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Young Nemechek Is So Composed That It’s Scary

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 19 2015
John Hunter Nemechek is making a name for himself in the Camping World Truck Series. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

John Hunter Nemechek is making a name for himself in the Camping World Truck Series. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Teenager John Hunter Nemechek is carrying on his family’s NASCAR legacy _ times three _ into the Camping World Truck Series with a level of composure he is convinced borders on the otherworldly.

John Hunter is the son of Joe Nemechek, known as “Front Row Joe” in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and XFINITY series circles and owner of NEMCO Motorsports in Mooresville, N.C.  John Hunter also is the nephew of the late John Hunter Nemechek, Joe’s younger brother and his son’s namesake.

“I think it’s definitely a plus to have the Nemechek name,” said John Hunter, who scored his first NCWTS victory and the only one in the family in the rain-delayed American Ethanol e15 225 at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 19. “Seeing what dad did in his career _ win a ton of XFINITY races (16), win some Cup races (four) _ to have that name and have him around as a boss, as a mentor and as a father figure…it’s great to have all three-in-one. He’s sped-up my learning curve. He’s taught everything he’s learned in a 20-year period to me in a three-year period.”

At 18 years, 3 months and 8 days, John Hunter became the fourth-youngest winner in Truck Series history. John Hunter’s breakthrough win on Chicagoland’s 1.5-mile layout was scored in

John Hunter Nemechek says he's getting other-worldly help. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

John Hunter Nemechek says he’s getting other-worldly help. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

his 23rd start and 16 years to-the-day that Joe recorded his first Sprint Cup win at the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We didn’t know that until we got on the plane (for the ride home),” John Hunter said during a promotional visit to Texas Motor Speedway, prior to an 11th-place finish in the WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 here in early November. “Pretty remarkable. I think his exact words were, ‘Man, that is very cool.’ ”

“That was kind of…surreal. Really weird,” said Joe Nemechek, still searching for the proper adjective. Or, perhaps John Hunter’s victory was just another example of otherworldly intervention, courtesy of John Nemechek. Joe’s brother was among the first wave of drivers to compete in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, then titled the NASCAR SuperTruck Series, when the concept of racing pickups was announced by the sanctioning body in May 1994 and launched on-track in February 1995.

John Nemechek died on March 21, 1997 from head injuries suffered in a crash at Homestead-Miami Speedway five days earlier, only nine days after his 27th birthday. John Nemechek, who made 43 Truck Series starts over three years, previously worked as a front tire changer on Joe’s 1992 championship-winning Busch Grand National (now XFINITY) Series team.

John Hunter was born to Joe and Andrea Nemechek on June 11, 1997. “The name we had picked out for our first child was going to be Hunter, his first name,” said Joe Nemechek, 52. “When my brother got hurt and died later on that week, we decided to name him after my brother. It means a lot to me. I know my brother was not fortunate enough to win a Truck Series race before he passed away; I know he came close a few times. Overall it’s a great thing.”

John Hunter said it is sad that he never got to meet his Uncle John. “But you always hear stories,” said John Hunter, proudly noting he attended his first race when he was 3-weeks-old. “To have the same name as him is definitely something I look up to and honor.  Sometimes dad will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you remind me of Uncle John.’ And Andrea will come up and say, ‘Hey, you’re just like him.’

“He’s still lingering around the shop. There’s been a few stories where tool boxes have moved at night and sometimes you’ll get a thump on the head and nobody’s around, that kind of stuff. He’s still there. We actually had some Ghostbusters come in, which was really cool. We have videos of shadows moving _ no one in the shop, bottles moving around in circles on the floor _ it’s crazy. But we got out of him his name _ and it’s him that’s there. Every once in a while you get scared about what prank he’s going to pull on you next, so you have to be on your toes.”

Joe Nemechek said his brother’s presence is a commonly shared belief among NEMCO’s tightly-knit employees. “If you are around our shop long enough, you will become a believer,” Joe said. “He is there watching over us all the time.”

John Hunter followed his fuel-mileage victory at Chicagoland with a fifth-place run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and a fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a sister 1.5-mile facility to TMS. Joe Nemechek finished sixth in Fort Worth during the WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 on June 5, a result trumped by John Hunter in Joliet, Ill. “I know he won’t let me live that down either. We’re a very competitive father-son,” said John Hunter, driver of the black No. 8 SWM-NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado. “He’s itching to get back behind the wheel.”

Lack of primary sponsorship, however, has dictated that NEMCO’s eight fulltime (and one part-time) employees working on the team’s seven-truck inventory concentrate on John Hunter. A member of the NASCAR Next class, a program designed to spotlight up-and-coming drivers, John Hunter finished 0.309-seconds behind race-winner Timothy Peters in last Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 at the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway.

The 2015 NCWTS championship will be decided on the 1.5-mile HMS layout during Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. EST, on FS1). Erik Jones of Kyle Busch Motorsports leads second-place Tyler Reddick of Brad Keselowski Racing by 19 points in the championship standings. Regardless of Reddick’s performance in his No. 19 Draw Tite Ford F150, all Jones must do to clinch is finish 15th or better; 16th with at least one lap-led or 17th and the most laps-led.

Nemechek is 13th in the overall standings despite five fewer starts than the title contenders. John Hunter has posted seven top-five and nine top-10 results in 17 starts.

A series record will be broken no matter who prevails at HMS, as either Jones (19 years, 5 months, 21 days) or Reddick (19 years, 10 months, 9 days) will become the youngest champion in NCWTS history. Austin Dillon (21 years, 6 months, 22 days) set the current mark in 2011.

Jones also has a comfortable lead in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings over Nemechek, who _ given their ages _ figure to shadow one another up the NASCAR ladder.

