By John Crane
Published: 6 Dec, 2022
5 Minute Read
CONCORD, N.C. – An overcast Tuesday afternoon didn’t dissuade 17-year-old Jake Garcia from grinning ear-to-ear. Nor did it prevent Christian Eckes from showing equivalent enthusiasm as each unveiled their new trucks outside the Team Chevy Performance Technical Center. Even though both drivers first met not even an hour prior – 20 minutes, in fact – both looked to establish the right footing as newfound teammates immediately from the get-go.
The fresh duo will be paired at McAnally Hilgemann Racing in 2023, competing full-time in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Team owner Bill McAnally was just as optimistic for the future as his new drivers.
Eckes, who joins MHR to drive the No. 19 NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet Silverado, has two full-time seasons under his belt in the Craftsman Truck Series and qualified for the playoffs in both campaigns. Garcia, a native of Monroe, Georgia, is stepping up to compete full-time for Rookie of the Year honors in the No. 35 Adaptive One Chevrolet Silverado RST.
MHR and NAPA will also celebrate their 33rd season together after additionally announcing a multi-year extension that begins in 2023. The NAPA Auto Care brand will adorn Eckes’ No. 19 Chevrolet Silverado RST in 2023. The longstanding relationship with NAPA has helped forge additional partnerships like Adaptive One for multiple events on Garcia’s No. 35 Chevrolet Silverado RST.
“I’m ecstatic to get the season started,” McAnally said. “We have a lot to be optimistic about with bringing Christian into our program and Jake having his first full-time opportunity. We’ve enjoyed a tremendous relationship with NAPA and NAPA Auto Care and going into our 33rd year together is incredibly special. I’m excited about Christian’s experience and the potential Jake has to elevate our program and our partners.”
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Eckes takes the reins of the No. 19 NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet Silverado RST after finishing eighth in the championship standings in 2022 with ThorSport Racing and brings impactful playoff experience to MHR. The aligned goal toward winning on a consistent basis only made the match that much more attractive.
“In 2019, I was a part of the owners’ championship and had to race in Homestead for it,” Eckes said. “2020, I was in the drivers’ championship. 2021, I was in the owners’ championship. Last year, I was in the drivers’ championship, 10 points away from the final four. So, I bring that experience that these guys haven’t had for the entirety of the Truck Series, so I feel like that’s pretty crucial.
“I can’t stress it enough. Our goals kind of align. I want to win on a consistent basis, not just every once a year, and they want to win, not only period but on a consistent basis as well. That’s what Bill is used to, that is what NAPA is used to, and that is what we want to get to, so I feel like our goals align, and I bring that playoff experience, so we’ll see. It’s going to take a lot of hard work. It always does.”
Garcia, 17, is a former track champion at Five Flags Speedway and became the youngest Southern Super Series champion in the tour’s history. The Georgia native made five Craftsman Truck Series starts in 2022, with his best finish coming during the championship finale at Phoenix Raceway (16th).
Through his five truck races in 2022, Garcia helped establish a feel for not only how the heavy vehicles run on bigger race tracks but also how the racing field operates.
“Well, the Truck Series drivers are a little bit rough, to be honest with you,” Garcia said. “So, a little bit of learning who to race around and how to race people, but also just how to drive the trucks and what my guys expect out of me at the race track and learning how to work with them and everyone at McAnally Hilgemann Racing. You know, just really important to have that good team chemistry.”
For Eckes, the opportunity to provide a mentorship role for Garcia also helped reel the 22-year-old toward MHR. Understanding Garcia’s position as a rookie, to Eckes, gave the latter an avenue toward becoming what Kyle Busch was for the latter while at Kyle Busch Motorsports from 2018-20.
“I mean, obviously he has a lot of raw talent,” Eckes said. “That’s never been a question. Trucks are hard, man. I’ve been a part of it, I’ve been in his shoes.
“That’s why I’m looking forward to this mentorship role because I felt like I made a lot of mistakes over the past few years, and to be able to kind of guide somebody on those mistakes and say, ‘Hey, I screwed up with this. You might want to try something different.’ or have somebody just in general, which I didn’t really use it as well as I needed to, but I always had Kyle to lean off of, so I definitely should’ve used that resource probably a little bit more, but to be that resource for Jake is a pretty big deal to me. And like I said, that went into my decision-making as well.”
“I got to know him,” Garcia said. “He’s a good guy. You know, it’s going to be good to work with him. He’ll be able to help me out, and he’s got some experience that I don’t have, and hopefully, anything he needs help with for me, I’d like to lend a helping hand to him as well, and hopefully, we can just make each other better, you know, and just escalate the whole program that Bill McAnally and the Hilgemanns have going.”
Garcia will make his first start of 2023 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 3, the day of his 18th birthday. Due to NASCAR’s age restriction at tracks larger than 1.25 miles, Garcia is ineligible to compete in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. MHR will announce a driver for the No. 35 entry for DIS and crew chiefs for both teams at a later date.
As a full-time driver, Garcia will nevertheless look to grow his relationship with Eckes and MHR. And while he might have to wait a tad bit longer than other drivers, Garcia is ready to grow as a teammate with Eckes and the organization.
A wide grin was the telltale sign of such enthusiasm.
“Well, I’m just excited to get going,” Garcia said. “Time to get to work and get this truck in position to win races throughout the season.”