Before Chase Briscoe had a driver’s license, he was honing his racing skills on the internet.
During his iRacing adventures, the Mitchell, Ind., native competed against another aspiring driver, Christopher Bell of Norman, Okla. The two youngsters quickly rose through the open wheel ranks. When both ultimately moved to North Carolina, Briscoe crashed on a friend’s couch. Bell slept on an air mattress at the house.
Now, the friends find themselves together again, this time in the Camping World Truck Series, where they’ll battle for the title.
“He’s going to be another championship contender that’s a rookie,” said Bell, who won on the tour in his third start and finished third in his freshman season. “I feel the truck series is going to be as intense as ever.”
While Bell already has one year of truck competition behind him with Kyle Busch Motorsports, Briscoe, 22, is a rookie. Briscoe was seleted as Ford Performance’s first candidate in its new driver development program. He will pilot the No. 29 F150 for Brad Keselowski Racing.
Gaining experience and leaning on Bell
But before his three starts in the K&N Pro Series West tour with Bill McAnally in 2013, the third-generation dirt racer had little experience on pavement. Three years later, Briscoe partnered with Cunningham Motorsports to win six races and nine poles en route to the ARCA championship.
I never thought I’d ever get the chance to run a stock car.
Briscoe relied on Bell for advice as he transitioned from open wheel to stock cars. He’s hoping his fellow competitor will be as gracious now that Briscoe has graduated to the truck tour.
“I talked to him a lot last year in the ARCA deal, especially in places where he had been in a truck,” Briscoe said. “Obviously, this year I’ll talk to him quite a bit and rely on him. Really, he’s the only driver in the series that I know personally.
“I’ll probably lean on Christopher quite a bit. Hopefully, he’ll lend me some tips. I’m starting to get close to (former BKR driver) Daniel Hemric. Me and Bell play golf with Hemric, so I’m getting to know him a little bit more. He’s a super nice guy. Having them in my back pocket will be a big help this year.”
But dirt is in Briscoe’s blood. His grandfather, Richard Briscoe, started on the driving side of sprint cars. When a fellow driver died during a racing accident in Briscoe’s second start, he moved to the ownership side. Rich Vogler, Dave Blaney and Steve Kinser drove for the elder Briscoe, as did Chase’s dad Kevin during his 22-year sprint car career.
Meeting Tony Stewart
It was through his father that Briscoe first met Tony Stewart.
“My Dad and Tony used to be really good friends,” Briscoe said. “My Dad used to hang out with Tony when Tony worked at the local go-kart track. That was before Tony was racing sprint cars or anything.
“For me, Tony was always the one guy I looked up to growing up because he was a sprint car guy. Jeff Gordon was another driver I looked up to. He once spent the night at my grandparents’ house when they were growing up together. Those are the two guys that were the most influential in my career, but especially Tony, because he’s so passionate about dirt racing.”
At 13, Briscoe became the youngest driver to win a 410 cubic-inch sprint car race when he was victorious at Bloomington Speedway. The previous record-holder was Gordon, who accomplished the feat at 14.
“Sprint cars and dirt was all I really knew growing up,” Briscoe said. “We don’t really have any pavement tracks up there except for Salem (Speedway) — which is 20 minutes from my house. That’s really the only pavement racing I knew of, other than NASCAR racing on TV.”
His lack of pavement experience didn’t stop Briscoe from auditioning for the 2013 Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge. He parlayed his runner-up finish into a three-race NKNPSW opportunity. Briscoe qualified sixth and finished eighth at Albuquerque in his first career start.
Two years later, Briscoe contacted Roush Fenway Racing. Roush had offered Bell a contract but he declined and urged Briscoe to approach the team. The introduction evolved into an opportunity with Briggs Cunningham in ARCA.
“Briggs is the only reason I got to race anything in ARCA last year,” Briscoe said. “I have no clue why he picked me, but obviously he did. I had been in North Carolina for three years and I was over it. I had packed my bags and was ready to move back to Indiana when (Cunningham co-owner) Kerry Scherer called. I told him I knew nothing about stock cars, but I would volunteer at the race shop if that helped.”
Cunningham Motorsports offered Briscoe the opportunity to test their cars. His raw speed was apparent when his lap times were faster than those of the team’s two regular drivers. By July, Cunningham offered Briscoe an audition. He qualified fifth and finished 10th at Lucas Oil Raceway. In just his second ARCA start, Briscoe earned his first top-five result at his home track of Salem that September.
“I thought I blew it,” Briscoe said following his performance. “Then Briggs invited me to his house. I had never met him — just here and there. We hung out all day. He asked me, ‘What do you want to do next year?’ I said jokingly, ‘I’d love to win you the championship. If you just run me in 10 races or five or even one, I’d appreciate it.’
“I never thought I’d ever get the chance to run a stock car. Two days later, Briggs called and said, ‘Let’s run for the championship.”
In 2016, Briscoe’s rookie season in ARCA, he dominated the tour before winning the title. Not only was Briscoe remarkably consistent with an average qualifying effort of fourth and an average finish of 5.2, but he also completed all but 31 of 2720 laps and led 949 circuits.
Fulfilling Chili Bowl dream
For Briscoe, the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals was always a lifelong dream. In 2015, after he posted a request to drive on Facebook, his wish was fulfilled.
“The Chili Bowl is a lot of rent-a-ride stuff, and I never had money to do it,” Briscoe said. “It was my birthday and I was on Facebook. I was talking about how I never drank and how I was proud of that. A guy that owned a midget — Jeff Davis — saw the post that night. They had a driver back out about a week before the event and decided to give me a shot. They let me run their midget for free. That was my first time in a midget.”
Briscoe won the D Main on his qualifying night in 2015 but his oil line broke as he crossed the finish line. The following year, Briscoe was scheduled to race for Cole Custer but a postponed ARCA test at Daytona prevented him from making the trip for the finals. This year, Briscoe finished second in Tuesday’s heat race. He beat Kyle Larson in Qualifying Race 3 and finished sixth in A Feature 1 to advance to his first Chili Bowl Nationals final where he finished 22nd. Bell won his first Golden Driller — the Chili Bowl Nationals’ trophy.
While Briscoe can’t wait to dethrone Bell at Tulsa Expo Speedway in 2018, his focus has shifted driving the No. 29 Ford for Keselowski at Daytona International Speedway. Briscoe will have Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s spotter, TJ Majors, guiding him when he makes his truck debut on Feb. 24.
“Normally, I’m not the biggest guy on plate races, but with TJ spotting for me it makes me really excited,” Briscoe said. “When it comes to plate racing, TJ is one of the best in the business so I’m excited to get there. I just want to get the season going. And of course, Atlanta is going to be fun. Hopefully, we can knock out a win at Daytona and take the stress off for the rest of the year.”
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