It’s going to be a big NASCAR weekend. Not only will the Xfinity Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head home to Charlotte, but they’re also competing on the Roval. For the second time, drivers will attack the 17-turn, oval/road course hybrid.
Just like last year, the Cup Series has the Roval as a Playoff cutoff race in the Round of 16. Last year, our highest expectations were exceeded when leaders Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. spun in the last turn, prompting Ryan Blaney to sneak through and be the first winner. Kyle Larson, who was driving a completely destroyed car that wouldn’t turn, didn’t give up and slammed the wall multiple times on the final lap to pass a stalled Jeffrey Earnhardt and win a three-way tiebreaker to advance.
The unpredictable nature of the Roval, combined with the classic finish, resulted in a 10-percent rise in ratings last year (compared to the Charlotte oval) for NBC, in a season where lower ratings were the norm compared to the previous season. It’s tough to say if this year’s race will match what happened last season, but it’s still a race that many fans and drivers look forward to.
One person who is definitely looking forward to racing the Roval is NBC’s Parker Kligerman. Driving part-time for Gaunt Brothers Racing, Kligerman also covers a variety of roles for NBC Sports’ NASCAR coverage. Kligerman’s a pit reporter, an on-track analyst, a studio analyst, the YouTube host of In the Wall with Parker Kligerman, and a host for the NBCSN show Proving Grounds.
Kligerman talked to Awful Announcing about a variety of topics, including balancing broadcasting and driving on the same weekend, the idea of an all-NBC driver lineup at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, racing the Roval, how great it would be to have an IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader, and his post-Las Vegas interview with Kyle Busch. Yes, that interview where Busch talked about drivers who haven’t won Late Model races racing in the Cup Series.
You can catch Parker Kligerman this weekend on NBCSN’s Xfinity Series broadcast Saturday, September 28 at 3:30 PM ET, and then watch him drive the #96 Toyota in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Sunday, September 29 at 2:30 PM ET on NBC.
Phillip Bupp: Since you’re racing this weekend, does that mean you have NBC’s iRacing simulator on reserve all week?
Parker Kligerman: [Laughter] I’ve got my own, so I did do a bit of iRacing [Tuesday] night and we’ll do a bunch [Wednesday night]. Then I head down to Charlotte [Thursday]. We got to do NASCAR America from the Charlotte studio [Thursday] evening and then we’re on track Friday. I also get some time in the Toyota sim, which is a manufacturer simulator down in Charlotte, as well. So there’s a lot that we do these days to try to prepare, be the most prepared we can be. But iRacing is definitely one of my go-tos because I love it. I saw William Byron was on racing a bunch. And so even if it’s somewhere that you’ve been a million times, the fact that you just go race and start making racing decisions is so big.
PB: Now you’re pulling double duty this weekend doing TV and racing the Roval. What changes will you make with your TV prep compared to a typical race weekend, and how much more difficult is it to have to balance both in the same weekend?
Kligerman: Yeah, it’s incredibly difficult because it’s just a lot more work, it’s a lot more stuff to think about. The nice thing is, when I’m racing my TV role changes a little bit. This week will be where I’m doing sort of the trackside stuff in the Xfinity race. So instead of being a traditional pit reporter, I’ll be more of the on-track analyst sort of deal where I’ll go off to a corner or chicane and point out what are the drivers struggling with, what have I learned driving there? If the guys are trying to make a pass in a certain corner, why is or is not working? Why are they hopping the curb so much in this corner? That sort of thing.
So it’s more of that cool, at the trackside, driver’s eye, here’s what’s going on view. I don’t know, I find it a lot easier than doing the normal pit reporting, which involves me talking to numerous teams in a short span of time or leading up to the week, I’ll do that anyway. But it’s not a specific group of cars I’m following and having to track and that sort of thing.
PB: When you’re doing both on the same weekend, are you able to pick up some tips off of interviewing other people when you’re doing your NBC job, or are they close to the vest and not telling you anything because you’re racing against them?
Kligerman: Well, I haven’t really done Cup. Like, if I’m racing in Cup, I don’t do any TV for Cup except for I’ll do Victory Lap after the race. That’s our postrace show where we have the call-ins. So normally [for] this weekend I’ll just do Xfinity at-track stuff and then Victory Lap after the Cup race. So I haven’t run into that yet.
I always do make the joke that at some point doing this that I’ll have a run-in with someone that I’m going to have to interview the next week. And sure enough, it did happen this year where Daniel Suárez spun me out at Watkins Glen. And then the next week I had to run up and interview him. And it was probably awkward for both of us [laughter]. Everyone understands the position and understands what I’m doing, and are pretty gracious with it.
