that chance to be a part of it.

Tiongson: I’m sure you will, because of Keith, Patrick, and of course, Scott have noticed that you’re doing positive things for this program. You’re going to be in great shape for many years to come. And I’m really happy for you to see that you’re thriving out there. It’s just a good inspirational story, to say the least.

And, you know, you’re going to have your next chance to win a race, hopefully, this weekend because we’re going to a pretty tricky track in Texas Motor Speedway. It’s going to be super hot again. Besides Mother Nature dealing some cruel cards to you drivers this Saturday, what makes Texas such a hard, difficult track compared to other tracks?

Kligerman: It is best described as unique because you have the flat Turns 1 and 2, which you approach at about 200 miles an hour. You use a ton of brake. You got to be really consistent with where you get the left front and getting it rotated and get back to the throttle.

You’ve got to have the car super loose or have it set up in a way that it turns down there and then from that point onward turns towards 3 and 4. That’s one of the hardest corners in all of NASCAR for us in XFINITY because it’s just so fast, low downforce and the car is not set up to go through there. It’s set up to go through the flat turns, 1 and 2. So you’re just hanging on. It’s a knife edge of a corner and it’s super fast. It’s a really intense place in that sense.

I remember doing a qualifying lap there back in 2018 in the low downforce Cup stuff, 750 horsepower, and I got out shaking because it was just so insane how fast we were going through three and four and how on edge it was. And you couldn’t believe that the min speed was like 188 mph out of the corner. So that was a crazy time. And it’s not gotten any easier. So, it’s definitely a unique racetrack.

But what’s cool… we talked about winning. This is the place that Big Machine has won at with Tyler Reddick last year. I’ve looked at places where I felt like I was maybe the one who could make it happen at the road courses. And now, I look at a place like this, though, and I think, “All right. This is where I’m learning from the team and hopefully, we can bring that same energy.”

If I’m half the driver I think I am and can match Tyler Reddick and his ability there, maybe we can go out there and win this weekend and I wouldn’t be surprised if we do.

Tiongson: That would be quite the scene here in Texas, just knowing that. Yeah, you mentioned a good point. Tyler won here last year, and you have shown that you’ve been really fast throughout this season in the intermediate tracks.

I’ve seen in the past when you’ve won a race, you’re going to plant that flag right in the grass and you’ve got a convenient one in the dogleg.

Kligerman: Yeah, there’s room for it. Yeah, definitely. I’ve also never bought a cowboy hat because I’ve always thought I wanted to win one at Texas. I have purposely not bought one, although I don’t know if I’d really wear it ever, but I haven’t bought one before.

And you’ll know if I have a cowboy hat because I won at Texas, so I might as well get one. It would be cool to have. There’s no better opportunity than this weekend to go get it done.

Tiongson: Spoiler alert, folks. Just in case you don’t already know, Parker Kligerman has just won the race on Saturday, so I will have all the details on that and his cowboy hat in photos.

You talked a little bit earlier about the progress, about the team chemistry. Let’s talk about you and Patrick Donahue for a moment. Patrick’s got this great career. He’s worked with Jeff Gordon. He’s working with you. How has he brought out the best in you as a race car driver?

It is evident that Parker Kligerman and Patrick Donahue are meshing well in 2023. (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Kligerman: Patrick has done a great job building this organization. And that’s really the key. And it’s not an easy thing to start something from scratch. And that’s what he and Scott have done. And he has been there from Day 1 with this organization and taking them all the way to winning last year and now making the Playoffs this year.

It’s not easy. And he’s done a great job of assembling the right people and putting them in the right places. I think it’s just a testament to us, figuring it out in that he’s definitely in a position where, in his career, it’s one of his best opportunities at a level like this. And to be in the position he’s at, he doesn’t take that lightly. And I see that in his work ethic and his effort and how much he dedicates to this program.

It’s really good to have some of that experience and that level of dedication who is building this program from Day 1 that sees the growth, sees the things that are improving and is there to be a part of the success when it happens. And that’s really cool. In terms of our working relationship, we’ve done a great job of figuring each other out. I’d say in the second half of the year, we often are just in the groove with things from the gym to practice to qualifying to the race.

It’s best described as a groove because we just sort of do the same things each weekend. We don’t overthink it. We don’t reinvent the wheel. We just do what we know we’re best at. We know we’re a great race team. I feel like we’ve been getting better and better.

The qualifying stuff, which we have moved our average down a couple spots, has been great. And that’s all part of the process.

Part of that is early in the year (for) myself, just figuring out these cars and Patrick and them figuring out me and what we found, the things that worked for us. Once you have that, you just start trying to tweak on it and build on it. And that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s been very impressive what Patrick Donahue and this whole group has done with this race team.

People think… when they think of a new team, they think small team. I don’t like to call it a small team. We’re just a young team, right? We’re a young team that has had to put all those processes in place and all those things.

And all of that is Patrick’s direction. He’s been instrumental in putting those things in places to allow us to have the success that we’ve had.

Tiongson: That’s the incredible part about teamwork and how you guys have just built this great chemistry. It’s almost like being on the match game and you guys can complete each other’s thoughts. I bet you’re getting to the point where you’re in the middle of a sentence and he already knows how to complete that sentence.

Kligerman: I don’t know if we’re there, but we definitely in terms of, I would say racing, yes, definitely. He knows what I’m going to say about the race car basically before I say it. And that’s been very impressive for sure.

