BKR’s Take on Trucks: Crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. talks new gig
As part of Motorsport.com’s content partnership with Brad Keselowski Racing, we’ll provide fans with exclusive content each week from the organization’s drivers, crew members and staff to readers throughout the 2017 season.
This week, we go one-on-one with the newest member of the Brad Keselowski Racing team, Mike Hillman Jr. Hillman Jr. is the winner of two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship and leads the effort for the No. 29 Draw-Tite Ford F-150 team and driver Chase Briscoe. Motorsport.com recently sat down with Hillman Jr. to get his thoughts on coming over to a new team for the 2017 season.
Q: What do you think your biggest contribution can be to this team in 2017 featuring two very young drivers?
I think being able to speed up the learning curve with our young drivers on the team. I feel that with my experience and background in the series, I can give Chase an opportunity to learn and figure things out a little quicker.
Q: You’ve been a part of the NCWTS for a long time. How do you feel your experience will help as Ford begins its driver development program with BKR?
I feel Brad (Keselowski) has already done that to an extent here at Brad Keselowski Racing. Now with Ford on board to support a development program, it will only make the situation here that much better. You should have a goal in a development program to help groom your driver for the next step. Hopefully, in 2-3 years, I can watch Chase or any driver I’ve worked with in the program competing and winning at the next level.
Q: How as BKR addressed the race format changes that have been implemented this season?
The new segments will be important because of the points you will get now and the playoff points will be huge down the road. It will be important to gain as many segment points as you can, and that can help you overcome a bad finish at the end of a race if you have one. I think it will be tougher in the Truck Series because our races and segments are shorter.
Q: Does the creation of race segments mean teams like yours will focus more on short-run speed in their truck development?
It won’t change much for us because our races are already shorter than most in NASCAR, so you have to set your truck up to handle that and be fast anyway. The segments won’t change how we set the truck up much at all.
Q: In general, will NASCAR’s new vehicle repair policy change much about how your teams go about their work on race weekends?
We always adjust to every change NASCAR makes for the teams. I like this new rule. I remember the year (2010) we won the title with Todd (Bodine). He drove the final two laps of the race at Talladega without a radiator.
Q: What makes the NCWTS so special to you?
I love it as a crew chief. You have to make aggressive calls in the pits because you have shorter races and fewer pit stops. From a personal standpoint, I love the schedule because I’m married and have young kids who are active in things like sports and dance, and I have a chance to spend time with them more due to our schedule.
Q: Do you see the Truck Series adopting any more changes to the truck in the near future?
I know NASCAR is always looking at ways to make the cockpit of the trucks safer for the drivers. So if I expect any changes in the near future, I think it would be along the lines of making the truck even safer than it already is for our drivers.
Q: If there is one thing you could change about the NCWTS what would it be and how would you do it?
If I had my way, we would take the trucks back to more short tracks. I think it would be good for the series to go back and connect with the roots of NASCAR – which is short track racing.
Q: What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment so far in your career?
Winning the two championships I’ve won in 2006 and 2010.
Q: Who is the toughest crew chief you’ve had to match wits with so far in your NASCAR career?
I’ve competed against some of the best in the history of the Truck Series – Rick Ren, Mike Beam and Richie Waters to name a few. But sometimes your toughest competitor is yourself when you are trying to figure out what to do next in a race. Sometimes you battle with yourself on making a decision you feel will help your team the best at that moment.
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