It’s the Best Place I’ve Ever Worked: Kevin Gladman Reflects on the Journey that Led Him to RFK Racing

Kevin Gladman is the everyman. A hard-working guy who comes from a hard-working part of the country, Gladman started off with a dream and has worked his way up through the NASCAR ranks, from working in R&D to now being one victory away from making an appearance in the Championship 4 as a crew member for the #17 car of Chris Buescher. We had the chance to speak with Kevin Gladman, who gave us the rundown on his experiences in the sport, including the experience of being in Victory Lane at Daytona, the learning curves he and his team faced with the Gen 7 car, the uprising of RFK Racing, and what the future holds for both him and his team.

Q: I’d like to start off with where are you originally from, and how did you first get involved with racing?

A: I’m originally from Cadiz, Ohio. A little coal mining town up there on the east side. I got started into NASCAR—well, into racing in general through my dad. We went and watched a couple of Cup races at Bristol growing up. I was always a little gear head—taking stuff apart, and never really put anything back together until I got a little older. You know how that is. But then I started racing motocross and then just kept going on from there. And then in high school, I went and took Automotive Tech over at the vocational school, and then went to University of Northwestern Ohio for college.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to be more on the mechanical side versus on the driving side?

A: Well, the thing is, driving wasn’t really ever an option. You know, you grow up doing it as a kid, run go karts or something like that. The budget wasn’t exactly there for all that stuff. And I just had a knack for working on it. So it’s just kind of one of those deals and how it worked out. Originally, I wasn’t even planning on going into NASCAR or NHRA or any of that stuff. I wanted to be a dirt bike mechanic. I was big into Motocross, Supercross. But I found out it just wasn’t going to work out there. And then, at least if that didn’t work out, I had a fallback, so that’s why I went to an automotive college. 

Q: So you went to college, go through college, you graduate. How did you get linked up with NASCAR?

A: So while I was in college, UNOH actually has a motorsports program up there, and it’s expanded a lot since I was there. But in 2008 when that market crash happened, I added a bunch of classes up there. So it turned a one-year/two-year school into a four-year school. I basically took every other class I could while I was getting my bachelors. And I joined the motorsports team. We had three street stocks for a little while, but we only ran like two of them at a time. And then we had four dirt UMP Modifieds, and we ran two of those most of the time. We built everything: engines, transmissions, built the chassis for the street stocks and all that. We had driver tryouts. You had to maintain a certain GPA to drive, and you also had to maintain a certain GPA to be on the team. And then we would travel locally for a little while there.

We had a track next door to the school called Limaland. It’s a little three-eighth-mile high bank; the school owned it. And then we’d go to Eldora and race there. And then we went as far as I-55 and the Ozarks out in the Midwest. And then for Speedweeks for Daytona, we’d go down to Volusia and run the Gator Nationals. And they would put their upperclassmen on like Kenny Schrader’s, Kenny Wallace’s cars, and then Austin and Ty Dillon’s. They put me on Ty’s car—I think it was my last year at college. We’d go down there just, you know, shooting the crap with everybody, this and that and the other, exchanging numbers. And the next thing you know, you’re having a couple of drinks with the right people. And then about six months after I got out of school, I got a phone call from Mike Dillon, saying, “Hey, if you’re interested, come on down. We have spot on our R&D team.” So I came down and worked on the R&D team for a little while, and that’s how I got into it. 

Q: So, you started off on R&D. Did you immediately go all the way up to Cup? Or did they kind of start you down like at the Xfinity program and then bring you up? How does that work? 