And then on the Xfinity side, I always think it’s almost more of a fun interview because I can relate directly to what they’re going through, and sometimes we get really in-depth driver-to-driver talk, as we like to say. And I think it’s kind of cooler things for the viewers to see.
PB: Now you mentioned about how NBC has you trackside this weekend. How accommodating are they when guys like you, Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., AJ [Allmendinger], Townsend Bell, and others get an opportunity to race instead of working on the NBC broadcast?
Kligerman: Man, they’re incredible. I can’t believe how open they are to letting us do it. And how awesome… I feel like sometimes I’m pushing the envelope with races and they say, ‘No, no, it’s cool, we love it.’ So it’s a really cool deal. And it takes everyone, though. It’s not only the higher-ups giving us the opening. It’s all our teammates from the booth to all the pit road reporters, that everyone has to pick up the slack a little bit. So it’s very cool that everyone’s… and everyone in the trucks and all the production people, you know? Everyone has to almost work a little bit harder to let us do that. So it’s really cool that everyone’s very gracious, and allows us to do it and gets behind it.
And my big thing is just at the end of the day, all I try to do is when I do have that opportunity, I try to take something from it to bring back the broadcast. If I feel like I bring one to five things that weren’t going to happen if I wasn’t in that car, then we succeeded in doing something a little different and it pays off for everyone. So personally and selfishly a little bit, and I bet Townsend can talk about this and AJ, as well, being so linked up with the TV broadcast is excellent on the sponsorship front.
Sponsors, they like to know that you’re that guy that has that visibility and that microphone, essentially. So I think it works in both directions and I’m just very lucky to be in position I am to have the chance to do both, especially on the same weekend. I will say, as I said before, it’s tiring. But I always tell people, if you want to do all these things, you just got to work a little harder than anyone else.
PB: Have any of you suggested doing an all-NBC driver lineup for the Rolex 24 at Daytona? It might be a fun idea.
Kligerman: Oh man, that would be cool. I’ve always wanted to do that race. I’ve been trying to get AJ to hook me up with some contacts to get into the race, to get people to take me seriously. I know Steve Letarte actually laughs about that, saying we were mentioning something like that the other day as a kind of a joke, and he would be the race caller and that sort of thing. So you never know. That could be a funny one. The only problem is [NBC] would lose all their talent.
Kligerman: I think that would be a tough one [laughter]. If we’re all racing, they would have no one to broadcast, so they’d have to pull in all their team. So I don’t know. We’ll have to figure that one out. Unless we’d all be pulling double duty at once.
PB: Now going back to a couple of weeks ago, you were in the, whatever adjective you want to insert, task of interviewing Kyle Busch after Vegas. We know what Kyle said and how he felt, but for you as the interviewer, what was going through your head as Kyle was airing his grievances after the race?
Kligerman: So, very funny. I think because maybe I don’t come from a TV background or a media background or a journalist background, I see people and, a lot of times, reporters, and I see media types that take a lot of maybe their interviewee’s comments personally. And I always am on the side of like, look, I’m a vehicle, I’m holding a microphone. Whatever that person wants to say or get across, I’m just a vehicle for them to say it to the world. So I never take any of that personally. And I thought actually Kyle was very open and a lot of times you see him when he’s in that position, he might have a snarky comment and would clam up and not want to speak.
But I thought he was very open and I thought the second comment [about relying on insurance] was hilarious and very witty, and I took no offense to it. So I saw that as that’s just his personality and I think Steve Letarte said it best in terms of the facts of saying, look, that’s Kyle and don’t change. Because it might come across as brash and that sort of thing, but the guy just hates losing so much and hates not winning so much that you’re going to get that kind of response. So I thought it was cool and in terms of what was going through my head. I think, in those situations, not much because it’s such a high-paced, intense situation where you just kind of go more off instinct that if you were immediately to ask me right after, ‘What did I ask him?’ I kind of wouldn’t even remember probably [laughter].
I don’t know. I think I said something along the lines of this, but that’s just because I think in those situations you just have to go off instinct because you’ve got to use what you know about the sport, what you know about his situation, him, that person, all at once and in a split second come up with that ideal question that’ll also get them to give a response that the viewers want to hear.
So yeah, but back to my other thing, I don’t take it personally, though. I saw a lot of comments like it was disrespectful to the TV person or whatever, not say it directly. And I was like, I just don’t see it that way. So-
PB: I mean, you have to be the impartial media person, as well.
