1-on-1 with Parker Kligerman

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1-on-1 with Parker Kligerman
Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Parker Kligerman began his rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series with Swan Racing.

Connecticut native Parker Kligerman burst onto the NASCAR scene in 2009 when he qualified on the pole in his Nationwide Series debut at Kansas while driving for Penske Racing. Add to that a nine-win season in the ARCA Series that year, and it was obvious that Kligerman was going to be one of NASCAR's biggest talents.

In the seasons since, Kligerman has been a consistent driver, finishing fifth in the Camping World Truck Series in 2012 and ninth in the Nationwide Series in 2013. Kligerman also made a pair of Sprint Cup starts in 2013, finishing an impressive 18th in his debut at the AAA 500 at Texas in November and posting another lead-lap finish with 25th at the season-ending Ford 400.

Kligerman began his 2014 Sprint Cup rookie season driving for Swan Racing, but due to financial difficulties, the team was forced to sell both of their entries, with Cole Whitt's No. 26 moving to BK Racing and the No. 30 sold to Xxxtreme Motorsports, with J.J. Yeley taking over as the driver.

Kligerman also manages to keep himself busy away from the race track, being the president and co-founder of Focus Now Solutions as well as the host of the popular podcast "Kickin' It with Kligerman."

 

Bleacher Report: Are there currently any plans to have you back in a race car before the end of the season?

Parker Kligerman: Yeah, we've got a lot of things going on. As many people know, I was kind of offered some rides in the Cup Series that were less than favorable for myself, a lot of rides that were about surviving more so than thriving. It was one of those things where those rides were kind of in the line of being a little lower-budget, and it was to the point that they weren't really competitive. 

So from my view, taking a step back, going out and finding opportunities that are right and that can forward my career and at least put me in a place where I could at least be competitive and be in a chance to win, that's more important to me. So there are some things in NASCAR that we're working on, all three series, and as well as outside NASCAR

I'm sure in the near future we'll be able to announce a few things and some people will be surprised, and I think it'll be a really fun time.

 

B/R: At Richmond, what was going through your mind watching the field take the green without you taking the green with them?

PK: Well, I had someone ask me, "How are you taking it?" I said, "Well, it's tough, but to be honest the ride I was in was going downhill and we weren't that competitive, and from my point of view I just said 'Eh, it doesn't hurt me too much to be in a non-competitive car.'"

If I was in one of those very competitive top-25 cars and suddenly wasn't there anymore, then yeah, that would hurt a lot. But not to be there [rather] than continue to be noncompetitive, it's not any worse or any different. When you're not competitive then you might as well not even be there.

 

Larry Papke/Associated Press
Kligerman's No. 30 donned livery from associate sponsor SMS Audio at Texas Motor Speedway in April.

B/R: What was the atmosphere at Swan Racing once it became apparent that there were about to be some big team changes taking place?

PK: I don't think anyone was ever negative or down. I think everyone at Swan Racing is a testament to how good the people we have there are. Everyone works hard. Even through the things we knew were going on no one got down, no one let that overcome them, it was very much about moving forward and doing the best you possibly could week-in and week-out, and that's what we did.

Steven Lane (Crew Chief for the No. 30) did a great job having to balance out so many things. He had to balance having to help the company move forward and trying to make the 30 car go fast, you knowthere's no one person there that I would ever really say was anything less than positive.

 

B/R: How would you sum up your rookie season thus far in the Sprint Cup Series?

PK: You know, I don't really even judge the first eight races. With all the things we had going on there, I think our performance kind of showed that. I judge more what I did last year in my first two Cup starts when we were a single-car team and things were really moving forward and going in the right direction. Even though we had older equipment, we were able to do great things with that.

Then this year, obviously, going to two cars and all that happened with that and some of the financial constraintsyou know, I'm not putting anyone down, I just don't judge those first eight races because I don't really think you could judge them.

With that said, looking at my Sprint Cup career in just my first 10 races, I only judge those first two. The eight I started this season just don't hold that much weight. We weren't really able to focus on the racing as much as the other things around us.  

 

B/R: When it came to the trials of being a rookie, what was the best piece of advice you were given?

