A CSJ Conversation with Blake Koch

Blake Koch has never been afraid of hard work. And that’s a good thing considering how difficult it is to break into NASCAR—especially when driving for small, underfunded teams.

Throughout his career, Koch has raced in all three major series for no less than 15 different owners. But that hasn’t slowed him down from pursuing his dream. The dividends finally paid off in 2016 when he advanced to the XFINITY Series Chase as one of the top 12 drivers, which more importantly, has expanded his platform and given him more opportunities to share his faith in Christ.

In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Koch talks about his relationship with other young Christian drivers within the sport and how he deals with the ups and downs of sponsorship and on-track performance:

during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series PowerShares QQQ 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Chad Bonham: How important has it been to have a solid support group (guys like Michael McDowell, Trevor Bayne, Josh Wise, Justin Allgaier, etc.) to help you get through the uncertainty of the past couple of race seasons?

Blake Koch: I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. There’s been a lot of growth for me as a driver and spiritually too. I’ve been plugged in with the right group of guys and that started from the beginning. Sometimes it seems like things aren’t always going the right way, but when I look back I really do love the way everything has happened. A couple of seasons ago, it looked like it was going to be a great year at the beginning and then everything started falling apart, but through that I developed a great relationship with my team owner and I was able to help lead him to Christ and now he’s going to church with his family. So yeah, when you look at things from a racing standpoint, we’ve had some ups and downs, but spiritually it’s been awesome.

Bonham: Everyone seems to be struggling with sponsorship these days. How do you deal with that element of the sport—especially during the off-season between November and February?

BRISTOL, TN. - AUGUST 20: Blake Koch, driver of the #36 Mitler Bros. Machine and Tool Dodge, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 20, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Koch: It’s tough to get that sponsor that’s going to stick with you all through the year. There just aren’t many of them that do that anymore. You have to put smaller deals together—five race deals, 10 race deals, one race deals. After those deals are up you’ve got to do it all over again. I’d love to be in a competitive car every week but just being around the track is a dream come true and a great opportunity. It sure as heck beats working for a living.

Bonham: What did you learn about the business of racing and yourself in light of the sponsorship controversy (Koch lost a 20-race deal with the Rise Up and Register Campaign when ESPN rejected the sponsor’s advertisements) from 2012?

Koch: It was a crazy time in my life. I don’t really let things bother me too bad so it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. There was an issue with ESPN and we resolved it. I don’t get mad at people. I was just wondering what was going on and what the outcome was going to be. Looking back, the outcome ended up being great for me career wise. I had it easy for a while. I had a sponsor every week. I raced every week with no problems. Then I lost my sponsorship and I had to race my way in every weekend. It taught me how to unload and get up to qualifying trim right away. I had to do that for a year or so. And then when I had the chance to get into a really fast racecar, I was ready. Something like that just prepared me for where I am to and the opportunities that are on the way. So yeah, that was an interesting time in my career. I even got to go on FOX News and I’d never watched FOX News before that. But as long as you speak the truth and say what’s on your heart, you can’t do anything wrong.

Bonham: 2016 was a breakthrough year for you personally and for the Kaulig Racing team. Can you pinpoint any keys to your success?

Koch: 1 Timothy 4:8 says “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Sometimes I get so caught up in training so hard and worrying about what I can do to be a better racer. Towards the end of the year when I was trying to make the playoffs and there were guys breathing down my neck for that spot, I felt like I had to work and train so hard physically and mentally. But that verse reminded me to put God before all of those things. I think that’s really what helped me deal with the pressure–especially during that last race at Chicagoland Speedway before the XFINITY Series Chase.

 

Check out the book Faith in the Fast Lane, which features Blake Koch and 50 other NASCAR figures in the story of “How NASCAR Found Jesus.”

(Photos: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images; NASCAR Media; Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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