I spoke to Speed TV’s racing analyst Phil Parsons on July 9 about Parker Kligerman:
Q. What makes Parker so good?
A. Who knows what the intangibles are that give you talent? He certainly has it—and an abundance of it. It’s just really amazing for people that have been around the sport a long time to see people—and again, Parker’s one of the many young drivers—Kyle Bush was certainly a phenom when he came in; he actually came in at sixteen to the truck series and ran a few races before they outlawed people that were under eighteen from driving in the three major series. So then he had to go away, and he run ASA until he became of age, so to speak. But who knows what it is? But he’s got the whole package. He has the looks. He has the personality. I really enjoy talking to him. And I love the fact that after he ran that race at Pocono, he went home and went to his high school prom. I love the fact that…so many of us can get caught up with missing the things that we look back on, maybe, and say, “Man, I wish I would have jumped through hoops or whatever it took to do that.” Now I wouldn’t advocate him missing that race at Pocono to go to his high school prom, but the way it worked out, it was just perfect. I mean, growing up, I never would have missed a race to do anything, to breathe. So I know where he’s coming from. Really, he’s in a great situation there. Chris Carrier, his crew chief, is a good friend of mine, I’ve known for a long, long time. So he’s got a lot of talent there and a lot of tutelage there that’s very, very good. But he just has the knack. He just has that inherent talent that only so few actually have.
Q. You mentioned going to prom and living the normal life. He spoke in his press conference after the race [at Michigan] about his father wanting him to go to normal school.
A. I totally agree with his dad, and he obviously has the right mix of parents that want to do the right thing by him. And again, he’s eighteen years old. There’s going to be a lot of racing over the years. You know, you don’t want to necessarily miss the important things. But nevertheless, he was able to do both, and I love the fact that he was able to do that.
Q. Do you know his story and how he spent the last two years in USAC midgets, struggling?
A. A little bit of it. Quite honestly I’m probably not totally as well-versed on it as I should be. But I do know a little bit about it.
Q. Well, everyone’s just learning his story, I would imagine. He had a coach named Bob Perona, and after Parker’s success at age fifteen in the Formula TR series, Bob wanted to keep Parker racing, so he talked the Kligermans into buying a used midget, and they spent their first year in Indiana, when Parker was sixteen, getting their butts kicked and learning. You know, it was sobering. They qualified for one main event, the last race of the year. His second season they got hooked up with, they got a better engine, that Ilmor deal. So they had some power. They ran in the mains. They didn’t ever win, but they were pretty satisfied with their season and the experience that was acquired. Anyway, I just wondered what you suppose he would have learned from doing that. And also, Bob and Parker did the mechanical work themselves. They had no crew.
A. Tenacity, I’m sure, is what he learned. It reminds me a little bit of the story of Carl Edwards. He bought a used Silver Crown car, and he went to the local track to test it. I don’t remember exactly where it was. He had to scrape snow off the track to be able to test it before he went to Phoenix for the Copper Classic. It reminds me a little bit of that story. And those of us that have done this, and wanted to do this our whole lives, that’s just another illustration of somebody that wants it so bad, they’re willing to do whatever it takes. He’s obviously one of those guys that … no little, small obstacle is going to stand in his way. Sometimes maybe big obstacles will stand in his way…
Q. You saw how he charged from the back of the field to win at Michigan after that pit stop. What can you tell me about Cunningham Motorsports?
A. Great outfit. Mark Gibson is the principal team manager, basically. Mark has a tremendous amount of experience. It’s obviously very stable ownership with Briggs Cunningham and Kerry Scherer. And I think Mark may actually have a piece of it as well, I’m not even sure. They’ve been around a good while. Again, good first-class equipment. I think Penske obviously helps out some there as well. First-class organization and one that, I don’t know that you could be with a better outfit, really.
Q. And they’ve been in ARCA for—do you know how long?
A. I’m not really sure, to be honest with you. I’m not sure exactly how long they’ve been in ARCA. But quite a while. Mark has been there forever. But I’m not sure exactly when he got hooked up with Cunningham Motorsports.
Q. I just have two other questions. One of them is about these proficient teens that are all over in racing nowadays. What do you think about the sim-racing that they do? How much does that contribute?
A. Not a clue. I have absolutely no idea. I haven’t really done it. I know a lot of people who put a lot of credence to it, that it is helpful. I remember when Denny Hamlin won a race at Pocono. He credited the simulated game for a lot of help, and I know Tony Stewart refuted that and said, “There’s no way. Your talent is what won that. It wasn’t any computer game.” So I really don’t know. I’m probably not a good one to talk about it because I just don’t have any experience.
Q. I’m looking for some perspective because I’ve talked to Parker about it, and he’s sold.
A. It’s obviously something that, if I was starting, if I was younger, I’d probably be more into video games than I’ve ever been. I’m basically not into video games. But if I was that age, I’m sure I certainly would have been or would be. If I was looking to drive a race car and I thought it could be a slight advantage, then I’d be doing it anyway, no matter what.
Q. The last thing is, as far as him winning the championship, can he do it? And what do you think are the main obstacles where a lack of experience could possibly tell?
A. Can he do it? Absolutely, he can do it. He most certainly can do it. Again, he’s with good equipment. I think the only thing that would possibly hold him back would be funding. Because I know originally they were only going to go to the first seven races or something like that. Obviously, we’ve surpassed that and, I’m not sure, we haven’t done an ARCA race in a while, so I’m not exactly sure, other than the fact that I know he’s going to Iowa, where they are as far as their funding. Do they have the funding to continue to go? I don’t think he would be deficient in any area. I certainly think he would be a threat—maybe the top threat. I truthfully think … early on, once he started running, well, you know, he’s only finished out of the top ten one time. He was running third late in the race at Kentucky and I think spun out, or got spun out, whatever the case may be, I wasn’t there. I sure don’t see any weaknesses. They have another road course coming up. I know he’s going to be strong there. And I’m assuming that his open-wheel background—
Q. He’s never run on dirt.
A. He’s never run on dirt? Well, there you go. If there’s going to be a weakness, it’s certainly going to be there. But two years ago, I saw Michael McDowell, who had never run on dirt before, go to their first dirt race—and I don’t know if their first one’s at DuQuoin or Springfield—
Q. I can’t remember, either.
A. I’m not sure how the schedule goes—and he finished second, in the first dirt race he ever ran. So it’s certainly not something that can’t be overcome. But if there is going to be a potential stumbling block, I would guess it would be the dirt tracks.
Note: ARCA has its races on superspeedways, short ovals, one road course, and the mile-long dirt ovals at Springfield, Illinois, and DuQuoin, Illinois. The Springfield race is August 23, and DuQuoin comes up on Labor Day, September 7.