I’ve followed all of the major series of NASCAR for many years and am always interested in learning about the drivers off the track, including what drives them to succeed. Christian Eckes is someone I have followed since he first came into the Truck Series, racing for Kyle Busch Motorsports and now with ThorSport Racing. Read on below to see what Christian had to say about his background in racing, how he prepares for a race, his thoughts on the state of the sport today, and what the future may hold for him.
Q: I’d like to start off with your background. Where are you originally from and how did you first get involved in racing?
A: So I’m originally from Middletown, New York. I’m actually from the Town of Greenville. There’s a Greenville, New York and then there’s the Town of Greenville, New York. I’m from the Town of Greenville, but we didn’t have a mailing address, so we pretty much just went by Middletown, New York. I started racing because one of my dad’s friends – you see, I was always pretty interested in going fast in go karts and dirt bikes and stuff like that growing up and I always wanted to race go karts and stuff like that. And my dad’s friend raced for the longest time and we went up to my actual home track, I started racing at the Delta Motor Speedway in 2010. They had the Bandolero Division there. It looked pretty fun, and I didn’t really think that something would actually come about it. But I rented a car one weekend and had a blast. So, we went out and bought a car and then moved on to Legend Cars, Late Models, ARCA and on up to the Truck Series. So it’s been kind of a whirlwind the last 11 years, but it’s actually been pretty cool.
Q: You’re in the Truck Series now of course, but you’ve raced in a variety of series over the years and you’ve raced several different types of vehicles as well. So what all series have you been in, and what are the main differences between each one?
A: Yeah, so obviously the Bandolero Division is like a starter young kids program from U.S. Budget Cars to International. And then the Legends Car Series is next for U.S. Budget Cars as well, like the step up above that. I think you could start at like 12 or 13 or something in that series. And then from there I went to late-model stock cars to race for JR Motorsports. Then I went to super late models in 2015 with originally LFR Chassis, but then turned into Fury Racecars for the majority of my super late model career. And I went to ARCA with Venturini Motorsports, and then Kyle Busch Motorsports originally in the Truck Series, and now of course we’re racing in the Truck Series with ThorSport.
Q: You’re currently racing for ThorSport Racing. How long have you been with them now and how did your partnership with them begin?
A: This is actually my first year with ThorSport. I was with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2018, 2019 and 2020, but then that relationship faded out last year and now I’ve swapped over to part-time with ThorSport. Yeah, it was pretty much just my departure from KBM. You know, kind of in the line I was interested in. I actually knew that I wanted to be back in KBM somewhere around the beginning of October, and I was kind of cold calling David Tepper, which was the General Manager – or he is the General Manager at ThorSport Racing currently – like I said, back in October. And I didn’t really hear anything for a couple months. Then I heard some things, you know, that Toyota was making a switch and being a Toyota Development Driver, that kind of helped put everything together as far as that and I really didn’t even know I was going to have an opportunity to run any races until probably halfway through January, when we kind of put the whole deal together. So obviously I wish I was full-time this year, but, you know, a part-time gig is a hell of a lot better than sitting on the couch all the time. I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I have.
Q: Who are some of your sponsors who have helped give you the opportunity to race this season? If someone is interested in sponsoring you, how can they get in touch with you?
A: Yeah, so right now, I’m sponsored by Curb Records, Protect the Harvest, and a few others that are going to be announced here soon for the remainder of the year. But, yeah, there are sponsorship opportunities, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Having raced in the Truck Series for several years now, what’s your favorite part about driving in the series?
A: I think the competition. The competition is really unlike any other series that I’ve done so far. Obviously the Cup Series is pretty tough, but I feel like the Truck Series can, as far as the competition aspect and how the racing really unfolds with aero aspects, half runs and everything like that kind of play out, I feel like it’s more of a competitive series than the Xfinity Series for sure. Obviously whatever I’ve raced before in ARCA and everything else is just really tough. There’s a lot of good teams, there’s a lot of good drivers. It’s pretty cool to be able to race against that kind of competition and run well. I haven’t won a race yet, obviously, but when that comes, it’ll be a big moment.
Q: Do you have a favorite and a least favorite track on the schedule?
A: I’d probably say least favorite would be Bristol. I’ve never been good at the high-bank racetracks. And then the opposite of that, Gateway Worldwide Technology Raceway, which I’ve always ridden really well on the Truck Series and I feel like I should have won all three years that I’ve been there. Unfortunately, I wrecked twice and broke a drive shaft last year. So definitely a racetrack that’s my favorite but unfortunately just tends to hate me a good bit.
