Cole Whitt: A rookie only by name

Cole Whitt prepares for qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway
Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
Currently sitting in second in points in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is Cole Whitt, a rookie, but don’t let the term rookie fool you - Cole is not inexperienced in racing by any means.

Cole first became a competitive racer at the age of 5. While most kids are learning to tie their shoes, Cole was already developing his passion for racing. After a few years and seeing his cousin drive a kart, that was the next step in his racing path.

Karting was a natural fit for a young Whitt; he excelled quickly and won often. Included in his list are: eight-time International Karting Federation Grand National champion and also two-time World Karting Association Grand National champion.

In 2004 Whitt progressed onto junior winged sprint cars which then turn into full midgets and then 410 sprint cars. During 2004 Whitt caught the eye of Red Bull during a competition to become the next Red Bull driver. Whitt advanced to the semifinals and has been with team Red Bull ever since.

Since then Cole has competed in Hoosier Sprint Cars and also the USAC series, all with the goal of making it to stock cars.

This is Whitt’s first year in NASCAR and he is already making a name for himself.
Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

Amanda Ebersole (AE): You have been racing since you were very young. What drew you to it?
Cole Whitt (CW): I think most of it was from growing up in the family. My grandpa raced stock cars, my dad raced stock cars and my cousin raced so it has always been in the family a little bit. It’s not like everyone was involved in it; my dad’s side of the family did some racing and it always interested me. I guess you can say it’s in my blood, it’s something I always wanted to do. It just seemed like once I tried racing, it felt natural and that was something for me to do.

AE: It was a natural fit once you tried it?

CW: It seemed like it. I was not winning races right away but I seemed to take a quick learning to it and with my dad teaching me along the way it just seemed to work out.

AE: You mentioned that your dad (Tobin) and grandfather (Jim) raced stock cars …
Grandfather Jim Whitt made five starts in the Winston Cup series during 1972-1973.
CW: My dad raced late models around California. My grandpa raced back in the day where almost anyone could own their own full blown stock car/NASCAR/Cup car and go race in NASCAR so he traveled and did different races with his own equipment.

AE: How difficult was it truing to pursue the racing dreams you had but maintain normalcy as a teenager? I am sure you had to miss out on the normal things that teens do like school dances, parties, etc.
CW: I definitely missed out on some of the childhood experiences but that comes with the lifestyle. I don’t feel like I was cheated out of anything, I chose this lifestyle and I love it. I will do it until the day I can’t do it anymore. My mom made sure that I had a normal childhood; she wanted me to stay in school as much as possible. She put me in a charter school through high school, I went to a regular school all the way through elementary school while I was racing go karts. When I started traveling to Indiana, I couldn’t really be in California (Cole is from Alpine, California) as much so I started doing a charter school. I had to go to school just three days a week and then I could take off and race during the weekend. It was still like a regular high school; I did that for a good three years. My last year to year and a half I did full-fledged home schooling because I was so busy on the road. Without my mom I could not have done regular schooling, it was tough. You miss out on a few things, but at the same time my family made sure I had a regular childhood too.

AE: Did the other kids accept the fact that you had your career in motion already at that point?
CW: Yeah, I had some really good friends and I still do, they are friends that I will be friends with for the rest of my life. My friends Kyle and Colton are my two best friends and they still live in California, I talk to them about every other week. I am really close with their parents; it’s just one of those relationships where the whole family gets along and everyone is really close. They understand what I am doing and are proud of me, they follow me and are really supportive of what I do.

AE: So the fame and fast-paced lifestyle have not changed you, you have your roots and know where your heart belongs?
CW: Yeah, my parents raised me well. I try to keep a level head with what I do. It’s as simple as having great parenting. They definitely did it right - I don’t know what they did, but they did it right.
during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 400 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Whitt Family: Kim, Cole and Tobin
Credit: Getty Images

(To Tobin and Kim Whitt if you have the chance to read this: Kudos to you for raising a son who respects the way you have raised him! )

AE: Now onto the racing!  This is your rookie season ... hard to believe because you are second in points and lead the standings for a bit. Holy cow! Did you expect to come out of the gate so strong?
CW: I guess you can say we didn’t expect this, but at the same time did we think this was impossible, no, because we wouldn’t race if we didn’t think we could win and contend for a championship. It’s a pleasant surprise to be running as good as we are. We are doing everything we can to stay up there and keep running as good as we have been. It’s been tough but it has also been a great learning curve. I learned more in the first couple races than I have in my whole NASCAR career so far, it’s just been a great learning curve so far. Hopefully the more I learn as the season goes on, the easier it will become. Only time will tell.
cole pole
Cole earned his first career pole at Darlington and finished 8th
Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR

AE: Jumping into NASCAR, who has been your mentor that has guided you through the process?
CW: Stacey Compton, my team owner, has been a good mentor and a good person to go to. Whenever I have a question he is easy to go to and he has my best interest because it’s his trucks. He has been there and can really help out a lot, even with things off the track like media and fans. He knows how to do it the right way.

AE: Perfect segway into my question. What is it like driving for a NASCAR veteran like Stacy Compton, who has experience behind the wheel?
CW: Me and Stacy have developed a pretty good relationship with each other and are good friends. We go fishing together and just hang out, like giving each other a hard time but we are in this to win races. It's really nice to have someone I can go to and talk to. That makes it a lot easier.

