While all eyes are on the hockey matches in the Winter Olympics, one former hockey enthusiast, Michael Annett, has turned in his skates to take the wheel of the No. 15 Pilot Travel Centers Toyota Camry in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.
Annett, a 23 year old from the Midwest, actually was quite a good hockey player before climbing aboard a race car. At the age of 16, he led Team Illinois to the 2001 Calgary Mac’s AAA Hockey Tournament Championship.
But racing was in Annett’s blood. He attended his first race, the Knoxville Nationals, literally days after he was born.
His family, particularly his father, was active in racing sprint cars until he left the world of racing in 1993 to focus on his trucking company. For several years prior to his “retirement”, however, Annett’s father served as owner and primary sponsor for World of Outlaws legend Sammy Swindell.
When Annett decided that he too wanted to race, his family was less than enthusiastic. According to Annett, his mother thought racing was much “too dangerous”, steering him instead back to the world of hockey.
But once he made up his mind to trade in his hockey skates for the wheel of a race car, Annett asked his father for help and guidance. “My dad took me testing to see if I had any talent,” Annett said. “I guess he thought I had a little bit.”
With his talent confirmed and the blessing of his mother, Annett entered the world of racing as a teenager, much later than many of his counterparts who had been go-karting since the age of five. But Annett did prove his talent and he has “been on the fast track” ever since.
In 2007, Annett competed in the ARCA Series and had good success. At his home track, Iowa Speedway, he took the pole and finished in the third spot.
Annett took center stage at Talladega, where after only four career starts, he took the checkered flag. He was the first driver in the ARCA Series to put Toyota in Victory Lane.
Annett continued in ARCA but also tried his hand at truck racing. He competed under the Germain Racing banner in the No. 9 Toyota Tundra.
At the end of the 2008 season, Annett got behind the wheel of the No. 15 Pilot Travel Centers Toyota Camry in the Nationwide Series. He continued to race under the Germain Racing banner in the 2009 season, finishing in the 10th spot in the championship points standings.
Annett scored four top 10 finishes, 10 top 15, and 21 top 20 finishes. He was also a Raybestos Rookie of the year Contender and finished his rookie Nationwide Series season third in the Rookie standings.
For the 2010 Nationwide season, Annett is again with Germain Racing with the same sponsor, Pilot Travel Centers. “This is the exact same team as last year,” Annett said. “We spent all last year building relationships.”
Those relationships, especially the one between the driver and crew chief Ryan Fugle, proved successful and Annett finished 12th in the season opener in the Drive4COPD at the Daytona International Speedway.
“To bring it home in one piece was a lot to say after that race,” Annett said. “Of course we would have liked to finish in the top five or top 10 but we’re happy.”
With that finish in his back pocket, Annett was ready to shoot for achieving his goal of a top 10 finish at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. In 2009, Annett had done well in “The Golden State”, finishing sixth and earning him Raybestos Rookie of the Race honors.
Annett also looked forward to visiting the Toyota headquarters in Torrance, California. “It feels great to be able to give back to those who make it possible for us to go to the track each week,” Annett said.
When asked if the mood was a bit gloomy at Toyota headquarters with all of their recent recall woes, Annett admitted that it has been a “tough couple of weeks” for the manufacturer.
“But they were really upbeat,” Annett added. “They stick behind their products and we also got to see some of their newest products, which was really exciting.”
Although Annett’s goal was to run top 10 at Auto Club Speedway, he turned in a respectable 17th place finish. This kept the young driver in the 12th position in the points standings.
“We had a really good car, a top 10 car, but as it played out, tires were more important than track position and we had to hang on for the final laps,” said Annett. “We battled in the top 15 all day and it came down to tires in the end.”
“We chose not to come in before the final restart and that got us,” Annett continued. “We'll regroup this week and head into the next race at Las Vegas ready to compete for a top 10.”
“Michael and the No. 15 crew worked hard all day and did really good out there,” crew chief Ryan Fugle said. “Unfortunately we got shuffled out at the end during the green-white-checkered finish.”
Germain Racing General Manager Mike Hillman Sr. noted, “The No. 15 team had all the pieces in place for a good run at California. We had a good setup, Michael did a great job driving the car and the guys did a good job on pit road. We’re ready to move forward into Vegas with another good run.”
Annett admits that his goal, as well as his team’s goal, is to consistently run in the top 10. “This will put us out there to be a championship team,” Annett said.
Although Annett admits that he is “low key” and likes to “stay out of the spotlight”, he is still focused on winning a Nationwide Series championship and eventually moving into the Cup Series. He does not have a particular driver “idol” but likes to think he can take the best characteristics of each of them and roll them into “the one driver that I want to be.”
Annett has also taken an interest in one of his more visible competitors, Danica Patrick. “She’s pretty good,” Annett said simply. “Nobody should set too high expectations for her. She’s pretty much starting over and the quickest way to get yourself down is to set goals too high.”
Annett, like Patrick, has indeed taken a bit of a different track in his racing career, from hockey to NASCAR racing. “I took a little bit different path,” Annett admitted. “But I’m on the fast track now.”