Elliott's knowledge handed down, father to son
January 12, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Complete Preseason Thunder schedule
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It was a confluence of generations, linked together by adjoining garage stalls. On one side was Bill Elliott, two-time winner of the Daytona 500, former champion of NASCAR's premier circuit, his familiar balloon-lettered autograph scrawled above the driver's side window opening. On the other was 18-year-old Chase Elliott, yet to make his first start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, bright yellow rookie stripes affixed to the rear end of his car.
Like father, like son.
"It's really cool," Chase said about being on the track with his legendary father, something that doesn't happen that often. "Obviously just for him to be my dad, but at the same time he's got a lot of knowledge that can be very helpful to me, and can be helpful when we come back here in a few weeks, too. He won't be racing unfortunately when we come back, but to have him here will be really helpful."
Which was the intention of this pairing during the Nationwide Series portion of the Preseason Thunder test session at Daytona International Speedway. JR Motorsports announced earlier in the week that Chase Elliott will run the full Nationwide campaign in a No. 9 car backed by NAPA. Since team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- who will run a few Nationwide events himself, beginning with the opener at Daytona -- couldn't make the test due to a scheduling conflict, JRM called upon someone else it knew could help its rookie driver.
Dear old dad.
That's why Bill Elliott, 58, was outfitted in a red firesuit despite that he hasn't started a national series NASCAR event since Daytona in July of 2012. His goals were twofold -- to help bring the No. 5 car up to speed for when Earnhardt jumps in during Speedweeks, and to offer his son whatever advice was needed. Like most racers eager to get back behind the wheel one more time, he was more than happy to oblige.
"Dale Jr. asked me to come do this test, and I thought man, what a great opportunity. For me, the opportunities get fewer and fewer the older you get," Bill said. "And to be down here with Chase, I'm proud that at least when he asks me a question, I'm not totally stupid on the answer. But it's the same. When I was riding around there, it was no different. It feels like it was just yesterday that I was in a car running around these places. It's just a great opportunity. I feel honored to be in this position. Hopefully I can help them out, at least give them some experience, and see what happens."
The one-time testing appearance by Bill Elliott at Preseason Thunder, the Nationwide portion of which was Saturday and Sunday, was more than just enjoyable for Bill and educational for Chase. It was also clearly a thrill to other members of the JRM team, driver Regan Smith among them.
"Bill has obviously been around for a long time, has a lot of experience, a lot of good memories, and to just talk to him and hear what he has to say, it's like he hasn't missed a beat," said Smith, who finished third in final points last year. "I feel like he's been out there racing all along, and I'm sure he could probably suit back up tomorrow and kick most of our asses. It's pretty cool to see him in the car. For him and Chase to get to share that moment of Chase's first Nationwide test and preparing to come down here to race as a father‑son is pretty special, especially the way things worked out."
The Elliotts aren't on the track together all that often -- Chase said it's only happened a few times previously, and they've raced against one another just once, in a late model event a few months ago. Chase's Dawsonville, Ga., roots were evident in the vintage Atlanta Braves logo on his helmet. As touching as it was to see father and son together, the primary intention is to bring Chase up to speed in preparation for his Nationwide debut. The younger Elliott had never even driven a Nationwide car prior to Saturday, and awaiting him are the vagaries of the draft in the season opener, followed by other tracks he's never competed on before.
" … Regan, Chase and myself will draft some, and that's where he needs all the experience he can find," Bill said before the three went out to draft Saturday. "That's going to be the big key, trying to get that learning curve as fast as you can. I know we can do it. It's just the point of these first handful of races, you go a lot of different places -- you go to Phoenix, you go to Vegas, go to Bristol, go to California. It's going to be a mix of a lot of different race tracks, some he's been on, some he's not. It's going to be good for him."
Chase expected his dad's experience to help the most when it came to drafting, something teams did more of as the first day of Nationwide testing moved into the afternoon. Bill was a renowned restrictor-plate racer during his day, scoring six combined victories at Daytona and Talladega. That expertise was evident Saturday afternoon, when Chase, Bill, and Smith entered the draft and promptly moved to first, second, and third, respectively, on the speed chart. Those speeds stood for the remainder of the session, making 18-year-old Chase the fastest driver of the test's opening day. The three also were on the track in Sunday's first session before packing it up.
"I think he can kind of watch things that I'm going to do, and things that I can try to do to improve that," Chase said. "I feel like he's one of the best when it comes to manipulating the air and making the most of the draft and stuff, so I think when it comes to that, he's going to be a big asset."
Although he's just 18, Chase has plenty of memories of his dad on the race track, among them Bill's days in the Evernham Motorsports No. 9 -- a number JRM adopted for its newest driver, recognizing the historical significance -- and his most recent race, here two years ago in a Turner Scott Motorsports car backed by Walmart. "It wasn't long ago he was down here, so he knows what's going on," Chase said. "He's up-to-date on everything."
This weekend the task is to hand much of that knowledge down to Chase, who won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event last season, and next month with JRM begins his first full-time campaign at NASCAR's national level.
"He's a great kid, he's done a great job," Bill said, "and it's a great opportunity for him."