When John Hunter Nemechek was at Texas Motor Speedway in June, the Camping World Truck Series driver was a spectator.
Nemechek was 17 years old, and NASCAR rules barred him from racing on ovals longer than 1 1/4 miles. His father, Joe Nemechek, a veteran of 1,115 NASCAR starts, drove the No. 8 Chevrolet they shared to a sixth-place finish that late-spring night in Fort Worth.
By the time the NEMCO Motorsports race car hauler pulled into Gateway Motorsports Park the following weekend in Madison, Illinois, John Hunter had been 18 for one day. He celebrated by finishing fourth at Gateway and hasn’t looked back, starting all 13 races since his birthday as the truck’s new full-time driver.
John Hunter returns to TMS ready to tackle the high-banked, 1 1/2-mile track in tonight’s WinStar World Casino and Resort 350K.
“It’s great to get in the truck every week and communicate with the team,” he said this week in a phone interview. “It makes our communication skills better, and it makes our trucks better.”
Nemechek had been sharing the truck with his dad since the beginning of the 2014 season, running on short tracks, mile tracks and the series’ only dirt track and road course. Since escaping the age restriction, he’s chalked up intermediate and superspeedway starts at Kentucky, Pocono, Michigan, Chicagoland, Las Vegas and Talladega.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to an intermediate track,” John Hunter said of TMS. “The trophies are very cool. It’s something I’ve always looked forward to as a kid.”
He especially has his eye on a cowboy hat won by Joe Nemechek, who prevailed in an Xfinity Series race in Denton County in 2003.
“Man, I really want one of those one day,” John Hunter said.
He hasn’t raced for a TMS trophy yet, but John Hunter earned his first victory Sept. 19 at Chicagoland Speedway in his 23rd career start.
“Getting my first win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is something that was very special,” he said. “Especially having Dad there.
“It was a win that we thought would come on a short track, but it came on an intermediate track. ... The hard work paid off.”
John Hunter said he can jump in at the race shop and do almost any task.
“We put a lot of late nights and hard work into our trucks to make them faster,” he said. “We use all of our resources here at the shop.”
He said family-owned NEMCO, despite its small staff, is able to find speed by engineering new parts. He said a team motto is, “If you can dream it, we can make it.”
John Hunter said he started on a path to provide more technological help in the future, taking classes in the spring at Central Piedmont Community College as he works toward a mechanical engineering degree.
“I graduated from high school last December, so I graduated early, in the offseason,” he said, adding that he participated in his school’s May graduation ceremony in Davidson, North Carolina.
As far as his driving career, he said the team is looking for the funding necessary to keep him behind the wheel of the truck next season.
“It’s all still up in the air right now,” he said. “The plan would be to run for the drivers’ championship.”
Beyond that, Joe and John Hunter Nemechek don’t want the teenager moving up through the NASCAR ranks unless the right opportunity comes along.
“The whole goal is to be in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in the next five years,” John Hunter said. “It has to be a high-quality team.”
Joe Nemechek’s guidance comes with the experience of 667 Sprint Cup starts and four victories. His 16 Xfinity wins all have come in cars he owned.
“It’s definitely great having him at the racetrack,” John Hunter Nemechek said. “He’ll give me an honest opinion, as opposed to a veteran driver who may not shoot you in the right direction.
“He’s a great teacher, a great mentor, a dad sometimes and a boss.”
Team partner Sid Mauldin is listed as the owner of Nemechek’s truck on this week’s official entry list. Sid and Dawna Mauldin own SWM International Inc., which is located in Pampa. ... John Hunter was seventh-fastest in Thursday’s first practice, completing his quickest lap in 30.273 seconds for an average speed of 178.377 mph. In final practice, John Hunter was ninth-fastest at 177.09; Cameron Hayley topped the chart at 179.164.
MATT CRIDER can be reached at 940-566-6906.