PB: So, I was going to ask this next, where you might have been the perfect person to talk to him because you race, but you’re also driving for an underfunded team who, at a race like Vegas, you’re probably in the situation where you’re trying to not ruin other people’s day.
PB: So if anyone would be able to understand what Kyle is going through as a title contender or what Garrett Smithley was going through, you probably would have been the one that would better understand that.
Kligerman: Yeah. I don’t disagree, and that’s why when I said ‘rely on instinct,’ that’s what I mean. I rely on all my time spent in the sport and the things, the experiences I’ve had. I’ve driven for Kyle. I know Kyle really well. So, I feel like I know what he’s going to want to hear, at least to open up a little bit. So I think that’s what I mean by saying, ‘I don’t plan any of that stuff out.’ It’s just you have to do it off instinct because of all [the questions asked] that was the correct one. But I think there’s others that could have seen that situation and had the same question.
So, at the end of the day, that’s a unique situation that happened to him where we see that go down the way it did. But yeah, I think back to the side of his response. I don’t want to say like… how am I trying to say this? What am I trying to say? I don’t want to say that because I was there, that’s why he gave the response he did.
But I absolutely agree that maybe the way the question is formulated or whatever would be off of what my experiences are.
PB: Yeah. He wasn’t really bouncing it off of you personally, but-
PB: You might’ve, considering the situation, asking the questions that maybe someone else might not be asking.
Kligerman: Exactly. Yep.
PB: And I talked to Kyle Busch, and the times I’ve interviewed him, he’s been great to me and all of that and provided lots of time.
PB: I can disagree with what he’s saying, but I could appreciate him saying it and having it out there and having a discussion.
Kligerman: Exactly, yeah. He’s a character, so there was no way to put it. I just always go back to the thing, you just got to respect his will to win.
Kligerman: The guy just, he hates losing probably more than he wants to win. It’s just incredible. So that’s what makes him an incredible competitor.
PB: Now back to the Roval. Even though it’s the second year of the Roval race, drivers have either raced in it or they’ve watched the first race. So it’s not a complete mystery or something new [this year]. Even though you didn’t compete in last year’s race, were you able to pick up some things that will help you this race?
Kligerman: Yeah, I think so. It was such a unique weekend. We have a weekend like that where something is so new and so different, you can’t help but kind of almost turn on a little bit of driver mode in terms of, we have the ability to look at the data from the cars, from every car basically in the field from a data source called SMT Data. It’s available to all the teams and drivers.
And so as a driver, I just couldn’t help but go home on the Friday night after practice and want to look at the data and be like, ‘Alright, what are these guys doing around here?’ Almost as if I was racing. And the normal thing I would do each night, and what I’ll do this weekend, is whenever you get done on Friday, I’ll go back to the hotel and I’ll watch five, six, 10 different drivers compared to my lap, and compare and take notes and see what I could do better and that sort of thing.
And I was doing that as an observer [last year]. I think that’s just something that I wanted to do because it was so unique and so interesting. And so there’s definitely things I picked up, definitely things I just noticed about what they’re doing in certain corners, braking wise, what speed they’re rolling through. At the time last year it was what gearing are they using? That sort of thing. So I definitely think there’s stuff that just because it was such a new weekend I picked up on.
PB: Now given this is a road course race, you’re going to have a better opportunity at having a more competitive car for the Roval. You’re going to be racing drivers who are going to be racing for a championship. It’s a [Playoff] cutoff race. How important is it for you as a part-timer to still race with these people, but knowing that you don’t want to do anything that would hurt their chances of a championship?
Kligerman: Yeah, that’s a good question. Indy was interesting for me in that respect in terms of, I have at times raced around the #41 car. And I’ve told people a lot for Gaunt Brothers Racing and Toyota and everyone that supports that race team, it’s only fair that when I get in that race car, there’s no TV side to me. It’s race car driver, partner, and I don’t see numbers and names on those cars. They all look the same. Because I have to. I’ve got to race everyone in the same way, and I got to race them just as hard as I’d race anyone because the finishes for that race team mean so much.
So I thought about it a lot during this weekend and I think Indy was a good test of that with the cutoff and all that happening. Racing around the #41 car. Being able to race them really hard, but just be at least cognizant of the fact that, ‘Hey, this is someone racing for something really big.’
So I think when I look back at Watkins Glen, I was racing Ryan Newman tooth and nail for 25th place in the last 20 laps, trying like hell to get by him. And we almost came together two or three times, and afterwards his team said, ‘Thanks for not taking us out.’ ‘Hard race.’ And I knew he was racing for a Playoff spot at the time, but I raced him as hard as I’d raced anyone. We almost came together but we never did, and we both got away with it.