A: Well, for the R&D deal, I was there with the test team. So, we’d go out and test. And this was back when you were still allowed to test, right? So, you know, we’d got out to DPG in Arizona on a three-mile continuous ring, do some aero testing out there. From there, I would say I went straight to the full-time Cup. But my first race ever was at Daytona, with Austin in the #33 Cheerios car. I was there, and then we just kind of did a hodgepodge of different things because, after that year, we did a limited Cup schedule with Austin, and then he went up into Cup the following year, and then I think I went down to the third or fourth car. So, we did everything from Truck to Xfinity to Cup, all in one year. And I think we won in every series, except for Cup that year. That would have been cool. We ended up winning—I think it was Pocono with Austin in a truck. And we won with Paul Menard at Michigan in the Xfinity. And then we had—well we did sit on the Pole with Brian Scott at Talladega, I think, which was cool.

Q: How many different drivers have you worked with in your career now?

A: Whew, I’m going to have to count them out. Cale Conley, Brian Scott, Austin and Ty, Paul Menard. I’m trying to think of all of them at RCR. I worked with Bobby Labonte as a test driver. I worked with Kurt Busch as a test driver. I worked with Ryan Newman over the years when he was there. Wasn’t really around with Harvick much. And then when I went to Gibbs in 2019, I worked with Harrison Burton, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin. Jack Hawksworth—he was a sports car driver of some sort from across the pond. Very good driver. And we were on the All-Star car, the #18 car. And there’s a couple others. It’s just been so many over the past 10 or 12 years. It’s kind of a blur.

Austin Dillon’s win at the 2018 Daytona 500.

Q: You mentioned a couple of the wins. You were with Austin Dillon for the Daytona 500 and for the Coca-Cola 600. What’s it like being in Victory Lane? What’s the entire experience like having put in all of the work and then reaping the reward afterwards? 

A: Oh, you’re just on such an adrenalin high, and just on cloud nine. It’s about as close to childbirth, being a proud dad, I think as it could possibly get because I don’t have kids yet. Which is another kind of odd thing because the vast majority of people in the sport are all married and have kids. So, it’s like I’m one of the few that’s left that doesn’t. But yeah, it’s amazing. It’s one of those things you’ll never forget really. And when you watch the highlights, it just brings it all back, you know, from previous years. There’s nothing like it, especially at this level, because the competition is so tight. You know, the way NASCAR has everything set on the rules, you’re fighting tooth and nail to find anything. And then, you know, everybody’s got to be plugged in because it just—you’ve got to be perfect almost every week, you know. It’s just tough. 

The full breakdown of drivers Kevin Gladman has worked with, as well as a cumulative list of Poles and Wins he has been a part of. Photo Credit: Kevin Gladman

Q: Do you know how many wins you’ve been a part of across the three series? 

Let’s see. There’s Pocono in the Truck Series. Michigan in Xfinity. We almost won the entire West Coast swing with Kyle Busch, which would be Vegas—I can’t remember if we won Phoenix or not. I know we won Fontana. We won Indy—Indianapolis Xfinity race. I got a ring for that one. We won Darlington with Denny, which would have been all the rings. I would have had at least one ring for all the ring races. But we got thrown out there during post-race inspection. There’s so many of them to think of on the spot. I didn’t write them down. Let’s see, I pretty much got them all except for Darlington. And Michigan was a really cool win with Paul because it was Father’s Day that weekend and my dad was there. My dad and my stepmom were at the track. So that was neat. Looked over at Victory Lane and I don’t know how he made it from the stands down into the infield right there with photographers. I’m like, “How did you get there?” He just acted like he owned the joint. 


Oh, goodness. That’s a great memory right there.

Yeah, it was funny. Did you want to know what the Cup wins were too, or just the Xfinity and Truck?

Yeah, absolutely. Go ahead and do the Cup wins as well.

