In remembering past, Gifford looks toward future
May 16, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
NEWTON, Iowa -- Ryan Gifford strode into the media center at Iowa Speedway in his blue driver suit and a baseball cap he wore backward. When he flipped it forward, the number there -- 34 -- didn't match the No. 98 of his car that he'll pilot in Sunday's Get to Know Newton 250 presented by Sherwin-Williams.
The reason soon became obvious.
A member of the NASCAR Next Class of 2014 and a graduate of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity initiative, Gifford understands he has a tremendous opportunity this weekend when he competes in his second career NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
It's partly because of that No. 34, Gifford says, that allows him to be in this position. The 34 is for Wendell Scott, the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR national series race. Gifford also affixed a Wendell Scott decal to his Nationwide Series and K&N Pro Series cars and spoke passionately about the upcoming Hall of Fame vote (fans can vote until noon ET on May 20).
"We're getting to the final days of the vote for the NASCAR Hall of Fame and I want to encourage everyone to vote for Wendell Scott," Gifford said after Friday's first practice. "For me, as a Drive for Diversity driver and an African-American in this sport, he did a lot for me to get to this point. I think it's really significant to see him make it into the Hall of Fame.
"It's something that means a lot to me. Not only the fact that he won a Cup race, but he raced kind of like I grew up racing. He had to work on his own stuff. He wasn't fully funded. He worked really hard to get what he had."
Gifford has worked hard, too, throughout his racing career -- hard enough to earn two Nationwide Series starts in 2014. Sunday will be the first. He finished ninth at Iowa last fall in the first Nationwide Series race of his life.
It's an event he still holds in his mind, one he's mentally replayed more frequently as the first stand-alone of the year drew closer.
"The main thing was, I was blown away at how good everybody was," he said with a laugh. "Every single person out here in the Nationwide Series is a really, really good driver. Everybody is tough to pass. You don't get any freebies."
No, you don't. Yet there was Gifford as the race wound down, slowly slicing his way through the field, going from 16th on Lap 120 to 12th by Lap 225. At the end of the 250th and final lap, he was ninth.
It was a result that led to this most recent chance to pilot a Nationwide Series car. One opportunity leads to another, and Gifford knows that another strong showing Sunday might lead to one more down the road.
"Taking nine months off from a Nationwide car, we're definitely having to relearn a lot," Gifford said. "But for sure, you've got to look at this like a job interview. I'm competitive -- any laps you take as a driver is a job interview. You have to go out there and give your best every time on the race track, no matter if you have a three-year deal or a one-race deal."