Inside the Helmet of Justin Allgaier

Justin Allgaier, driver of the No. 31 Brandt Chevrolet in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, is in his third full time season in NASCAR, but he's been a racer since the age of 5. When most kids were still finger painting, Justin was learning the skills of handling a quarter midget roadster. By the age of 12, Allgaier had already collected more than 100 wins and five championships.

Justin progressed up the racing ladder and at the age of 14 was the youngest driver to compete in the A main race at the famous Chili Bowl. At 16, Justin moved into the ARCA Re/Max Series for a few races in a car owned by NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader.

Finally in 2005, Justin made it into NASCAR, competing in the Camping World Truck Series driving for Mike Mittler. He made four starts that year with his best finish being a 26th at Milwaukee.

Justin returned to ARCA, racing there full-time in 2006 and 2007. It was 2008 that saw his breakthrough moment: Allgaier won the ARCA series championship after six wins, 14 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. Through his ARCA racing he cemented a relationship with Roger Penske, who signed him to Penske Racing's developmental division. After a few races in 2008 with Penske, Roger tapped Justin as the driver for his No. 12 Verizon Dodge. And the rest in history ...

I had the opportunity to speak with Justin this week and ask him some questions about his move to Turner Motorsports and some other basics that might be on your mind. Enjoy learning about "Little Gator!"

Justin Allgaier in the seat of his Brandt Chevrolet for Turner Motorsports.
Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
AE (Amanda Ebersole): You’ve just had a big transition with your move to Turner Motorsports. How has the transition been?
JA (Justin Allgaier): The one thing that I really love about everyone over at Turner Motorsports is that they are very family-oriented. We all work very well together. I think that is one of the advantages of being a smaller, or more of an independent team is that you have the ability for everybody to be closer and everybody to be on the same page. That being said, Steve Turner, everyone they are great folks. For me, it's been as easy as can be expected. Now obviously any time you switch teams you also switch crew chief, crew and going through that little bit of a transition was tough. It's never easy to switch teams, but these guys go a great job and are hard workers. The one thing I love about it is that we are going out there to win races and no one is giving up on anything. It makes it all good.

AE: Your working with a veteran crew chief in Jimmy Elledge, who has a vast knowledge with many different drivers; is that something that you have had to adapt to?  “Mesh your two styles”?
JA: The one thing that is cool for me is that Jimmy does have a lot of experience. With that experience with different drivers there is different terminology, and that is one reason why he and I have been able to work really well together. He knows what I am trying to say and is smart enough to make the changes. I got very lucky in the fact that our relationship is … well he is a great person, and I love being around him. It's been great and I couldn’t ask for anything better! That’s why its been easy to run well, when you have a good relationship with your crew chief it feels a lot easier.

Justin with teammates Reed Sorenson and Jason Leffler
AE: With the move to Turner, your are expanding to a bigger team. Last year you worked with one teammate, this year you have three other Nationwide teammates plus Camping World Truck Series drivers in the Turner Motorsports stable. Do you all work together and share information?
JA: One of the things I think that was really cool at Penske was there was the Cup side and the Nationwide side. What's crazy is that this year, we are better at transferring information with our seven teams (four Nationwide and three Trucks) probably better than I was able to do last year. The processes work really well here; people seem to all work really well and as a driver that's been the part that has been huge for me. We all get along on and off the race track. I have great teammates and there is not one of them that I don’t enjoy hanging out with and racing against. When you are dropped in that kind of a situation, when you have seven guys (even more when the Cup guys come over), it's been a lot of fun. Having that ability to go to any of those guys, or go the crew chiefs and share communication has been huge. I am excited about it. Having those teammates that you can lean on and figure out what you need to get better.

AE: Is there one person in particular you have leaned on in the learning process? Or maybe somebody that leans on you for advice?
JA: I would say Jason Leffler and I are probably the two closest; the reason I say that is we have a very similar driving style. It seems like when we are around racing together we end up going the same direction whereas Reed (Sorenson) and I get along really well and there are race tracks where we go the same direction but at others they do things differently. Jason has been the closest one on the Nationwide side. James Buescher and I are really good friends and I enjoy trying to learn from him. Running the Truck Series he is very competitive and when he comes over to the Nationwide cars he is competitive as well. I think anytime you are trying to learn, especially in his and my situation, where we haven’t been around the series for a long time, we try to learn and help each other out. It works really well. Everybody, we are all really close and that is what helps.

