Clanton a good bet to achieve super-stardom


The Chevy of Joey Clanton hugs the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway as Clanton's Busch Series team tests at the track Monday.

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
jbirchfield@starhq.com
BRISTOL -- Using both an old school approach and new wave thinking, Busch Series driver Joey Clanton is a good bet to become a superstar in NASCAR racing.
"We've worked our way through the ranks to get to this level, said Clanton on Monday in a break from testing at Bristol Motor Speedway. "This year I'm focused all about learning and next year, I want to give a shot at the series championship."
His old school approach includes learning the sport from his father, dirt track racer Billy Clanton. After working in the shop as a youngster, Joey started driving on the clay bullrings around Georgia at the age of 16. His home track Dixie Speedway is the same one that produced Bill Elliott.
"I've been building race cars since I was 10 years old," said Clanton. "My dad has raced since before I was born. It's been a family thing and I grew up around racing."
He progressed to the local asphalt tracks and took a similar path of another Winston Cup champ Rusty Wallace, working his way through the touring Southern All-Stars Series before landing in the American Speed Association.
In 2000, Clanton scored his first ASA victory en' route to winning Rookie of the Year. He followed that up in 2001 with a three-win season, before racking up nine wins in 20 races in 2002 and taking the series championship.
"The car owner I had in ASA is now the owner of ASA, Steve Dale," said Clanton, whose major victories included the 2001 Winchester 400. "He gave me a great opportunity with everything I needed to compete. It got us to here. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time."
The new wave thinking is a legacy of another former NASCAR champ Alan Kulwicki and more recently attributed to young Winston Cup star Ryan Newman.
Like those two, Clanton has used academic studies to further his racing career earning a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech.
"It's kind of a mode that a lot of drivers are starting to do, getting their education," remarked Clanton. "I think it pays off. Ninety percent of mechanical engineering has nothing to do with anything mechanical as far as a race car.
"The training, the teaching and all the problem solving pays off more than anything. When you are going through school and are learning some of the math you wonder, 'When is this ever going to help me?' If you ever want to do something in racing, this is where it helps you."
After graduating from Georgia Tech, Clanton turned his racing attention to a Legends car business. He also had great success driving those machines, winning 22 of 24 races he entered in 1999.
Starting with the May race at Richmond when he replaced Chase Montgomery, Clanton has been piloting the No. 27 Trim Spa Pontiac in the Busch Series for Brewco Motorsports.
Since the change, the team has seen a big leap in the performance department with Clanton scoring a top five finish at Pikes Peak two weeks ago.
It is a great opportunity for Clanton to work with a race team that is a proven winner and to be a teammate of 1994 series champion David Green.
"The car David is driving was actually the No. 27 last year," Clanton explained. "This team won last year at Texas. We are getting it dialed in to what I like.
"We had a top five at Pikes Peak and had a good run going at IRP before I made a mistake. Those things are going to happen. The important thing is we have the communication level working between us where we can decipher what the car needs and getting it to go faster."
Clanton, 30, lives on the outskirts of Atlanta with his wife, Brandi, and two children, Christopher, age 5; and Emily, 20 months. Much like his race team, which is based in Owensboro, Kentucky, Clanton is in no hurry to relocate to the Charlotte area, preferring the comforts of the Peach State.
One place he is looking forward to visiting is Bristol. Sporting the background heavily laden with short track experience, these are the raceways where Joey he feels most at home.
" The superspeedways are different on how you drive the race car," said Clanton. "You can't let the car move around. I like the short tracks and letting the race car move around on me. I like the grinding and rubbing. That to me is racing.
"Bristol is my kind of race track. I like to go fast and go fast in a hurry. I've ran the banked short tracks like this at Winchester, Salem, Nashville and I-70 in Missouri. These are the type of tracks that I love, high-banked, fast tracks, where you accelerate the car back in the corner and just hold on."