Tiongson: That’s a really scary but great thought just because of the fact that if he can do that, you’re like, “Oh, cool, you can fix my problem then in Turn 4. I would appreciate that.” (laughs)

Kligerman: (laughs) That’s for sure. For sure.

Tiongson: And I’m sure a lot of that knowledge besides your racing career has to come from the fact that you’ve been one of the solid pit reporters for NBC and USA these last several years. How do you balance what you do on TV, The Money Lap Podcast and do the race car driving life? Like how do you do all of that?

Kligerman: It’s a lot. It’s a lot to manage. Time management is the biggest thing. My calendar and scheduling have been a big part of that, but it’s about having great people. And everyone at NBC has been amazing in their support of my racing, their support of allowing me the room to go about and do this.

And then working within the schedule and trying to make it work for me and them, which has been great. So, I think that’s been really, really awesome. I have to thank Jeff Behnke and NBC for working with me on that because it’s not always been the easiest thing.

Personally, I tell people all the time, “I don’t have hobbies. I don’t have anything else. This is all it is. Motorsports racing, talking about racing, doing podcasts like this, this is my everything. I don’t really have anything else.”

I feel like I’m in a stage of my life where I don’t really want to do anything else, right? I don’t want to play golf. I want to race and I want to build things. I want to make a mark in the world and win races. All these things I’m doing have gotten me to where I am, and they’re going to continue to propel me forward. As long as I can keep up the energy level, there’s no reason to stop.

And then I should say, my PR guy, Paul, here at Big Machine Racing has been instrumental in allowing us… allowing me to do all these things and help me manage it all and that sort of thing. It takes a village. It’s not just me doing this willy nilly by myself.

It definitely takes a village to do all these things and to do them well. But it also takes just really great people. And I’m lucky and grateful to be surrounded by so many great people.

Tiongson: Absolutely. We can’t do it on our own. No man is an island. And if you had to do it on your own, I’m sure the first few days would be good. And then the last few, “Um. Help. This is too much for me.”

Kligerman: I’ve done it before, and yeah, I burnt out, so we know we can’t do that. We can’t do that.

Tiongson: You’re a youngster yourself, my friend. You don’t want to do that my age. I just love the fact that on The Money Lap winning picks, you always pick yourself.

Not to make an obvious question out of this, is it because you are that absolutely confident that you can win? Or is it kind of a principle that, “Hey, I would be foolish not to bet on myself?”

Naturally, Parker Kligerman believes in his chances to win each weekend. (Photo: Kyle Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

Kligerman: I think it’s a little bit of both. Do I have the confidence that we can win almost every single weekend? Yes, I do. And I really believe that. And that’s why I do pick that. But then secondly, yeah, why would I be here if I wouldn’t bet on myself? So, you know what? I took the bet on myself in the last decade.

I took a bet on myself doing this this year and coming back to being full-time and trying to get to this level and be in this position. And so, yeah, you’re gonna ask me who’s going to win every Xfinity race? I’m going to pick me.

Tiongson: That’s fair enough. I mean, if you don’t think you’re the best at what you do, then I don’t know what you’re doing. You know? I mean, we all have to think that way. We’re wired that way. If you had the funds and resources to go build a racetrack anywhere around the world, what kind of track would it be and where would it be? Oh.

Kligerman: And there’s no restrictions?

Tiongson: No restrictions. Hey man, the surplus is all yours.

Kligerman: I would build essentially the old Bristol in the financial district of Manhattan, but it would be collapsible and it would be temporary. And I would do that. And I would do one big race a year there. There you go.

Tiongson: I love that idea. Just because that way, nobody will be saying, “Well, it’s just too loud. Why is this track here?” When the race is over, you just hit a button and it just goes underneath.

Kligerman: It’s completely temporary. Don’t know what it’s made of. Maybe it’s made of some material We don’t even know at this point. But you’re basically a replica of the old Bristol surrounded by about 160,000 stands. But we build it into the into the buildings around and it would be in 5D because that place is a ghost town on the weekend. So, you can make it happen.

Tiongson: I love it. I want to see some old school Bristol with 36 degrees of banking and just people trying to walk down that banking. That’s insanity at its best.

Do you have anything you want to say to the Big Machine Racing fans or the fans of The Podium Finish?

Perhaps the next hat that Parker Kligerman wears is of the cowboy variety. (Photo: Sam Draiss | The Podium Finish)

Kligerman: Well, first of all, thank you for having me on, bud. Appreciate it. Thank you, Rob. And you know, everyone at The Podium Finish… this has been a very cool time in my life. I appreciate all the support. I see all the support. I hear it when I get introduced to the racetrack.

So it really warms my heart and it’s very flattering. Thank you to all the fans out there. But most of all, I truly, truly believe we can make it out of this round in the next round. If we make it in the next round, all bets are off. If we can get to the Championship 4, and just remember, if we get to the Championship 4, you only got to beat three other cars.

I like my odds in that one. We’ve had to beat a lot more cars at times in our career, so I would love to have the opportunity to be a part of the Championship 4. But no matter what, this has been a stellar year for us at Big Machine Racing and Spiked Light Coolers and looking forward to keep the show going.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Parker Kligerman for taking the time to talk about his racing efforts, Big Machine Racing and more! Also, special thanks to Paul Williams of Big Machine Racing for making this interview possible!

Along with coverage on The Podium Finish, keep up-to-date on Parker’s efforts via his social media channels on FacebookInstagram and X!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Stay tuned for the uncut, podcast edition coming soon on The Podium Finish Live!

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 Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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