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Spotlight: Clements carries on family tradition in NASCAR

August 31, 2011, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Jeremy Clements was seven years old when his grandfather began bringing him to the go-kart track, the beginning of a pursuit that would result in a driving career at NASCAR's national level. And yet, Clements seemed destined for a livelihood in the sport regardless -- stock-car racing, after all, is the family business.

The driver for a family-run team in the Nationwide Series, Clements is the grandson of Crawford Clements, a renowned engine builder who along with brother Louis constructed the power plants that propelled many of NASCAR's top teams in the 1950s and '60s. Clements Automotive is still going in the once-great racing hub of Spartanburg, S.C., building engines for race cars -- including a few Nationwide teams -- on one side, and fielding Jeremy Clements' No. 51 car out of the other.

"Every weekend we're here, we're trying to survive. Every weekend we're here, we're trying to survive. Every weekend we're here, we're trying to survive. Every weekend we're here, we're trying to survive. Every weekend we're here, we're trying to survive. Every weekend we're here, we're trying to survive."

--JEREMY CLEMENTS

"He wanted me to race," said Clements, 27, whose grandfather Crawford passed away in 1996. "I wanted to race anyway, but he definitely wanted me to race. He definitely started my career."

And Crawford would surely approve of how his grandson has stayed with that career, despite sponsorship woes and money crunches and an injury that derailed Jeremy's career for a year. Running his first full Nationwide season, Clements is on track for a top-20 finish in points -- something of an accomplishment for a family-run team that builds its own engines, lacks consistent sponsorship, and often races on cast-away scuff tires picked up from Sprint Cup teams. The reason Clements scored top-20 finishes in both Iowa races? There were no scuffs available, so the No. 51 raced on stickers.

"Every weekend we're here, we're trying to survive," said Clements, whose brother Jason is a mechanic on the No. 18 team at Joe Gibbs Racing. "This is our first full year. Last year we ran [16] races. We're going to finish in the top 20 in points, that was a goal. We just want to come here week in and week out and finish the best we can and not tear up race cars. I feel like I'm pretty experienced and I could get the job done if given the opportunity. The problem is, we don't have a full-time sponsor. We build our own engines, therefore we cut a lot of corners trying to save money and keep coming."

Clements hopes to move to a more established team one day, but he's clearly racing with a financial handicap, and he doesn't have a sponsor he can bring along with him. "It's about who can bring money now, and I can't bring teams money unless I find a sponsor," he said. "And they want so much, when we do find money, it's just better for us to do it ourselves. Big teams, they want $150,000 a race, and we can't do that."

To a certain extent, he's been in top-notch equipment before. In 2008 and 2009 Clements practiced and qualified Nationwide cars for the Gibbs organization when drivers Kyle Busch or Joey Logano had conflicts with other events elsewhere. Still, he never got to race one. He said he was slated to become a Gibbs test driver the next year, but NASCAR banned testing for financial reasons, and Clements was back on his own again. "That frigging killed me when that went away," he said. "That hurt me bad."

And yet, Clements has overcome something much more trying than that. He was racing a dirt late model in 2004 at 311 Speedway in Madison, N.C., when the drive shaft came up through the car and struck his right hand. The resulting damage was severe enough to require 10 surgeries and force Clements out of the car for a year, derailing what had been a promising ARCA season. Doctors sewed his hand to his right hip to facilitate skin growth, and took tendons from his right foot to make the fingers work. He still bears the physical scars, including a long, curving one that stretches from the palm of his right hand to his wrist.

Clements' doctor told him the injury looked like a bomb had gone off. "It was pretty bad," he said. "The drive shaft broke in half and came up through the car. It was a steel one. ... Just the way it happened, it was a bad deal. I never really thought anything like that could happen. But it got me, unfortunately. I'm very fortunate to have it, and I thank the good Lord every time I strap in the car that He saved it, and I have this opportunity to be here. You can't drive a race car with one hand."

Today, the injury doesn't affect him at all. Clements has persevered in NASCAR in more ways than one, and knows what his late grandfather Crawford would think about what he's doing today. "I think he'd be very proud," he said. "I think he's with me every race, and asks the good Lord to watch over me."

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