Carson Hocevar is a man of many hats.
Don’t believe me? Google “Carson Hocevar hats,” and you’ll be presented with a wide range of pre-race hat choices the 20-year-old racer has shown off since making his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut in 2019.
There’s Hocevar in a white cowboy hat. Hocevar in a pirate hat, an Uncle Sam hat. Plus, a hat simply labeled “Thinking Cap.” There’s even a cheap Top Gun “Maverick” fighter pilot helmet.
And like the character played by Tom Cruise, Hocevar approaches racing much like Maverick, or maybe more like Cole Trickle in “Days of Thunder.”
“I always thought you had to win the race, because you’re the fastest guy,” Hocevar said earlier this year on the “Door. Bumper. Clear” podcast. “Had a boxing mentality. That’s where I came into this, I thought, you know, if I’m in a boxing ring, I’m gonna just keep punching. I’m gonna figure out how to keep punching.
“And you get to that last round, you just start swinging. You don’t worry about how tired you are. You don’t worry about how much breath you have left. You don’t worry about anything. You just plan on laying on the ground the second the ring goes, because you’re that tired.”
That approach resulted in damaged trucks, ticked off opponents and “awkward conversations” with owners and sponsors.
This year, the number of Hocevar’s hats has grown.
He finally became a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race winner. He made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut and for one weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway, he could call himself a Cup Series driver.
A lot happened in short amount of time for the driver who struggled to find victory lane in his first two full-time Truck Series seasons.
One person who has been along for the ride since Hocevar arrived on the NASCAR scene is Ross Chastain.
A part-time teammate at Niece Motorsports, the Trackhouse Racing driver and three-time Cup Series winner sees “a lot of myself” in the young driver he’s mentored.
It was Chastain who brought Hocevar to the attention of sponsor Worldwide Express.
“He was someone that (Niece Motorsports) believed in early on,” Chastain recalled. “I know every step along the way — from talking about race trucks to pitching him to Worldwide Express to Rob Rose in his motorhome at Martinsville a year ago and initially Worldwide saying ‘no.’ And then going back to him — Niece fighting some more and me helping where I could with just my opinion of getting behind him early and supporting him. We have equal conversations about business as we do about racing. He doesn’t need my help driving a race truck fast. …
“For Carson, it’s just been about me trying to help him minimize mistakes.”
It’s not surprising that Chastain sees himself in the Michigan racer. While both possess simmering personalities — except for Hocevar’s hats and Chastain’s watermelon smashes — they’ve been caught up in their fair share of controversy.
They’ve both experienced grief — most notably Chastain receiving it from Denny Hamlin — over repeated incidents resulting from contact.
It was somewhat appropriate that Hocevar wore a black cowboy hat after he won his first Truck Series race on April 1 at Texas Motor Speedway. The triumph came after he turned leader Nick Sanchez into the outside wall right after they took the white flag in an overtime finish.
Hocevar thought winning would fix his problems.
“(I thought) I didn’t have to make a change,” he said. “I very much thought, I don’t know if it’s arrogance as a race car driver or whatever. ‘Oh, I’m not the problem, right?’”