BRISTOL, Tenn. – Carson Hocevar isn’t someone that most dirt-track fans would associate with the discipline. After all, he grew up racing late models on asphalt in Michigan.
However, not only does the 18-year-old have a deep respect for dirt racing, he’s also been enamored by it for years.
Hocevar’s love for slinging mud comes from a friendship with the late Bryan Clauson, a USAC Triple Crown champion who served as a mentor of sorts for the Portage, Mich., young gun.
“He was someone I looked up to growing up,” said Hocevar of Clauson. “He was one of the best – maybe the best – to ever do it when it came to open-wheel cars on dirt. He was the definition of a badass.”
Clauson lost his life in a crash while leading the Belleville Midget Nationals at the Belleville (Kan.) High Banks in 2016, cutting short one of the most successful grassroots careers in history at 27 years old.
Ever since, as Hocevar has ascended through the short-track ranks, he’s often donned a “BC” hat at the race track – even when he’s been competing on pavement and not dirt.
It’s both a tribute to Clauson’s memory and a reminder that there’s always more to strive for, according to Hocevar. Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Hocevar set his sights high and surprised many onlookers.
Wheeling the No. 42 Chevrolet Silverado for Niece Motorsports and carrying a throwback look to Clauson’s 2008 NASCAR Xfinity Series colors with Chip Ganassi Racing, Hocevar set the second-quickest single-lap time during first Truck Series practice on Friday.
In addition, Hocevar had the third-best 10-lap average in that 50-minute session as well.
It was an impressive showing for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, and one that had Hocevar beaming by the end of the day – despite the face mask that hid his typically prominent smile.
“Obviously, the track started to go away about midway through the session,” tipped Hocevar. “The more laps you run on it, the more rubber that’s laid down, the slower it will be. When I went out [and set a quick lap], the track was still fairly fresh and pretty gripped up, but it has gotten pretty dusty and everyone is sliding around now. With the sun out and a bit of a breeze, things have changed a lot.
“We just have to keep up with the race track. We’ve got a fast hot rod. It’s for sure consistent.”
Hocevar does have past experience on dirt, though it’s not his specialty. He’s raced a micro sprint at the Tulsa (Okla.) Shootout in recent years and tipped that some of the lessons he learned inside the River Spirit Expo Center helped him during Friday’s later round of hot laps at Bristol.
“The track surface here is actually very similar to Tulsa in how you had to race it,” Hocevar noted. “When the track gets really slick, you have to be very disciplined about keeping to the bottom to stay in the groove. It’s challenging, but I think some of the time I had racing at the Shootout did help.”
When Hocevar lines up Saturday for his heat race, and later the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt main event that night, he’ll be hoping to channel some of the theatrics that his late hero often pulled out when racing to victories across the country in sprint cars and midgets.
Potentially fighting for a win on dirt at Bristol is a dream that has Hocevar giddy for the chance to try.
“I’m trying to do him (Clauson) proud, that’s for sure,” Hocevar said. “Bryan always was really good on the bottom (lane of a dirt track), so hopefully I can apply some of his magic tricks to find some speed down there.
“It’s fun being here. We’ll see what happens Saturday night.”
Heat races for the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt are scheduled to begin Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. ET, with live television coverage on FS1. Four 15-lap contests will help set the grid for the 150-lap feature.