AE: What has been your greatest challenge so far, taking into account this is your first season and everything is new to you?
CW: I think more than anything, learning new tracks each week. When we go to a track it’s something different and I have to pick it up. Other teams know how the races will unfold (meaning tire wear, track surface, temperature, etc.) and I am going in fresh. I have to try and keep up. That’s been the biggest difficulty: the veterans know how, what kind of strategy to be on to be there at the end of the race and I am still trying to figure that out.

AE: Are there any tracks that you have previously competed on in the other series you raced?
CW: This year I will go back to around three or four tracks out of the 25 races we go to. I had been at Phoenix, Dover, Martinsville and New Hampshire.

AE: You have been with Red Bull for years now. What is it like working under the same banner of drivers like Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne?
CW: They are a great company, the way they run everything is really special and unique. Everyone thinks of Red Bull as the top competitor in energy drinks and I think they expect their race team to be the same way. They want top notch and for people to be winning races. It's cool to have a company that strives to be that much bettersthan everyone else. It makes you want to be better for them. Obviously Red Bull is a great team and I look forward to hopefully being able to work with them on the Cup side and race for them there. That is stuff that is all up in the air. It’s been great so far and I really can’t thank them enough, I wouldn’t be here without them. I have to thank them with everything that I got.

AE: Typically you hear of a lot of the Red Bull athletes being involved in extreme sports, the latest was Brian Vickers skydiving into Daytona. Is that something that you participate in, the extreme sports craze?
CW: Yes and no, I enjoy it but racing is my lifestyle and that is all I do, racing and motorsports. I enjoy all the other sports but skydiving isn’t necessarily something I really want to go do. I would do it but it is not something that I am going to take time out of my day to make sure I do. At this point in my life I really just focus on racing, that is 100 percent of my life. (AE: Your feet are fine on the ground then?) Yeah I try to keep them on the ground.

AE: You made one start in the Nationwide Series, driving the No. 99 at Charlotte. Are there more Nationwide races in your future?
CW: No, that came together at the last minute and we just want to keep things open to do more things in the future. It doesn’t seem like it now, I haven’t heard anything, but maybe towards the end of the year. If I can go out there and race hard with my truck, hopefully things will take care of themselves.

AE: So, with that all said, since Kasey Kahne’s seat is opening up for the 2012 season, if offered would you make the move to Cup?
CW: I would, how could you pass up an offer like that? At the same time, I would have to talk with Red Bull and make them understand the logistics and what we will accomplish. I wouldn’t expect to go out and win races right away but they didn’t expect us to do that this year and we are right there competing for a championship. But yes, if I was offered it, I would not even think twice.

AE: I always like to ask drivers, what is your favorite track or maybe style of track? I guess for you this is a good question since you are starting fresh.
CW: I really like Dover a lot or any track that resembles Dover. Fast, high banking, anywhere where you can drive hard in and the track can hold the car fit my driving style. Dover is just a track I really like going to.

AE: So with enjoying the high-banking tracks, is Daytona included?
CW: Well, Daytona is so wide open where it is a bit easier to drive. Kind of high-banked but still smaller, like Dover is only a mile and it’s fast but at the same time you got to lift and make sure you hit your lines right. I guess you have to have that balance of a fast track, but still small enough to be on top of what you are doing.

AE: On the flip side, what track has presented you with the most challenge? Or since you are new, which do you worry about heading to?
CW: So far I think the reason that we have been where we are in points is because we have been good at every track we have gone to. I think the biggest one that we need to work on so far is the mile-and-a-halves that don’t have a ton of banking; places like Kentucky are where we might need to dig hard and work at. I am not really looking forward to New Hampshire, just the flatter tracks that are bigger are what we struggle at. We struggled at Nashville and Kansas but those are ones we can work at to get better.

AE: For the NCWTS the schedule is sporadic, unlike the Cup and Nationwide that race every weekend. During this time, does the team test or just prepare for the upcoming races?
CW: We have tested before but at this point in the season, you get running and you don’t have the equipment to test. A lot of our trucks need to be re-built right now so this is our time to regroup, bring the team back together and get our trucks back to how we started this season. The month off makes it tough; you get in that rhythm of going to the racetrack and doing the same thing every weekend. Having this time off, you dwell on the last race and sometimes that is great, sometimes that is bad. It’s teaching me how to handle myself.

AE: A month just seems like a long time …
CW: It is, but we spend a lot of time at the shop making sure our trucks are right. I wish we could go and knock out all the races in a row. It is what it is, I guess.
Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
AE: So spending time at the shop, what does that entail?
CW: I do a lot of work on the truck, nothing crazy. I am not the best mechanic in the world but I can help them do odds and ends. I’ll do the jobs that are quick and help the team build the trucks faster.

A special thank you to Cole Whitt for his time and to Ashley Wise, his PR rep for granting this interview.

NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two weekly columns with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also strives to provide exclusive interviews for the readers of Skirts and Scuffs. To read her past columns and interviews click here. Feel free to contact Amanda via Twitter. 
Cole Whitt: A rookie only by name Cole Whitt: A rookie only by name Reviewed by Unknown on Friday, June 17, 2011 Rating: 5