PK: Jimmie Johnson's always helpful. He's a very good guy. He basically told me not to lose my confidence, do whatever I can to keep my confidence, because I made it here. The pressure is tough, and everyone is going to look to you to when things don't go right to blame someone. Instead, keep broad shoulders, take it at face value and move on, and keep your confidence.

For any rookie in any professional sport, that's amazing advice.

 

B/R: What was the difference in driving for Penske Racing and driving for Swan Racing?

PK: Well, from the numbers side or on paper, obviously they're polar opposites. But, as you know, in racing, we all go out to be the best we can be and win races. Now, how you go about that makes the difference.

Penske Racing is a very established race team, one of the most iconic race teams in all of American racing, while Swan Racing was a young upstart. Roger Penske had a ton of engineering, a ton of players and a ton of history, and a ton of relationships like with other manufacturers, as well Roger Penske's relationships. They also have a great leader in Roger Penske

And Swan Racing, being the young upstart, was trying to find its footing. It was trying to build and trying to put its people in place to create that history and create those relations. It was two different ends of the spectrum.

I think for a lot of fans out there, they can wonder how Swan Racing could ever get to be a Penske Racingwell, it takes time. It takes a tremendous amount of time, it takes a tremendous amount of financial backing, and it takes a tremendous amount of patience.

It's a process to build a Cup team. Just like if you build an NFL team or an MLB team, you are not going to win in your first year. That's just the nature. You're not going to win your second, you're probably not going to win in your third year and you're probably not going to win in your fourth year. That's just the nature of professional sports, and you have teams like Penske Racing who have been around for 25 or 30 years that have that big head start on you.

If you look at the NFL, it took the Seattle Seahawks 10 or 12 years to win the Super Bowl. That's just the nature of the game. So I think in a lot of ways the biggest difference is what you have to work with and where you're trying to go. Penske's goal is to win races and win championships; Swan Racing's goal is to build a team and build a structure as well as run up front and get better. That's just two different platforms and two different scenarios.

The only thing similar between the two is that they race cars. 

 

B/R: How has the fan support been this season?

PK: The fans have been great. I've been absolutely humbled by the fan support and the fan outreach each and every week. The fans that continue to support me on my favorite social media, which is Twitter, Instagram, all of those places, I see all of it, I read all of it.

I think it's been so awesome and it's been so cool to see, and I never felt like as a driver at the national ranks I really was able to establish myself with any one team or any one situation. I was always having to jump around just a little bit.

But even through that I seem to have a great fanbase, and NASCAR as a whole has a great fanbase. They've just been really, really supportive.

I'll look at certain situations and opportunities and think, "Man, I don't know if that's worth it," and I start to look at the fans that support us and that sort of thing and I say, "You know what? For the fan out there that would say that I would be crazy not to take this opportunity, that's what I like to look at."

I like to see that, and for the fans who support me: Stay tuned, we got stuff coming up. I will be in a race car again soon, and I think for a lot of ways hopefully we can repay them with some victories and some really exciting moments on the track.  

 

B/R: Away from the track, you've done a lot to solidify your brand. You participated in 2013's Toyota Dream Build, you're a guest columnist on Jalopnik.com, you're the president and co-founder of Focus Now Solutions, the company behind your Nootelligence product, and the host of the "Kickin' It with Kligerman" podcast. Is there a reason why you choose to keep yourself so busy?

PK: I'm not afraid to work. I like to work. I like to work hard and try to be better in every avenue and every situation I'm a part of.

For the social media thing, "Kickin' It with Kligerman," Jalopnik, a lot of that in a lot of ways, this may not sound connected to some fans out there, but those things and the better I do there have a better chance of making me faster on the race track.  

A lot of that is because those things grow my brand, they grow my popularity, they grow my resonance with the fans, and because of that I'm able to hopefully garner bigger sponsors, more financial support, bring financial support to whatever team I'm driving for or grow their sponsors through other avenues and therefore end up with a faster race car.

That's my intention there, and I also enjoy it. I enjoy writing for Jalopnik. I'm a huge car person. I'm huge into car culture. Getting the opportunity to write with those guys and spend time with them has been awesome.

