Joe Custer, president of Stewart-Haas Racing and the father of NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer, remembers the day he realized his son had what it took to be a race car driver.
It was at Indiana’s Gas City I-69 Speedway. The younger Custer, then 12, was competing in a Ford Focus Midget event. It was his first time racing against the more experienced competitors as he’d previously raced in a Ford Focus Midget division designed for younger drivers.
Officials allowed Custer to start the race from the tail of the field in order to gain experience, but he didn’t stay there for long.
“They dropped the green and Cole was at the back and there were, I don’t know, 18 cars in the race,” Joe Custer recalled. “Cole goes to the top and he made it all the way to third in like six laps. Just winging it right around it.
“I think he finished eighth or 10th or something like that. The announcer was going bananas,” Joe Custer explained. “For me, from my perspective, that’s when I took a deep breath and said holy moly, he wants to drive a race car.”
That was in 2010. Fast-forward nine years and Cole Custer is one of the top rising stars in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, where he drives the No. 00 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Custer is having the best season of his Xfinity Series career, with five victories so far to his name.
The 21-year-old California native credits a number of factors — including experience and a new crew chief — for the strong start to his junior season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
“I think it’s a combination of everything honestly,” Custer said. “It’s my third year, so I have more experience knowing what to do when I get to the race track and what I want the feel of the car to be and everything like that. I have a new crew chief, Mike Shiplett, and he has been really good at bringing experience to our team also. He’s been in the Xfinity Series for a long time. We’ve gotten everything just a little bit better. We didn’t struggle before, but it was just a matter of making it a little better so we were competing for wins on a weekly basis.”
Custer has slowly made a name for himself at NASCAR’s top levels. After starting in quarter midgets and working his way through the previously mentioned Ford Focus Midgets, late models and NASCAR K&N Pro Series, he made his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut at age 16.
When most 16-year-olds were focused on getting a driver’s license and having fun with friends, Custer was focused on competing at one of the highest levels in racing.
“Looking back on it, with how much I know now and how much I knew then, I was probably clueless,” Custer admitted. “I could drive and I could stand on the gas, but it wasn’t like I knew exactly in every single situation what was happening. It all worked out and everything, but I wish I had more experience at that time. I think it would have helped me.”
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