With Café's support, Holtsclaw has big plans

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Over the past decade and a half, Roger Holtsclaw has put together quite an impressive resume as both a racing crewman and driver.
   The Elizabethton racer, who's originally from Hickory, NC, has beaten Dale Earnhardt Jr., has been an assistant crew chief on a Busch Series car and is now driving with NASCAR Café sponsorship at Lonesome Pine Raceway in Virginia.
   "I have to thank Jeff Edmiston at NASCAR Café," said the 31 year-old driver, whose first racing experience came as a youth behind the wheel of a WKA kart.
   "Without them on board, we wouldn't be running a full season this year."
   His first taste of a full bodied race car was at age 15 in an Enduro event at Myrtle Beach Speedway, when the track still was covered with a dirt surface.
   From an entry list of over 100 cars, Holtsclaw finished eighth.
   After racing more Enduro races, he stepped into the 4-cylinder class at his hometown Hickory Speedway in 1988.
   "My first car at Hickory was a Ford Pinto in the Mini-Stock class," recalled Holtsclaw about his first season racing on the famed asphalt short track.
   "You could modify them to some extent, but we had to run street tires. We had fun though, even though it's a lot harder to set the car up with street tires than it is with racing tires."
   After moving up to the Late Model class a few years later, he rubbed fenders against some of the best including a race against Earnhardt at nearby Tri-County Speedway, which Holtsclaw finished ahead of the future superstar.
   "Something happened and he fell out of the race early," remembered Holtsclaw. "Technically, I can say I beat Dale Jr. because something fell off his car.
   That was when he first started driving and he wasn't doing that great then. I think we were running in front of him even when he was still running."
   As the case with many talented drivers who lack large financial backing, monetary woes forced him to pursue another side of the sport. He changed directions working on the pit crews for some local teams before winding up as a crew chief in the Hooters Pro Cup Series. Later, he served as an assistant crew chief for aspiring Busch Series racer Jimmy Foster.
   "I got disgusted with spending so much money and just went to working on cars," said Holtsclaw. "I got to work with (NASCAR Truck Series star) Dennis Setzer when he was driving Late Models and with three or four other good teams around the area. I was hired as a team manager and rear tire changer for a Hooters Pro Cup car in about 1998. I got named the crew chief after I did those duties at Coeburn one night and we ran better than we had all year. I stayed crew chief the rest of the year. One night in 1999 at Lakeland, Florida, I actually got to drive the car and finished 26th.
   "In late '99, I helped Jimmy Foster out of Gary DeHart's shop in Denver, NC until the team ran out of money. I messed around with some Late Models and Hooters cars again in 2000 freelancing doing engine and chassis work until I decided to start driving again."
   Two factors were key Holtsclaw to relocating to Carter County. That was being closer to his kids and finding work as an automotive technician in the Tri-Cities area.
   "The economy in Western North Carolina got bad as far as automotive work," explained Holtsclaw. "I had divorced earlier and my ex-wife and kids moved to Elizabethton, where her family is from. I moved up here to be closer to them, my daughter Courtney is 12, my daughter Katarina is 9 and my baby Angelina is one and a half."
   His girls are a key part of his life, as he dedicates all of his racing success to an infant daughter Tiffany, who passed away the same day she was born in 1989.
   With full-time employment as a mechanic at Miller's Tire, Roger realizes how lucky he is with his day job. Besides providing a paycheck, the employer also serves as an associate sponsor on Roger's race car.
   An additional benefit is that his boss Johnny Miller is a racer himself. Miller led the Trans-Am Series point standings earlier this year and recently made his Winston Cup debut at Sonoma in the No. 4 Kodak car.
   "It helps tremendously," said Holtsclaw about working for another racer. "The sponsorship has been so important and there has never been any problem getting time off when I need it. He understands when I say, 'Hey, I really need to go test on this certain day or if need off on a Friday for a two-day show.' We talked probably an hour or an hour and a half about how the car felt after his Winston Cup race. I got a lot of good information from him."
   Miller has mentioned to Roger about getting in a short track stock car to gain experience in heavier race cars. That's something that excites Holtsclaw, especially if a deal was put together between the two like the recent Jeff Gordon-Juan Montoya car swap, where Roger could take some laps in Miller's road racing Jaguar.
   "We talked about putting a deal together where he would get in a Late Model I have to gain some oval experience," said Holtsclaw. "He's been around racing his whole life so he knows what he's looking for. I would love to get in his car one time. I'm the type of person if it has four wheels and an engine, I like to try it. I've driven a Cup car in a racing school and a Busch car testing, but that Trans-Am car would be awesome."
   His focus however, is going as far up the stock car racing ladder as possible. Showing he still knows how to get around the track, Holtsclaw currently sets seventh in the LPIR track standings.
   A big fan of David Pearson growing up, it's no accident that Holtsclaw's car at Lonesome Pine is a Mercury sporting the number 21. Besides racing at the Virginia bullring, Holtsclaw is working with an active ARCA team on a two-race deal. He would eventually like to make a career in that series or the NASCAR Busch or Truck Series.
   "The goal is to make it to one of those three series," said Holtsclaw, a graduate of two well-respected racing schools. "To make it to Busch or the Trucks would be awesome. If I only make it to Late Models or am competitive in a touring series like the Southeast Series, I would be happy with that. Most of all, I want to make a living racing.
   Two advantages he enjoys over other aspiring racers are his varied background and vast mechanical experience.
   "I feel my technical experience is 100 percent important," stated Holtsclaw. "When I was a crew chief, it's good to have a driver who can explain to you what he's feeling in the car. Instead of staying it don't handle, if he can tell if the car has a soft push, a hard push, it's setting on the springs or whatever. That's just going to make the car better if you can communicate that to the crew chief. "