Over the course of his career, Bristol, Tennessee native Chris Carrier has been a crew chief in all three NASCAR national series. He’s won races with Harry Gant, Kevin Harvick, and Nelson Piquet, Jr., but ever since 2015 he’s been the crew chief of the No. 75 Food Country USA truck for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series underdog Henderson Motorsports.
After ace driver/NBC pit reporter Parker Kligerman seized headlines with a thrilling win for Henderson Motorsports in Saturday’s (July 9th) O’Reilly Auto Parts 150 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Carrier sat down for a FaceTime interview with Pit Box Press to share what it’s like running a competitive Truck Series operation as the lone full-time employee.
“It’s a little misleading when we say I’m the only full-time person,” began Carrier, from a corner of the team’s Abingdon, Virginia shop where he’d already begun tearing down the race-winning Tide Silverado.
“I have good help here. . . everybody saying ‘Oh my God, that guy must be Superman or something,’ no, that’s not the case. I have a good collection, a really good collection of people around me. . . Some are retired, some are not, they work other jobs, but they are part-time help that come around when they can, they make time to be here when it’s important.”
Despite his strong collection of collaborators, on some days, including today, he’s in the shop alone, which he says, “works out really well for us”.
“I probably do a lot more hands-on stuff than most of the crew chiefs do in the Truck Series, and for sure in the other two upper series. . . [today] I’m just kinda doing a little bit of aftermath cleanup, cleaning up parts, going through our oil filters, our oil cooler, our fuel cell and things like that, just getting our stuff ready for the next races down the road and doing some things that I can do on my own without a second pair of hands.”
It’s a delicate balance between independence and outsourcing, but one necessary for a team the size of Henderson Motorsports to be competitive in NASCAR’s third-highest division.
“With the size of our team, we don’t have a fab shop, we’re not able to build our own stuff. . . we just set the trucks up here, we assemble them here, we kind of do the general getting-ready-to-go-to-the-racetrack stuff. And I’ll be honest with you, that’s a pile of work. The stuff that we can’t accomplish here, we go out and we stay in the mainstream of what’s running up front, what’s being successful, what’s winning races by finding people that can do it.”
“All the brakes on our trucks, we’ll send all our stuff back to Dennis Beaver at Pro Systems in Mooresville, that’s what they do. They’re brake specialists, they supply, maintenance, rebuild, repair, whatever, brake systems for all kinds of racers, even road racers. So we’ll have calipers rebuilt, we’ll buy new brake pads from them, new brake rotors, when I have a question about something I’ll go to Dennis. He’s been doing this all his life, he’s basically my age, so he’s got a lot of experience, and he’s the expert on that and I rely on him.”
“Other things we do the same way. . . It’s not really me doing all of it, it’s me relying on people I know I can trust. And that’s the best way to do business, I don’t care what kind of business you’re in, if you try to do it all on your own, you’re gonna make a lot of mistakes, that’s my opinion.”
The results back that opinion up. Across Kligerman’s eight starts in 2022, Henderson Motorsports has one win, three top-fives and five top-tens, and have completed 100 percent of the laps in every race they’ve entered.
What’s the secret? The supposed one-man race team thanks his collaborators again:
“We just have a good situation here, we have fun, we make time for laughter every day, we tell jokes, we tell stories, we laugh at ourselves, we laugh at one another with one another. It’s just a really good collection of people whose heart is in this, and who love this kind of racing. . .Our driver fits right in. He’s the goofiest professional driver I’ve ever met in my life. . .he fits us just perfect. . . but when it comes time to be serious we’re as serious as anybody out there. And we go to try to win. . . we don’t go just to go.”
While Carrier does rely on some of the same suppliers as the full-time front-running teams, Henderson Motorsports does not have a technical alliance with a larger team to deliver brand-new equipment. The winning No. 75 truck from Mid-Ohio is an almost decade-old chassis, bought thirdhand.
“[The chassis] was built at Turner Motorsports, I think like in, I want to say 2012-13,” explained Carrier. “When Turner Motorsports went out of business, shortly after that. . . they sold a lot of trucks to JR Motorsports.”