A: Let’s see. The Daytona 500 with Austin. The Coke 600. There were several Poles that I probably won’t really remember. Then we went to Gibbs for some Xfinity racing, and then came back down here with, well, basically every race that Chris Buescher won this year. So, Richmond—I actually wasn’t there at Richmond because they give us an extra week off at RFK. And I decided to take the Richmond weekend and go up to Lena, Wisconsin, with my dad and my best bud. Went short course racing for the first time with a Pro Buggy. Did pretty good there until we had, you know, a mechanical issue. But it was awesome nonetheless. I was listening to it on the radio while we were cooking dinner. And it was cool to hear all the excitement everybody had that Chris got his first win of the season at Richmond. And then when I got back, we went and backed it up at Michigan. Then did it again at Daytona. So the three wins so far with Chris has been pretty doggone cool. I mean, the Daytona night race, the summer race, is pretty neat to win that one. And having that, and the 500—I actually got more recognition off the Daytona win in the summertime than I did the 500. Social media blew up on that one. I think it’s mainly because you don’t ever really hear much about Chris, but he’s a hell of a driver. It’s just now that I think we’ve got good cars underneath him and everything’s coming to life at RFK at the right time. His confidence level is up there. And the guy can drive. He’s probably one of the best drivers I’ve ever worked for too. A nice dude, would do anything for you. And, you know, if stuff starts going south out on the track, he knows most of that stuff is out of our control because we try to control everything we can. It doesn’t really get to him. Like, some drivers have a meltdown, and you have to bring them back. He’ll be maybe mad for a second, and then he’s like, “Alright, let’s do this.” And just get back in it. 

That’s wonderful. I remember following him early on his career. I remember when he got that first win back at Pocono back in the day for, I think it was Front Row or JTG or something. I was like, man, you put this guy in great equipment and who knows what he could accomplish.

And Brad thought the same thing because as soon as Brad got in there and situated, he immediately gave him a contract and that extended his stay there. The Boss Man sees something in him for sure too.

Q: How did your partnership with RFK come about?

A: Well, after I was at Gibbs in 2019, I actually took a little hiatus from the sport. I went back to Ohio and was up with family and friends. I was kind of out of racing there for about three years. Did a little of my own racing up there with my dad. And then I kept getting calls about people wanting me to come back and this, that and the other. And I was like, ah, I don’t know. Then finally, my buddy who’s a car chief on the #17 said, “Hey, I need you to come down here.” {Laughter} He’s a good mechanic. I said alright, fine. So I did. I took a vacation and left like a week early, and started out somewhere just north of Carolina Beach and moseyed my way on down the coast and whatever to Tybee Island in Savannah and then back up to RFK for an interview. And I guess the rest is history. I ended up starting there and January 1 of this year was my first day.

Q: What exactly is your role on the car? What specifically do you do in order to prepare it?

A: Even back in the day, I was working underneath. I was the underneath mechanic, and that’s pretty much what I’m doing now. Which, everybody’s kind of really well versed in everything on this new car. And underneath mechanics, basically—it’s like you take care of everything under the car and all the driveline, basically, bell housing back. Third gear, which now it’s, you know, transaxle fuel cell area, the diffuser, belly pan, rocker boxes, all that stuff now that we’ve got with this new car. 

Q: Is there ever any crossover between your team and Brad’s team? Do you ever work on each other’s cars, or do you just exclusively work on Chris Buescher’s?

A: We help each other out. Like, if you’re struggling over there, you know, you need something, they’ll come over and help. This year I think they got in the wall a couple times throughout the year in qualifying or practice, or something like that. Something’s happened, you know, they’ll get damaged. And then we’ll go over there after we get through tech, or whatever the case may be, before we even leave, you know, we’ll help them out. Stay there, help them fix the damage, and this, that and the other. And it goes both ways there. So that’s about it for the most part. We’re still competitors at the same time, but we share information and help each other. It’s like about the healthiest of a competitive racing relationship you can get. But no, I don’t go right over there to the #6 and start turning wrenches unless they need an extra hand or something. But we are good teammates and help each other out where we can. 

Q: We kind of touched on this earlier. With the NextGen car, things are a lot tighter now than they used to be when you’re trying to find that competitive edge. How do you approach trying to pick up an extra tenth of a second or a couple of hundredths here or there? What’s the thought process to see, like, “Where can we make up time at? Either on track or on pit road?”