Q: Another other thing that I’m curious about is with traveling. How has that changed in the age of COVID for you guys? Same for like prep, like the week of a race as well. How much has that changed since the pandemic started?
A: Yes, it’s changed a lot. Travel-wise, you know, obviously we got to be careful with everything not to get COVID. But fortunately I’m vaccinated and everything so I’m good on that front. But obviously it’s been tough as far as the inability to practice or qualify and really do everything that we need to do to get ready for the weekend. Being a rookie driver last year, I only had I think 10 starts before the start of the year. When we only get to practice twice, it kind of changes a lot of things. You really can’t learn, you know, what the issues are with your car and just kind of getting that communication perfect right off is pretty tough. So overall, I’d say that’s probably the biggest thing is the preparation aspect at the racetrack, that inability to fine tune your car and get everything to where you need at the top of the start.
Q: Now, in regards to race week, how do you guys prepare each day leading up to race day. What are the days like leading up to that? How do you prepare for that?
A: Yeah, so basically this week, I’m actually in Ohio right now. And I’ll stay in Ohio with our team for a couple days. Throughout the whole time though, I’m working out, watching film, and trying to get prepared, looking over previous notes from years before, and just trying to see if there’s any trends or things that I need to pay attention to, to try to get me as prepared as possible when I get in the car.
Q: So this is a hypothetical question I always like to ask this to whoever I’m interviewing. Let’s say they made you the President of NASCAR. You’re the guy who’s in charge of everything. What changes would you make to the sport?
A: It’s kind of hard to tell. I feel like this would be a better question to ask about this time next year. I’m interested to see how the next shape of car turns out, I’m not sure if I’m sold on it or not. When I grew up and was watching NASCAR, I was a huge fan of the high horsepower, low downforce packages, and this kind of changed to sort of that with this Next Gen car. It might provide some entertaining races, it’s definitely going to be a lot different than what I think we’re all accustomed to. It could be really good or really bad, and I think that’s kind of the fun part about the season coming up. We kind of get a little bit of whatever happens, happens. So I think the change is good, but you know, in the same aspect, if I had any opinions, I would definitely have them probably about this time next year.
Q: The Next Gen cars are definitely going to be a huge change for next year. One of the major changes for this year was in regards to the scheduling. There’s a variety of new tracks that have been added across several of the series. How do you feel about the new additions to the schedule?
A: I think as a fan, it’s great. As a driver, I’m not a road course racer, so having a couple more road courses on the schedule is definitely different for me. Sure, I’ll get accustomed to it over a little bit, but I think the variety of racetracks is definitely something that is a good thing. They’re kind of, unfortunately, getting rid of Chicago and I felt like that was probably one of the best mile-and-a-halfs racing-wise. They got rid of Kentucky, which also kind of sucks. It used to be a great racetrack, but now it’s kind of a one-groove track. But yeah, bringing in these new different tracks and kind of switching the schedule up, I think it gets fans excited again to watch and see something that they wouldn’t see on a weekly basis. I think that it’s not a bad thing switching up the schedules as much as they are. I think they should do it more. There’s a lot of good racetracks out there that we don’t go to that would be great racetracks. If they switch most of them every year and switch back and forth and did a bunch of switching, I don’t think that’d be a bad thing. So I definitely do like the direction we’re going with that.
Q: Do you have any ideas on how NASCAR should try to continue growing the sport? The sport continues to make progress in trying to bring in a wider fan base. Do you think there’s a certain way that would be easiest to bring in a new set of fans?
A: You know, I don’t really know. I feel like COVID has really hurt some things as far as that. And it’s not the same going to a NASCAR race as it is watching it on TV. But the younger population would really like going to a NASCAR race because it’s not just the race itself. Obviously the race is there and it’s a major component in the weekend. But you’re hanging out with your buddies and everything like that is what kind of NASCAR is all about. It still is once we get out of this COVID funk. So I feel like NASCAR is taking the appropriate steps to kind of appeal to a general audience instead of one specific – I think that’s definitely a good direction to go in.
Q: Alrighty. You’d mentioned this earlier about prep work like working out and watching film. What sort of exercises do you do to prepare for the physical side of racing?