“It’s definitely been impressive to see what he’s (Nemechek) done there,” said Jones, driver of the No. 4 Toyota Tundra. “Especially getting one in Chicago, whether it was (via) fuel mileage or not, they still won the race. It’s been interesting. They had an alliance with KBM in 2014, and we helped them out with a lot of their stuff. And then they went out on their own with a different manufacturer this year, and been able to still run good and have success.

“I don’t have really a big relationship with John Hunter. I talk to him and say, ‘Hey.’ But honestly we haven’t raced a ton during the year. I’ve raced him a few times back-and-forth, same with Chicago, Gateway (Motorsports Park) and a few other places. I think he’s done a really good job for himself and he’s learning every week. You can see he gets better. Actually, it’s funny. He is actually a little bit younger than me. When I was getting out of Late Models, he was just getting in.”

John Hunter said there never was a doubt about the career-path he intended to pursue. “It was always racing. I didn’t know what type of racing I wanted to do,” Nemechek said. “I raced Motocross for three or four years, and then I got out. I got tired of getting hurt so I got into stock car where I had a roll cage around me and four wheels on the ground and we weren’t jumping anything so we couldn’t really get hurt. It’s always been in my blood to be around racing. I’ve always had a passion for it, the determination and want-to from working on the things, to being on the racetrack and running well.”

Having grown up around the sport via Joe’s varied NASCAR experiences, John Hunter said he got to know most of the current generation of Cup regulars _ including six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, 2014 champ Kevin Harvick and breakout star Joey Logano _ as a track-rat. That camaraderie has paid off this season.

“You can go to everyone there that has a little bit more experience and ask questions,” Nemechek said. “You have to adapt fast and that’s something I learned from dad _ when you go to a new racetrack you look for what’s important. You go talk to Cup drivers. Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon have been a great help to me this year.

“I think getting in the truck fulltime after I turned 18…it’s been a big help racing every weekend and focusing in the Truck Series has definitely been a big learning curve for me in trying to figure out all the aerodynamic sides of it. Before I was racing Late Models and I was racing trucks, I was racing everything else and all the experience you can get helps. But there’s nothing like actually racing the vehicle that you’re going to keep racing fulltime.”

With his father’s guidance, John Hunter is looking at a methodical move up the NASCAR touring ranks. “Yeah, most definitely. I mean it has to be with the right team,” Nemechek said. “You’re not just going to take any opportunity to move up. Has to be the right team. Has to be the right equipment to get in.

“Our perspective is we’re going to keep doing the truck stuff at NEMCO Motorsports. I think that with the funding coming together we can run up-front and win races. We’ve kind of proven that. But an XFINITY deal, you almost have to be tied to a Cup team in order to run good. That’s kind of where we want to be. I think here soon, or here eventually, it’s going to be time to make a move to sign with a big team and keep moving up the ladder.

“There’s always conversations but you have to have funding to go places. Sadly, it’s not the day and time where you can’t worry about funding anymore and you can just worry about talent. Heck, one of the coolest things about Victory Lane (at Chicagoland) was Richard Childress came up to us and congratulated us. We use their motors, we run ECR stuff so he was excited for us to get his first win of the year with ECR motors. So everyone, I think, is trying to push in order to get me signed-up somewhere, but you have to have funding to go.”

Meantime, John Hunter also has been sharpening his non-driving skills as student pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering at Central Piedmont Community College. “One of the things right now that’s big in the shop for me is I’m running all the design software in order to design parts,” John Hunter said. “Programming mills, I’m running the pull-down rig, engineering new parts for our Late Model stuff. That’s been big for us. There’s not really one piece of equipment in our shop that I can’t run, just learning from dad.

“The NASCAR rulebook has you so tied up you can’t really engineer new stuff in order to go faster. But the Late Model stuff is kind of free-reign, so we’ve been engineering a bunch of parts for that and I’ve been put to the task. Dad will say, ‘OK, here’s your dimensions, go draw me this, this is kind of what I want it to look like…’ and I can go sit down on a computer, engineer it, figure out everything we need to do to build it and end up building it. It’s cool to see all that stuff come to life.

“I definitely think working in the shop every day helps me out as a driver. This sport is all about engineering now so to learn all the aspects of engineering in order to get better for the future…you have to be able to communicate with the engineers and look at all your data whether it’s test sessions or whatever to figure out what’s big on changes front end-wise, geometry-wise, whatever it may be.”

Joe Nemechek knows better than anyone that his son, who is working with crew chief Gere Kennon, is racing with tremendous confidence as the Truck Series schedule grinds to a close.

“We’re doing everything to try to give him the best opportunity we can; you’ve got to do it because you only normally get one shot,” the elder Nemechek said. “In saying that, we’ve got to learn how to stretch a dollar and what’s important. For the experience that he has and what he’s been able to accomplish, it’s pretty incredible. John Hunter has taken what we’ve given him and driven the wheels off it. I know he’s going to end up winning in all three (NASCAR touring) series and I’ve got to get that done, too.”

John Hunter agreed it is hardly a stretch to suggest that his dad basically has “bet the mortgage” on his NASCAR career. “Yeah, I mean he has everything invested in me so it’s definitely great to have him do that and to have him believe in me like he does,” John Hunter said. “I don’t think he would if I didn’t have the want-to and if I didn’t work for it. At some point I’ll have to repay him, so it’s just going to be how I do that. But winning races definitely makes him proud.”

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Next Race: Ford EcoBoost 200

The Place: 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway

The Date: Friday, Nov. 20

The Time: 8 p.m. (EST)

TV: FS1, 7:30 p.m. (EST)

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM Channel 90

Distance: 201 miles/134 laps

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 19 2015
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