A: Pit road is key. Like our pit crew we’ve got now, they’ve been the biggest gain for us this season for sure during the race. But as far as vehicle speed and figuring out stuff, it’s just mainly paying attention to what your manufacturer is telling you is good here and there, and this, that and the other. And just using every tool you have available and just capitalizing on it. And it takes a little bit to actually correlate everything to where, you know, “I said I should do this. Well, we’ve got to do it just a little bit different to hit your mark” kind of thing, you know. So I don’t want to go into a whole lot of detail, but it’s so detail-oriented now that any little crumb, you better get it, because these cars are even closer now than what it used to be. And with the old car it was like if you had a darn near unlimited budget where you could sling different parts on the thing all the time, you’re going to be fast—if you had a pretty good driver versus somebody that can’t react the week of when they find something in the (wind) tunnel, you know, that has to wait a week or two before they can apply it to a car. If you can do it right then and there, then you’re better off. That was what the old car was, the name of the game on it. But, you know, the usual shenanigans that everybody would do. But this new one, man, it’s tight. You’re down to who puts it together and how it’s put together every week. It’s like it’s a game of thousandths on how they do it. And we’re very good at assembling these cars repetitively. So I think we’ve—Brad’s given us the correct tools in the shop to get all this done. So we’re making it and taking full advantage of it.

Q: Now you don’t have to go into any company secrets or anything, but how do you guys prepare leading up to a race? What’s the entire process like that week?

A: So—Mondays we are off. We go in Tuesday and work from 6:00 to at least 3:30, it just depends on how far along we get to go through everything: nut, bolt, car, verify fluid levels. You know, your usual prep work and all that stuff. And then start putting all your underbody on. And Robert’s got the interior—guy’s got a lot of work most of the time because he’s got to finish building the interior and swapping things over from last week for this week. But once all the key parts and pieces are in it and it’s ready to go, then you’ll do a little scaling, and then go over to Hawkeye (our in-house OSS Station) and get a scan sheet on it and work on some things there and come back. And then once everything’s done and completed, we start doing our final scale and we’re usually done and out of there Wednesday late in the day at worst. I mean, hell, I’ve been out of there and done at noon before in earlier parts of the season. So it’s kind of nice. We try not to work to work, you know. We work with purpose and just focus on all the details that you can. But at the same time, you know, my car chief likes to work on the premise of we don’t need to be all standing around staring at each other waiting on one particular thing or whatever. Just go and we’ll come back and we’ll attack it later. There’s been times where we’ve gotten a hang up in the shop during the assembly process or finish process of it, and we’ll come back in on Thursday and finish up what we had to finish, and then load the car on Thursday. And then the trucks leave. So it’s a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s probably been the best place I’ve ever worked, to be honest with you. The guys there in the shop, you know, they really enjoy how well us and the #6 car are doing.

I wish we could get the #6 a win. They’ve been close this year, for sure. And it’s—they’re just fun to work with there. And everybody wants to come up and talk to you or congratulate you on the finish and all that stuff and everything else. So you just definitely want to do it for them whenever—you know, it all goes together whenever you’re putting a car together. It’s like you’re not only letting your team down, but the whole entire shop. They make a living off of what we do too. So you’ve got to kind of really—you’re holding everybody’s jobs in your hands, basically, as a road guy, is what some people don’t really understand. So you get a little extra pressure on that side of it. But it’s been great so far at RFK.

Q: That’s wonderful. It really is nice working for an employer that cares for you and gives you a welcoming environment. Then you really do want to give it your all. And it’s a really good feeling.

A: And Brad’s re-done that entire interior of that shop. Re-epoxied the floors, new lighting, painted the walls. We had to get rid of all of our—not get rid of it, but get all of our old tool boxes that didn’t match anything or anybody else’s out of there. He ordered up a bunch of black matte roll around toolboxes, and that’s what we have. He provides us all with toolboxes to have to keep all our stuff in so everybody looks professional, the same, and all that. So it’s been, from what I’ve been told from the beginning when he got there to now, a night-and-day transition.