A: I mean I love doing like the heavy lift, like squatting, benching is what we’re on now. Our trainer Coach Quinn does a really great job with us at the Toyota Performance Center, and right now we’re on our squat block, which is five weeks of hell pretty much. It’s a lot of fun but in the same aspect, you know, it’s a lot of work. Right now we’re squatting, benching and then obviously we have some movement things throughout the week to strengthen the other parts of our body. So a lot of weightlifting, a lot of cardio. My favorite thing is definitely the weightlifting though, because I’m not really a great runner, so it’s pretty fun to do it.
Q: Do you have any sort of pump up music to help you get into the zone? Or how do you get into that zone for racing on race day?
A: Yeah I usually have this switch I can flip that kind of gets you motivated and ready to go. Usually for me it’s around the time that I put my suit on, especially lately because of being part-time and stuff, it’s kind of a surreal moment that I’m still kind of suiting up to go run in a Truck race. So that, you know, sometimes I’ll have some music, sometimes not, I have a kind of a wacky playlist. It’s really all over the place. We’ve got rap, we got pop, we got 80s, we got 90s, we got 2000s, we got 2010s. So we got pretty much everywhere. I definitely don’t, whatever you want to call it, criticize any music. I’m pretty much everywhere on the board as far as that.
Q: Now when you’re not racing, what sort of hobbies do you have to kind of unwind after a long week. What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I do a lot of yard work, stuff like that. Obviously I’m not the greatest at mowing my lawn yet. I don’t know how to do the stripes and stuff like that, I got to get into that. But I hate the fact that to do the stripes, you have to mow your grass twice. I just want to get out there, mow it once and be done. Yeah, there’s that. I always play Xbox and stuff with a bunch of buddies like me, Harrison (Burton), Todd (Gilliland) and Riley Herbst and a couple other people have fun with that, play some Call of Duty and stuff like that. But other than that it’s just me, my dog, my girlfriend, yard work and Xbox. And racing, obviously.
Q: What kind of dog do you have?
A: So I have an Australian Shepherd and poodle mix, Aussie Doodle. She’s an F-1. So basically to have one that doesn’t shed, it’d have to be her mixed with another poodle. So she really sheds somewhat, but she’s super cute, and she’s smart too.
Q: Now I know we’re a ways down the road from this, but whenever you end up stepping away from the sport many, many years down the road, would you ever consider going into broadcasting or onto the crew chief side of things? Have you given either of those any thought?
A: I don’t know. Not really the broadcasting part of things. Very honestly, I’m not that great with that kind of stuff. Maybe it’ll grow with time, but I’d say maybe the crew chief role. I feel like it’d be pretty cool to be like a general manager or an owner of a team as well. So I don’t know, it’s so far down the road that you’ll kind of have to see how it goes, but I hope to be racing long enough that I get to retire afterwards. Kick my feet up, watch movies and do nothing, I guess. I don’t know.
Q: What are your future goals in regards to the racing side of the sport? What goals have you set for this season versus a couple year out? What’s the game plan?
A: Yeah, obviously this year, it’s a new team and everything. We just want to build and grow. Obviously, we want to win a race and run well on a weekly basis because there’s a lot of times last year that I felt like I could have kind of exceeded where we finished at, and I feel like that’s kind of the goal for this year is to just finish with what we actually deserved to finish. We said, you know, if we deserved to finish fourth and we can get a second or third, that’s a good weekend. And we need to do a little bit better with that. This year, we’ve finished top 10 in both races so far, but in both races, we had some trouble. We had an engine issue in Vegas and at Daytona I got spun with like two to go. So both of those I felt like we had top five trucks. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that, so we’ve got a little bit of work to do. And as far as long term, I don’t know. I really don’t have any expectations for the long term. So I kind of grew up racing hoping that everything would just kind of work out. And obviously me departing from KBM last year kind of contradicted that a good amount. So we definitely have a little of work to do before I can say, you know, here’s our goals for the next five years. Hopefully we get to that point.
Q: The last thing I’d like to ask is what sort of advice would you like to give to younger racers who are looking to break into the sport?
A: Yeah, just – it’s definitely not going to just come to you. You have to work hard, you have to want it more than anything. As soon as you start becoming complacent and thinking that you’re in a good spot, you’re only going to go backwards. So the harder you work, the harder you push yourself to work on your craft, on your physique, everything, it will only help for the future. So just never stop grinding.