Over a decade ago, Parker Kligerman was near the top of many prospect lists. He was young, hungry and, most importantly, fast.
Following a two-year stint in the Craftsman Truck Series, splitting time between Brad Keselowski Racing and Red Horse Racing, he made the jump to Kyle Busch Motorsports for its quick foray into the Xfinity Series in 2013. By the end of the year, he was shuffled out of the series, unable to find another full-time gig. His driving career looked bleak.
“Through 2019 and 2020, no,” Kligerman told Jayski.com, on if he thought he‘d get another full-time opportunity. “It was all happening at once and I felt like “This is it, it‘s over.‘ Mentally, I was fine and said ‘Let‘s go do something else in life.‘”
As a racer, contentment didn‘t exist for Kligerman. While he was enjoying his television roles at NBC Sports, he wanted to be competing on the track. And after making 14 Cup Series starts with Gaunt Brothers Racing in 2019, outrunning some of the sport‘s Goliaths, he was thrown to the sidelines for the incoming Daniel Suarez, who needed a ride after being let go from Stewart-Haas Racing.
At the same time, Henderson Motorsports, a team that Kligerman was paired with for a limited truck schedule since 2016, wasn‘t certain about its future. During the 2019 offseason, he was told it was closing shop. The No. 75 team, which at the time had one full-time employee in crew chief Chris Carrier, returned to the track at Pocono Raceway and competed in eight races throughout the 2020 season.
Kligerman said, “I was on the grid at Pocono, and I remember thinking, ‘You had this taken away entirely. Just enjoy it.‘ From that moment on, it‘s been a rocketship to this point of success with good runs. It just keeps building and we‘ve had incredible seasons in that 75 truck.”
Between 2021 and 2022, Kligerman spent most of his time racing in trucks, competing in a total of 23 races. Of those, he grabbed six top-five and 13 top-10 finishes, highlighted by his win at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in a pure racing battle with Zane Smith last season. Little did he know what that triumph would lead to.
Being around the track, Kligerman would hear odds and ends about different teams. He saw that starting last spring, as Big Machine Racing was beginning to go through a rotation of drivers. He wanted in. So he began pestering Keith Barnwell (team manager) and Patrick Donahue, crew chief of the No. 48 ride.
While Kligerman was celebrating in Victory Lane at Mid-Ohio, Barnwell left a congratulatory voicemail on his phone. Oh, and he received an offer to drive the No. 48 car at Talladega Superspeedway in the fall.
“I called him on the way to the airport afterwards,” Kligerman said. “He said, ‘This is the call you wanted to get.‘ He asked if I wanted to do it and I said, ‘Great.‘”
Kligerman finished sixth at Talladega, recording one of the team‘s eight top-10 finishes in 2022. Four weeks later at Martinsville Speedway, he was announced as the full-time driver of the No. 48 car for the 2023 season.
“We chose Parker Kligerman to drive for us this year for a lot of reasons,” Scott Borchetta, owner of Big Machine Racing, said. “At this point in his career, he‘s had certain opportunities and I think he‘s ready for this opportunity. And when he came and ran for us at Talladega, it was a natural fit.
“I want us to be the loudest Xfinity team out there and Parker will help us do that.”
To show Kligerman‘s full commitment to Big Machine, he uprooted his Connecticut apartment (his girlfriend Shannon still lives there) and got a second apartment in the Charlotte area. He and his family know that in order to be successful, he must go all in and do whatever it takes.
Over the offseason, Kligerman worked tirelessly on the Chevrolet simulator. The No. 48 team wanted to be fully prepared for the first month of races, which included a variety of different layouts. The team also participated in the Xfinity Series test at Charlotte Motor Speedway in late January.
“I was excited because I know how much work Parker and everyone prepared,” Donahue said. “I knew that we could run well, and we have had good cars and decent finishes. As far as working with Parker, it‘s been putting the time in, getting to know each other, how does he describe what the car is doing.”
Having a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, the racing world saw what Big Machine Racing was capable of in 2022 when Tyler Reddick won at Texas Motor Speedway. It‘s a team made up of 12 people, spearheaded by Donahue.
Now, Big Machine has that same fast and hungry driver from 10 years ago to chase a playoff berth with. At least that‘s the expectation.
“Multiple wins and to challenge for the championship,” Kligerman said of his goals. “In this series, especially, there are a group of cars that have similar funding that are at the pointy end of the field. We‘re in that group. The difference between us and the ones that have been successful is how we execute. That‘s what it comes down to.”
Through the first handful of races, Kligerman has shown he can challenge at the front. Just last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the No. 48 car led a handful of laps and made a spirited charge after having a slow final pit stop. Coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap, Kligerman was in second, when Daniel Hemric got into his left rear and spun him around. Kligerman took the checkered flag sliding backwards in fourth.
While that‘s been the highlight for the No. 48 team thus far, Kligerman also has a 10th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, a track he hadn‘t raced on since 2014. At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he qualified sixth and was spun on lap 3 by John Hunter Nemechek. He rebounded to finish 11th.
All things considered, to be sitting 11th in the championship standings is an early season success. It also leaves room for a lot of improvement.
“I would give us a B or B+,” Donahue said. “We have some areas to clean up. I tell my guys as we raise the bar and our expectations go up, everything has to go up with that. Racing in the top 10 versus racing in the top 15 or 20 is much different; it‘s way harder.
“I was excited to go to the west coast and thought we could run well. And we did run well, so that‘s a great way to start the year.”
No matter how the season goes, Kligerman can be a beacon of hope for some other drivers battling to make it in NASCAR. In the past, he‘s looked at drivers such as AJ Allmendinger and Formula One champion Fernando Alonso as an inspiration. But now some drivers will put Kligerman in that same light.
“What‘s cool and flattering to me is seeing those comments from people,” Kligerman said. “I don‘t know if I would call myself as someone that people saw as inspiring or live up to or be a part of. I have looked at myself falling to TV and not getting to do the thing I wanted to get to. Here I am now doing that and getting this opportunity, and I want to make the most of it and live up to the expectations that those people — Steve Letarte, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett — who have been so nice and would talk to a team owner for me.
“I want to live up to those expectations and don‘t want to let them down. It‘s a cool thing and motivates me.”
Kligerman has experienced some highs and many lows on the racing side. But it‘s all made him a more well-rounded competitor.
“I believe I‘m a 10 times better driver than I was 10 years ago,” Kligerman said, “and I‘m a better driver than I was four years ago for it. It opened up the ability to focus on performance and my preparation, things I probably wasn‘t even doing before because mentally I was holding myself back. Now I can be unleashed, mentally.”