By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For this week’s edition of Climbing the Ladder, Seth Eggert sat down with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver Cole Custer. Custer is a 19-year-old NASCAR Xfinity Series driver that drives the No. 00 Haas Automation, Code 3 Associates Ford Mustang and is campaigning for the 2017 Xfinity Series Championship as well as Rookie of the Year honors. He currently sits seventh in the Championship Point standings.
Seth Eggert: What made you enter the same industry that your father, Joe Custer, who is the executive Vice-President of SHR, is in?
Cole Custer: Since he’s worked in it, it’s just something I’ve always known and been a fan of. So, he got me started when I was young. It was just something I’ve always dreamed of doing.
SE: Where and when was your first race? What was the result?
CC: My first race was in Pomona Valley in southern California at a quarter midget track. I don’t remember where I finished, but I remember that was my first one.
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
CC: Probably Kevin Harvick right now. I try to ask him for advice on questions going into the weekend. How to drive it and everything, so he’s the one I’d go to for help.
SE: What inspires you to compete?
CC: I would say the competition. Just trying to beat the guy next to you. A lot of people say they do it for the speed in racing. But I would say I do it much more for the competition side, I don’t really care for the speed side.
SE: Is it intimidating to be driving not only for Tony Stewart, but to have former champions, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, as teammates?
CC: A little bit. There’s a lot of success at Stewart Haas Racing and you want to live up to those expectations. You kind of have to not think about it and focus on what you are doing, what you need to get better at. Those guys have been a huge help to me. It’s been awesome so far.
SE: Is there a specific track that you want to win at the most in the Xfinity Series?
CC: Watkins Glen is probably my favorite track just to go to. It is my favorite one to race at. Charlotte would be a big one because you’re at home with all of your friends and family, so you really want to win there.
I’d also say Bristol, Martinsville, and Dover, those are all of the really cool ones that NASCAR runs at.
SE: You competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series full-time last year, for JR Motorsports. Describe the transition.
CC: It’s been awesome so far. There’s a lot of great people at Stewart Haas, they’re one of the best teams in the sport. It’s been really easy. We’ve fired off the bat really well. I feel like we just need to get a little more consistency in our finishes.
SE: Is there anything that you could have, or would do differently if you were in a similar situation that happened in Canada last year?
CC: Maybe. You can always look back at it and say ‘maybe I should have done this or that,’ but I don’t regret anything.
SE: You won your first Truck Series race at the age of 16, becoming one of the youngest winners in NASCAR history. What does it mean to you to have your name in the record books?
CC: It was special to be the youngest winner in the top three series. You can’t really focus on that, you have to focus on what you are doing. But it is definitely a cool thing to have.
SE: What have you learned from the Cup drivers who have competed in the Xfinity Series this year?
CC: A lot of it has been from Kevin. Just about the different racetracks and the characteristics of what goes on at those racetracks. It’s just different things from a drivers’ standpoint that you’re going to learn.
SE: What was the NASCAR Next program experience like for you?
CC: It was cool. NASCAR gives the new up and coming drivers exposure. It just got my name out there a little bit more. I definitely got in contact with a lot more NASCAR people.
SE: What is it like to have a Lionel Racing diecast of one of your Trucks made?
CC: It’s cool. I used to collect them when I was younger. It’s definitely a cool thing to have and cherish for a while.
SE: What does the future hold for you, where will you be one year from now?
CC: Hopefully we see the success in the Xfinity Series and probably come back here next year and try to do it over again.