AE: This can be a touchy topic, how do you feel about Sprint Cup drivers competing in the Nationwide Series?
JA: Basically for me, I have always been a firm believer that you are only as good as who you are racing with. I enjoy the Cup guys coming down. Does it aggravate me to no end that we can’t beat them, ABSOLUTELY it does. I wish there was something else that we could do differently to not have that same situation.

AE: That shocks me, the fans are berating NASCAR for allowing this to go on. The drivers that I asked this question to prior all have said the same thing.
JA: Here is one thing I always kind of wished they would do. I am perfectly OK with the Cup guys coming in and racing but what I think they should do is let someone else, if they want to race, the team has to put someone else in the car for practice and qualifying. What that would do with a young guy like myself that’s trying to learn, they go out there and make the practice laps and qualify and get the car set up to where it needs to be at. If the Cup guy wants to come in and race, then come in and drive the car that way he is not getting any extra track time than we are. He is not getting any unfair advantages and it would make it a little more fun. The fans can still see the Cup guys because obviously fans have their favorites and if the Cup guys aren’t there in the race we probably would lose some viewership. As a driver it's hard, we go to the race track and a lot of times we’re practicing, than the Cup guys go practice. When we go to qualify it may have been 4 or 5 hours, maybe even the next morning before we get on the track. Most of the time if we qualify on the day of our race, Cup has already had a practice, they have already been on the track and know the track conditions. Not only do they have an advantage because they are Cup drivers but because they are getting more track time every week. That’s the reason I have the theory that I do, I just have the feeling that I don’t have the horsepower to pull that off myself.

AE: Do you feel that their participation is taking a win away from the Nationwide regulars? I know they are ineligible for points now, but the Cup drivers have won every race so far this season.
JA: It's frustrating, I am not going to lie! We go out there every week and beat our brains in trying to figure out how to beat those guys; at the same time though, I think the new points system has a lot of merit to it. This is going to be good for the sport long-term and I think the longer they can’t run for a championship … you see a lot of these guys that signed up to do the whole year had already declared before the ruling was made. When you have sponsorships it's hard to go back on that, so I think next year you will see less and less Cup guys running with us or maybe more sporadically. For me, we are all racers - if I could race eight day a week I’d do it. That’s just the person I am, who I am and that’s how these Cup drivers are. They are not doing it to do anything else other than to go out, have a good time, obviously make money while they are doing it which everyone wants to make more money. I think it's good for the sport because the fans dictate whether we race or don’t, if they want to watch the Cup guys that’s perfectly OK. I am OK with that as long as I can have good finishes and hopefully beat them a time or two. That makes it worth it.

AE: Do you have a favorite track, if not track maybe a style of track that you prefer?
JA: I would probably say that I am more of a short track racer and what's funny about that is I actually run better on the mile-and-a-half tracks. I feel more comfortable at the short tracks, places like Bristol and the high banking like Darlington is a fun race track for me. I like Richmond, I guess I just like the short tracks but tend to run better on the 1.5-mile tracks. I guess my mind and my body don’t have the same agreeance on what I actually like. I will tell you right now, ask any driver what their favorite race track is and if they have had a good run there, that’s their favorite. It doesn’t matter if they hated it their entire life, one good run and they are going to like it.

AE: On the opposite end, is there a track that you feel you need to work at?
JA: I am no road course ace. I absolutely love running the road courses and have a blast doing it but I have no idea what I am doing, I am horrible at it. The good part is, I accept that and am OK with that. I think as long as you get a finish and can make it all the way to the end with all four fenders still on it, you are going to have a good finish. Hopefully that will be the case this year.

AE: Has the no testing policy affected you getting the opportunity to better yourself at those tracks you struggle?
JA: Absolutely, I know it's expensive to test and that it's expensive to do all the things that we do but truth be told, I feel that we spend more money trying to find places that we can test. The other part was, starting at Penske when they brought Ryan Newman along that was their big deal, they took Ryan testing almost 2 to 1 to what they would race. It works, there is nothing like testing at the tracks where you are going to race at. It's frustrating to not be able to go test. There are some really great tracks we can test at, but it's still frustrating. I wish that was one rule that they would lift.