"Kickin' It with Kligerman" has been one of the most fun things I've done off the track ever. Getting the fans' questions in there and to interview personalities and different race teams, different drivers and just shoot the bull. That's what we do with "Kickin' It with Kligerman." We talk cars, we talk girls, you name it, we talk it. That's just been a tremendous amount of fun.

Nootelligence is a thing that came about last year through some friends, and through an opportunity to grow something that I had a lot of belief in: nootropics and the power of nootropics, and what that means for a lot of people in my generation.

A lot of kids in my generation fight the ADD drug craze and being addicted to those things, and now we finally see a natural way to get that same feeling and that same focus but doing it without the prescription drugs and the side effects of those things. I really believed in that.  

So all I could do to help make that move forward and help make Nootelligence, I was all for it. So far it's been a great experience, a great ride, and hopefully we can continue to growand we really are. So it's been a fun experience.

I want to say that through all of that stuff, the reason I stay busy is that I'm kind of an active person, I don't like to sleep, and through all of those things I always feel like at the end of the day it always centers back to racing. It's how to move my racing career forward and how to get closer to winning races and winning championships, and I feel like all of those things help and will hopefully get me into a position where those things and my results on the track are at the same level.  

 

Geoff Burke/Getty Images
Kligerman won the pole in his Nationwide Series debut at Kansas in 2009.

B/R: Speaking of "Kickin' It with Kligerman," how did that get started? 

PK: Well, I want to give a shout-out to Dave Smith. He does MotorsportsAnalytics.com, and he's one of the few people in our sport who really starts to understand the numbers and the statistics in our sport instead of the hearsay and that sort of thing, and I've always been a fan of that. I've been a big fan of numbers and statistics throughout my career and really try to understand the sport better and the ways to win championships and that sort of thing.

He and I were having a chat one day and he said, "You know, you should really think about doing a podcast." I said, "What the heck is a podcast?" At the time, I looked into it and saw how easy it was, and asked my PR girl Monica Hilton if she wanted to co-host this with me, and she said yes. In three minutes I had come up with a format that we now use every week, and I wrote it on my phone, and the next thing I know we had a podcast.

The name of the podcast came from a fan back when I was doing Sirius Radio. The name of my radio spot was "Kickin' It with Kligerman," so we took that and put it on the podcast, and it's been great. It's been a lot of fun. The fans have really responded, and we grow every single week exponentially, and we're hitting more than 10,000 listeners each time we're downloadedand that's not counting now that we're on the Performance Motor Racing Network.

It's really going, it's really got a lot of potential, and hopefully the fans continue to enjoy it. When we talk on there, it's not a pre-designed interview. A lot of the times it's literally me and whatever driver is on that weekif you could catch us behind the driver-intro stage, that's probably what we're talking about.

 

B/R: Lastly, when you retire from racing, how would you want to be remembered?

PK: Huh. That's actually a deep one. Forever, when I was growing up, I wanted to be known for one reason, and that was to be fast. I didn't care if I won races or championships. All I wanted was for everyone to look back and say, "That guy was fast."

But as I grew up and I started to win races and be up front, that changed. It started to become, "I want to be the best that ever was."  

But things happen as you go through the national ranks, and sometimes bad things happen and you get bad breaks and it starts to change. I think how I would like to be remembered, in a lot of ways, [is as] successful. I was able to get to the top of the sport with very little family funding only in the beginning of my career, no real big sponsor support and jumping from ride to ride to make it all the way to the top of the sport.

You show that you could do it without those things but not without a lot of fanfare. When I look back, hopefully that's not the only thing I'm remembered for. Hopefully there are some wins and championships coming up.

But when I look back at that situation right now through all that, I think that's been one of things I've been proud of: that I did make it to the top of the sport in a time and place when not a lot of kids are, without family funding or major support like that.

I'm proud of that, and hopefully it puts me in a position to grow as a driver and to go out and win races and championships.

 

Joseph Shelton is also a contributor to SpeedwayMedia.com and Motorsport.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @Shelton500.

Special thanks to Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman).           

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