Justin Allgaier’s NASCAR ride has taken him on some serious twists and turns. After early success as the 2008 ARCA Re/MAX Series champion and the 2009 Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series Rookie of the Year, he walked through a huge open door all the way to the Sprint Cup level.
But when that two-year opportunity failed to yield sustainable results, Allgaier found contentment (and Victory Lane) at the place where he first made a name for himself. Now with three career wins under his belt and a spot in the first ever XFINITY Series Chase, the young gun turned veteran is ready to reestablish his place within NASCAR as the driver of the #7 Brandt Chevrolet.
In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Allgaier talks about his upbringing in Illinois, how his family helped pave the way, marrying his childhood sweetheart, and dealing with the inherent dangers of stock car racing:
Chad Bonham: Growing up, you spent a lot of time around racing due to your dad’s work with Hoosier Tire Distributors. Is that ultimately how you got your start in racing?
Justin Allgaier: Yeah, I started when I was five years old. My dad (Mike) was on the road a lot, so my mom (Dorothy) was always looking for things for me to do that would excite me. I always wanted to be with my dad. I always wanted to be at the racetrack. She knew that wasn’t a possibility. We went to a quarter midget racetrack and a friend of mine was racing. We watched him race and I fell in love with it. My dad called home that night and said there was no way I was going to race quarter midgets. We went around and around for five or ten minutes until I said, “But mom said.” Needless to say, I’ve been racing ever since. My dad didn’t want me in the racing business, but he said if I wanted to do it, he wanted to give him every opportunity to succeed. So we went out and raced hard and we did it right. That’s what got us to this point. I’ve got great parents and I respect them a lot for what they’ve done for my career. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s really cool that my dad had enough insight and know-how to give me every opportunity to make it at the next level.
Bonham: Tell me a little bit about your faith background.
Allgaier: I grew up attending Riverton Christian Church. It was a big part of my life. When you’re traveling and when you’re racing a lot, it’s tough. When you sit down at one church, it’s tough to be there every week. We were very fortunate that most of the series that we raced in had a chaplain. But the Riverton church was always my home base and I still go back there when we go back to Illinois. I owe a lot to that church. I couldn’t imagine growing up any other way.
Bonham: What are some of the challenges that come with the NASCAR lifestyle?
Allgaier: Every day in life there are challenges; whether you’re an accountant, a race car driver or whatever you do. Obviously in this sport, there are more challenges than maybe others but I’ve just had to put my faith in God. This is the person I am and I’m not going to shy away from it. I don’t think I’ve changed as a person from early in my career when I was able to be in church every Sunday morning to now. It’s really great for us because we have MRO (Motor Racing Outreach). But it’s tough. There are days you find yourself saying things or doing things you wish you hadn’t done. But I hope that I’ve done a good enough job so that when people look at me they automatically know that’s the kind of person I am.
Bonham: What biblical principle most guides your life?
Allgaier: Luke 9:23. That basically says (people need) to follow Jesus and not me. Even though I feel like I want people to understand who I am and what I’m about, I still understand that I’m not perfect. It’s tough because it’s so easy to get caught up in everyday life and not care any more. But that’s a principle that’s stuck in my head. Another thing is that you can’t judge people. Unfortunately, there are people here who aren’t Christian and judge people really bad. That’s one thing is kind of my pet peeve.
Bonham: Are you comfortable in a role that requires you to be the personality behind a race team?
Allgaier: It’s not just the driver. It’s the car. It’s the resources. I’m only as good as the guys around me. I don’t put much faith in me as a race car driver. I’m glad that I have the talent to go out and be competitive and run out front. But at the end of the day, I know that it’s not me that’s doing it. That’s basically how I have to look at it.
Bonham: How has being married, especially at such a young age, impacted your racing career?
Allgaier: I grew up extremely fast. I was racing at the age of five. I was racing on a semi-national level by the time I was 16. It makes you grow up fast. I met my wife Ashley when we were 15 years old. I knew within 15 minutes of meeting her, that she was the one I wanted to marry. There are days that its tough, but she’s able to travel with me to all the races. When you’re away from home 35 weekends a year, she’s very supportive of my racing and she’s my best friend and my worst critic. When I don’t do things right, she’s the first one to tell me about it. When I do things right, she’s the first one to praise me for it. I’m very glad she’s able to be a part of what I do. That makes it a lot easier. I probably wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in if it wasn’t for Ashley.
Bonham: How long do you see yourself doing this?
Allgaier: You look at what Mark Martin did in his career and I hope I’m still as competitive as he was at 50. But I’ve always said I want to do this while its fun and I want to do it as long as I can be competitive. When I’m not competitive anymore, I don’t want to put time, people and resources to base use if I can’t get the job done. Even now, if I’m not getting the job done, something’s got to be changed. I feel very strongly about that. I hope that I am still racing at 50, as long as I can get out of bed.
Bonham: How do you internally deal with the inherent dangers that come with this sport?
Allgaier: Its just part of the sport. I’ve wrecked my fair share of cars. I’ve had my fair share of injuries. If you put too much focus on it or you really worry about it, it’s going to consume you. That’s never good. There’s always a chance that I might not walk away from a racetrack. I don’t ever want to think about that, but I’m prepared if something happens. I hope that nothing ever does. That’s definitely a risk. My wife understands that. I’m definitely at peace with what God wants me to do. I have a lot of faith in that.
Bonham: What are the benefits of spending time with like-minded Christian drivers such throughout the weekend?
Justin Allgaier: That’s a big deal. Being able to surround yourself with good people is a good thing. We all have our struggles. Some come in different forms than others, but those relationships definitely help. Ashley and I feel like since our small group has started that we’ve gotten closer to the McDowell’s and the Wise’s and the Koch’s. We meet a couple of times during the week—especially during the offseason.
Bonham: What makes NASCAR different from other sports?
Justin Allgaier: The drivers are more accessible than any other sport. You go to a football game and more than likely you’re not going to be able to get field passes and meet the players before the game or you’re not going to be able to go to an autograph session an hour before the game. A lot of the things we do, they allow the drivers to get close to the fans. That’s a big deal. I’ve had great fans over the years and being able to interact with them is the only reason they’re coming to the racetrack. They come in hopes that they might get to meet somebody or see somebody. There are a lot more good things in NASCAR than there are bad.
Read more about the faith movement within racing in the book Faith in the Fast Lane: How NASCAR Found Jesus.
(Photos: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images, Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images, Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)