ARCA Point Leader, Penske Racing's Parker Kligerman Pulling out all the Stops; High-Schooler Leads by 5 Points Headed to Kentucky Speedway SPARTA KY (5-1-09) - Most high school seniors are preoccupied with friends, finals, peer pressure and...
ARCA Point Leader, Penske Racing's Parker Kligerman Pulling out all the Stops; High-Schooler Leads by 5 Points Headed to Kentucky Speedway
SPARTA KY (5-1-09) - Most high school seniors are preoccupied with friends, finals, peer pressure and proms. And while Parker Kligerman may have all that on his mind - there's something else brewing on his brain - the thrilling possibility of winning the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series national championship.
And why not? The 18-year-old West Port, Connecticut rookie, after four events, is leading the championship points headed to Kentucky Speedway for the Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 150 Saturday, May 9.
In fact Kligerman, a development driver for Penske Racing, hasn't finished out of the top-10 in six career ARCA RE/MAX Series starts dating back to his debut on the New Jersey Motorsports Park road course in September of 2008 where he finished sixth from outside pole. On the heels of a career-best third at Salem in early April, a fifth at Rockingham and a seventh in the most recent race at Talladega, Kligerman finds himself out front by a mere five markers over red-hot racer/Talladega winner Justin Lofton.
It is the most unlikely situation considering Kligerman's Cunningham Motorsports team was only budgeted for eight races in 2009, spread way out over the entire season. But with Kligerman turning heads faster than a hurricane, Cunningham Motorsports turned up the wick and moved those eight races to the front of the schedule. But what happens after the eight races if the money runs out?
"Don't worry; we're working on it," said Kligerman. "We can't give up. We're trying as hard as we can to find money. The exposure we're getting helps. We've got a couple things on the table; we'll see what happens.
"Honestly, I didn't expect to be racing in the first four races, let alone leading the points.
"But I also know how good this Cunningham Motorsports team is. The equipment is unbelievable, so it was up to me to go out and take hold of it."
And take hold he did.
"It was sort of nice the way it's worked out this season. I had no expectations, but I also knew how fast these Cunningham cars are. All those factors combined, I knew I was in a good place."
Speaking of a good place, Kligerman, along with a couple dozen other drivers, tested at Kentucky Speedway Wednesday in preparation for yet another first - his first real start on an intermediate, down-force track. It did not go well at the start.
"Our car was not handling well in the morning session. We kept throwing adjustments at it in small increments, and it just wasn't working. Nothing was working. My crew chief Chris Carrier and I talked it over and decided we needed to make some drastic changes. On a scale of one to 10 (10 being the most drastic), we went to 10 and a half. We changed everything, and we picked up three-tenths right after lunch. We immediately went faster and faster. We moved truck arms, changed shocks, changed springs. You can almost name it, and we changed it."
Kligerman and the Cunningham crew shaved off nearly a full second from the morning test session to their final run in the late afternoon.
"The car finally felt like it should. With about 10 minutes left, we pumped up the air pressure some and taped it up, and it was real good. With one or two more changes, we're very close to being a spot-on car."
Kligerman shot up to third on the leader board in first Kentucky Speedway appearance, just .015 seconds off Lofton's best time.
"We know that Justin (Lofton) and the whole Eddie Sharp Racing team are going to be very formidable. They have a lot of experience; and we all know how well they run on these intermediate tracks. But, like always, I'll keep an open mind, and like I said, I have no expectations; so I'm not going to put that pressure on myself.
"We still need to discuss set-up for Kentucky, but we'll put it (the car) on the pull-down rig at Penske and get the car right where it needs to be at a place like this (Kentucky)."
If Kligerman were to, somehow, someway, win the championship, he would follow in his teammate's footsteps as an ARCA champion. 2008 series champion Justin Allgaier, currently running fulltime in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, signed on with Penske Racing last summer, about the same time Kligerman put his pen to a Penske contract.
"I usually speak with Michael Nelson (heads up Penske's Cup program) every week after each race and the tests. Occasionally, I speak with Tim Cindric (Penske President). We all share thoughts about the program and how we can improve what we do."
Kligerman also keeps in close contact with his Cunningham Motorsports car owner Kerry Scherer.
"Kerry and I speak once a week at least. And, he comes to all the races. He's very supportive of me; he's helped me so much, and has opened so many doors for me. I know he's worked very hard on my behalf - opened the door for me with Penske Racing. Kerry's been a huge force in my career, and I would not be where I am without his support. I'm very grateful for that."
Kligerman's also getting a big-time taste of how hectic the travel can be.
"The travel's insane. I mean, compared to last year, I expected this year to slow down. We originally had our season spread out over the whole year. Well, obviously, that's changed now. Last year, my principal excused my absences if I kept my grades up. I had my best grades ever last year.
"This quarter's been tough. I think I've been home 36 hours over the last three weeks. Fortunately, spring break was right in there so that helped."
Finals are coming too.
That ain't all that's coming - so is senior prom, which falls on the same day as the Pocono ARCA 200 on June 6th. Kligerman claims he won't be missing either event; but that's another story down the road. NOTE: The last Penske Racing development driver to win an ARCA RE/MAX Series races at Kentucky Speedway was Ryan Newman.
Practice for the Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 150 will be Saturday, May 9th from 12 noon to 2:00 PM ET followed by Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell at 4:00 PM. The Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 150 will follow at 8:00 PM.
Tickets are on sale now and can be reserved online through the track's official Web site, www.kentuckyspeedway.com, by phone at 888-652-RACE (7223) or by visiting the Kentucky Speedway ticket offices at 400 Buttermilk Pike, Suite 100, in Ft. Mitchell, KY.