“[JRM] shut [the Truck Series program] down to focus on Xfinity stuff, and all that equipment and trucks and so on and so forth was sold, and we bought a couple trucks. . . We actually went there that day, myself and one more person, just to look for an intermediate truck, and I knew there was a road-course truck in the building. . .I knew that with Parker around we were going to have a good road racer. . . ”
The social media rumors that Kligerman’s victory came behind the wheel of a JR Motorsports orphan are correct, although Carrier does not know if it was the same truck that finished runner-up in the infamous 2016 race in Canada.
And Henderson Motorsports might not have had the truck at all without the assistance of one of stock car racing’s good guys. Says Carrier,
“. . . a good friend of ours who passed away, the late Briggs Cunningham. . . he’s helped Parker, he’s helped Chase Briscoe, he’s helped a lot of young drivers down through the years. Bless his heart, he’s a fine man, he and his wife Beth helped buy this [race-winning] truck for this team, which made it very special on Saturday. I know he was happy looking down on us from his heavenly home, cheering for us and pulling us along. I talked to Beth on the way back from the race going home. . .they’re great people. . .It’s a real cool story behind this.”
Mid-Ohio wasn’t the first win for the group, (that came in the fall of 2017 at Talladega Superspeedway) and the Henderson family’s racing history dates back to 1975, but Mid-Ohio is the team’s first win since entering just three races in a difficult 2019. Year-on-year statistical improvements ever since and Saturday’s big win have made Henderson Motorsports an organization on the rise, something that will certainly be helped by the $50,000 bonus Kligerman claimed for the team in the Triple Truck Challenge.
“[The bonus] is huge. [A] paycheck like that, to go on top of the purse, that’s a lot of money in anybody’s eyes. . . we’re paying bills every day. We have lights on in this shop, we have heat and air conditioning, we have running water, we have payroll, other bills to pay, insurance, taxes, the whole nine yards. . . there’s bills here whether we race or not. . .I commend the people with Camping World, it’s a great series, and to do this bonus program has been exceptional, the support that Camping World has given race teams through our Truck Series the last two or three years, actually helping sponsor different trucks at the racetrack, I think is just phenomenal, I think it’s unprecedented. . . they’re a great series sponsor and personally I think we have the best racing series in the nation right now.”
Carrier conceded, “I know I’m a little bit biased but I think we’re top-shelf.”
But the question on everyone’s mind at the moment is whether Charlie Henderson, owner of the Food Country USA chain of grocery stores that often appears on the quarter panels of truck No. 75, will expand Henderson Motorsports to a full-time schedule with Kligerman in 2023 and beyond. Carrier was refreshingly candid in a week dominated by vague Silly Season announcements, saying, “we would love to [go full-time]. . .our owners would love to compete for a championship, Parker I know is chomping at the bit, it would be a lot of fun.”
What stands in the way of the Truck Series’ breakout underdog? An unfortunately common problem for Truck Series independents.
“Right now we’ve got inquiries out, but it’s gonna take funding. . . we’re out there looking, seeing what the possibilities are, trying to get a game plan in place. . .We feel pretty confident that we can get some funding and some help for next year, how much that will be we don’t know. . .We’re just going to see what happens. . . we’re focusing on getting ready for the rest of this season, and the four [remaining] races we’re going to run.”
Were the money to be there, says Carrier, “then there’s just little things, like. . . is the facility big enough. . .[with] enough tools and shop equipment to support this idea. . . do we have pit crew enough to do 22 or 23 races next year? You can’t just snap your fingers and make it happen. . .It’s going to be harder than running 10 or 12 [races], it’s much harder. . . “
If Henderson’s network of partners comes through for 2023, Carrier’s days as the folkloric one-man race team would likely come to an end.
“We can’t do it all out of here with just me and the part-time help I have,” he says. Instead, Henderson Motorsports “would probably try to form a little bit of an alliance with. . .one of the bigger Truck [Series] teams that could help build our chassis, put our bodies on, make all our parts, help us in repairing and so on and so forth, so when week-to-week, race after race comes, we’re not relying on just ourselves.”
So while he might not be Superman, and he’s definitely not the only person involved in bringing the No. 75 Food Country truck to the racetrack, after leading the little Virginia-based team to victory in front of an estimated 627,000 viewers on FS1, Carrier is reflective about the special position he’s found himself in the last several years.
“It’s just been a blessing for me personally, and just kind of a cool deal. It’s hard work, it’s a little more physical work than I’d really like, but you know what? That’s alright.”
Featured image sourced from Parker Kligerman on Twitter