AE: Does Turner Motorsports participate in testing at the allowed tracks?
JA: Yeah we are definitely testing and trying to learn. The good thing is that we have four teams so if one team goes to test, we all are given that information. It's like having four test cars all at the same time. At the same time, they have to know what they are looking at, if they can use it or not and how it correlates to the race tracks.

AE: Social media has played a big part in NASCAR. Do you feel that it is a good tool to reach out to your fans who are at home, unable to make it out to support you each week?
JA: Yeah, I definitely think that social media has been something that has caught on like wildfire. I think the reason that so many of us have Twitter, Facebook and all this stuff is because it is good to connect with the fans. Like I said earlier, if the fans aren’t in the grandstands we have no one to race for. In that regard it has been great. Unfortunately I am not, well I have it all on my phone but I just don’t tend to do it all as often as I should. I haven’t used it to the best of my ability but I do enjoy it. Some of the information that you get off of there is huge, I think it’s a good tool.

AE: I know you (Twitter @J_Allgaier) and your wife Ashley (Twitter @ashleyallgaier) both use Twitter and Facebook. Have there been any drawbacks to being so public with your life?
JA: There is always drawbacks to having everything in the public, but at the same time my wife is really smart at what she can and can’t Tweet or share on Facebook. One of the things I like about it is right now we are building a house, it was really cool to see so many people who left comments and are really happy for us. I think that’s the kind of thing that’s cool, when fans want to cheer for you they want to know about you so if I can put something on there that gives them an inside look at who I am and what I do than it's worth it. Out of all the time I have had Facebook and Twitter I only know of one negative. Someone left my wife a note and it turned out being this whole drawn out thing, kind of being a negative to the whole thing. You can’t let that bring you down, you got to keep pushing through it and I am definitely glad that we both Tweet and use Facebook.

AE: You and Ashley seem to have such a strong relationship. How long have you been married now?
JA: We were married five years in March but we have been together quite a while. We have an awesome relationship ... I love my wife to death! I have said this before, but she is probably the only reason I am still racing. There were times when I was trying to get to this point that I was ready to give up, ready to quit but she has been the one behind me pushing me. The saying that behind every man is a great women is more true than it ever has been. I have that great woman and I am glad that she has stuck by me.

AE: Since you considered it, if you were not racing, what would you want to do with your life?
JA: I have definitely thought about it, I almost got to that point at one time in my career. I would say probably more than anything, something in the racing industry. I love this sport and I love everything about it. If I were to guess what I would be doing, probably something in the graphic design department whether to do with car graphics or even with sponsorship activation. I really enjoy graphic design so that would be an area I would be interested in working.
Justin designed this paint scheme/decals for Joey Coulter's
ARCA series car. Credit:

AE: Do you have a graphic design background?
JA: Actually, when I was about 12 years old my dad didn’t want to pay to have decals made anymore, he thought they were too expensive for what you got. He bought a machine and from the time I was 12 until the time I stopped racing for my dad, I made all my own decals for my cars. It was always fun.

AE: My last question … the long awaited one … who dubbed you Little Gator?
JA: My dad’s nickname has always been Gator, from the time I can remember. How he got that was when he was born they told my grandfather, "Mr. Alligator you can come see your son now." So my dad became Gator and over the years just going to the race track and being around my dad ... I don’t remember who it was though. He said, “This has to be the 'Lil Gator' you always talk about” and that was it, it stuck. I actually thought that it was gone, and I don’t mind it ... until someone from Verizon heard it and started using it. I don’t think I will ever get rid of it now!


Amanda takes NASCAR seriously and is willing to pass up other activities to watch the boys have at it. NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two main focuses with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also frequently writes the post-race recaps for Skirts and Scuffs. Feel free to contact Amanda via Twitter.
Inside the Helmet of Justin Allgaier Inside the Helmet of Justin Allgaier Reviewed by Unknown on Saturday, May 14, 2011 Rating: 5