All great racers need a nickname right? The King, The Intimidator, The Snake, Smoke, Rowdy. You get the picture. So, you ask, what might be an appropriate nickname for 19-year-old NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Cole Whitt? How about "Fireball." No, Cole has never caused one of his vehicles to burst into flames, at least not to my knowledge. But his shiny red hair just begs for the nickname. Ok, maybe that lacks creativity. And I'm sure he's heard it a thousand times. But when digging to find something to criticize the Alpine, California native about, all I could find was his red hair and less-than-intimidating size (Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon think Whitt is small.) But once you get past his boyish looks, you'll find that Cole Whitt doesn't do much wrong.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Driver Cole Whitt. Photo by Ronda Greer Photography.
Cole Whitt and the Turn One Racing Team. Photo by Ronda Greer Photography.
As a matter of fact, put him in your race car, and watch him transform your team into instant contender. That's what energy drink giant Red Bull saw in the teenager when it signed him to a multi-year contract, and Whitt responded by dominating the USAC ranks on his way to the 2008 National Midget Championship, becoming the youngest champion in USAC history at the age of 17.
That's right, not Tony Stewart, not J.J. Yeley, not Jeff Gordon or A.J. Foyt or fellow Red Bull racer Kasey Kahne. Cole Whitt is the answer to the trivia question, Who is the Youngest Champion in the history of America's Oldest Auto Racing Sanctioning Body? Use that on Jeopardy, Alex Trebek.
In 2010, Whitt took on a knew challenge, competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, and surprising many when he captured the pole in his debut at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. He went on to make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut in Phoenix International Raceway at the end of 2010, finishing 15th, and followed it up with a 17th at Homestead-Miami Speedway the next week. This year, Whitt is tackling the Camping World Truck Series, and despite a tumultuous season, finds himself right in the championship hunt through three races.
Cole Whitt in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Photo by Ronda Greer Photography.
"I think the transition has been good. I adapt to new situations quickly, and so far so good. The new tracks are definitely a learning curve, but that's the part I look forward to most," Whitt said.
"Trucks are completely different. Sprint Cars have no aero and a ton of horsepower. Trucks rely more on aero and less on horsepower. The only time I can really compare them is on the bigger tracks, where you're pretty much wide open," Whitt said when comparing his new ride to the cars he has become so accustomed to.
After missing the season opener at Daytona for his Turn One Racing team, Whitt and Red Bull were forced to rent a truck that had qualified. He responded with a strong run, staying in the top-10 most of the race before finishing 14th. Whitt's Turn One team has responded like a championship fighter after being knocked down early, rattling off a pair of top-10's since. Two weeks ago, at one of NASCAR' most historic, and historically difficult tracks, Whitt stunned observers when he qualified on the pole, and dominated the race early, outclassing eventual race winner Kahne for much of the race's first half, before a mechanical problem forced the team to spend extra time in the pits. The team found the problem, and battled back to finish 8th. It felt like a win to Whitt.
"It showed that this team never gives up. We can dig deep and rise above the low times. We brought a really good truck to Darlington. The track just fit my style...it's a track where the driver can make a big difference and help compete against the bigger teams."
When asked about the issues his team has faced early, Whitt attributed it more to growing pains with a young team, and said the team is quick to brush it off and make strides towards getting better. "I try not to worry about things out of my control. We all can learn from mistakes…That's what I love about this team, when we have mechanical problems, nobody ever blames anyone, we just fix it and learn from it."
Whitt is enjoying his first season in the Truck Series, and he should be. He currently sits second in points, just six points back of series regular Matt Crafton, and ahead of former series Champions Ron Hornaday and Todd Bodine. While he would like to transition into the Nationwide, and eventually the Sprint Cup Series full time, Whitt is solely focusing on 2011 and his Turn One Racing team.
"We want to win some races and Rookie of the Year. But most importantly, we just want to keep improving every race, both me as a driver and the team as a whole. It would be really cool if we were in Championship contention come October."
Whitt's favorite part of the season so far has been the opportunity to race at different tracks. "I enjoyed Daytona and Darlington. I'm really looking forward to Dover too. It's a fun track and I've had success there. I'm not looking forward to New Hampshire though. I don't think it's a hard track to drive, and it's more about what team has the most resources."
Whitt said K&N Filter's products allow his team to stay on top. "K&N offers the best products out there. K&N's support, improved performance and horsepower allow our team to focus on other areas in the shop. Their support has been great!"
And who knows, with K&N's support, maybe Whitt will be hoisting a Camping World Truck Series Championship in November. While it would be an upset, don't put it past him. After all, then he won't have to worry about a nickname. They can just call him "Champ."
Find K&N products for your vehicle using the K&N application search then use the K&N dealer search to find a K&N dealer in your part of the world.