So I think it’s there, it sits in the back of your mind. Now, if it was not Playoff stuff or Playoffs, absolutely, I wouldn’t even think about it. Like, I just wouldn’t even pay attention. But you have to almost be a little bit cognizant for anyone that’s not the in the Playoffs because you just don’t want to be that guy that affects it completely and completely affects the championship outcome. So you want to race them hard, you want to race them equally, but you’re not going to do anything really stupid because you don’t want to be that guy. That’s the way I look at it, at least.
PB: Now there’s some news about Josef Newgarden taking an IndyCar around the Roval and some preliminary discussion about an IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader. What’s your feelings about that, especially considering NBC would get to broadcast both races?
Kligerman: Yeah, I think it’d be awesome. I think motorsports as a whole right now, whether it’s Formula One, NASCAR, IndyCar, you name it. We have got to consistently think outside the box. And I think as a sport, you’re starting to see that. And I think over the next three to four years with almost every series in the world right now have a new car coming out in 2021 or 2022, new engine formulas, I think the entire sport is changing. You have financial models that are changing in Formula One, they’re most likely going to change in NASCAR. There’s so much that is changing right now that fit and then so many things that are positive, that I look at things like that to say, ‘Yes.’
It used to be such an odd deal where you exclusively had to be a NASCAR fan or an IndyCar fan. And I don’t think that exists as much. I think if you’re a motorsports fan, with the way you can consume content, how much is out there, things like a doubleheader between IndyCar and NASCAR would be awesome. So if this is the place to make it happen, great. If it’s not the place, so be it. But the one thing I will say is, I kind of just did a deal on my YouTube show about how the fact that people ask, ‘Can we race there?’ I’ve always had a theory, if you put a start/finish line anywhere and you have a set of race cars, we’ll race it. So I never liked the theory or the question, ‘Can we race there?’ The answer is always, ‘Yes, absolutely you can.’
And I think the Roval was so cool for this sport because it was the first time, I think, in the last 20 years I’ve seen something super innovative, super out-of-the-box and almost on a limb, to go on a limb to do something different. That’s the sort of mantra and thought process the sport needs to continue to use for the next decade.
PB: That’s exactly what I was thinking about the Roval last year. I’ll never say I’m bored about the sport, but you do kind of get in a rhythm and get in a routine, and the Roval coming in, I hadn’t felt like that since the first Brickyard 400. Just in terms of something new and something unique and interesting to really… It’s something no one had ever seen before.
Kligerman: Yeah. Well, the funny thing is it wasn’t so much the track design because the Rolex 24 at Daytona is essentially a Roval. It was just the idea. We’re literally talking about the thing that was on my YouTube show, but one of my points has been I don’t know what happened 20 years ago or 25 years ago when it seemed that we decided that there was a certain size and a certain shape that every track had to be, and that that was the way it was. Because as a sport, one of the most interesting things we have that’s different than every other sport is that every week our playing surface can change completely.
Even down to the damn surface. One could be dirt and one could be asphalt. Or concrete! So I just think it was so narrow-minded and shortsighted for all motor sports. You look at Formula One that was doing all those Hermann Tilke tracks.
Like every motor sport, for some reason, just had this idea that there was this ultimate, this one set way of making tracks and it make no sense. So the Roval to me represented the sport, starting to get away from that. And I think the more and more we get away from that and get back to the idea that it should be as dynamic as humanly possible, then we’re going to continue to benefit in the future.
PB: Yeah, sure. That’s why I enjoy tracks like Pocono. I might be biased because I’m from around there, and some people might not like the far-apart racing, but it’s such a unique track that I like seeing it twice a year [or for a doubleheader next year].
Kligerman: Yeah. Yeah. I’m with you.
PB: What’s next for you and in regards to racing? I know you won a Talladega truck race a couple of years ago and usually do run the superspeedways. Is that next?
Kligerman: So we don’t have a superspeedway truck on my Truck Series team since we wrecked it last year. We haven’t been able to get one. They’re actually really hard to come by, oddly enough, because every [superspeedway] race, we wreck them all. And they’re also very expensive to build. So it’s not really cost conscientious for us to build one. I will be doing the Talladega cup race with the #96. So that’s our last three races, or four with the Roval. So Roval, Talladega, Kansas, Texas.
And that will be my season done for the #96 car and then we’ll start focusing on next year. So yeah, and then on the broadcasting side, I’ll go all the way through Miami to finish out the year.