A car going through the pre-race inspection process. Photo Credit: How NASCAR Pre-race and Post-race Inspection Works | HowStuffWorks

Q:  You walked me through the week of process. Now let’s kind of go through what happens at the track. What’s the pre-race inspection process like? How do you guys adjust during practices? And what’s it like just leading up to the day of the race?

A: So, we fly in. This past weekend, for instance. Usually it’s a two-day weekend for us, but it’s a toss-up. It’s either two or three days. Just depends on, you know, how many or if all three series are there. So, like this past weekend for Texas, we flew in earlier in the morning, get there, go into the track—they allow you in like an hour early, but you can’t work on the car yet. So you’re allowed in your hauler at say 10:30. And then the garage opens at 11:00. So everybody will meander on in there and then hang out for a minute, get some coffee, then we go over there. As soon as the garage opens, our engine tuner, he’ll start getting the throttle body and all of the intake system and the pants off the radiator box down there and get all that stuff out of the way so NASCAR can check the engine. So, they’ll check that. And then David Green will come by and he’ll do interior safety, and then somebody will drop off transponders, and I’ll stick those transponders on because they go on in the rear of the car. And then get everything ready to go to tech. And usually we show up ready to roll through tech because we’re like P-4 for time and in points I think we’re P-5 to P-3 now in points. It’s like, as soon as you get your plate and everything checked on the engine side, you’re rolling. So you’ve got to be Johnny-on-the-spot with everything so we’ll roll through tech.

You go through underneath inspection first. So jack it all up on four stands, tires off right in front of everybody. I mean, that’s just how it is. Everybody’s got the same suspension parts and stuff. It’s just a matter of where you bolt them on at basically. It ain’t like it was before where everything was custom 1950s technology. And so, they’ll roll there underneath the car to check out your underbody with all the different templates. And then look in your wheel wells to check everything out there. Make sure stuff is safety wired like it’s supposed to be. Check the trunk area out, the interior. The whole overbody and underbody stuff. And once you pass that—well, not unless you pass that, but once you’re done there, you go over to—you’re ready to roll up on heights and weights. And Stephanie there, she’ll check the spoiler, shark fin, back glass openings, roof rails, any other templates that they feel like they need to check. And then you go up on heights and weights, and then they weigh your car to make sure overall it’s correct. The right side weight is within tolerance. Your heights are within tolerance. And then they scan the underbody with a laser scanner to make sure you’re within the parameters they give you there. And then you roll off that and go over to, we call it Hawkeye, because it’s an optical scan system. Then you go up on there, and it will actually—you put plates on the wheels, and then there’s targets that hit specific acorns that are machined into the chassis from the chassis builder. And that will locate the chassis center line. And that’s what measures they use to go off of to measure your outer body location and your suspension geometry. So you’re within a—you’re in a tight box with your suspension geometry, rear toe camber, front camber, all that stuff. So it’s all got to be correct. And you only have two tries, basically. So if you fail the first time for whatever it was—like anything body-related and underbody-related, usually the car chief is in trouble. And then suspension geometry is typically when the engineer is in trouble. So you could fail for one the first time, come back through, and if you don’t make a toe adjustment because it’s kind of a moving number slightly in that thing—it repeats, but it’s like it floats around a few thousandths. If you’re on your number, you better back off your toe a little bit because if not, and you go back through and you fail a second time but it’s for suspension, your engineer’s going home. So, you know, it makes it interesting. People get nervous, but you do your best to keep everything where it needs to be and all that stuff. After that, you pretty much come back, and if you pass, you go back to your garage stall and wait for your shocks to get there because they’re being teched and all that. And then you stick your coil overs on and they tell you to walk away from it once you’ve got your coil overs on it. And then the next day, you come in there and get ready for practice and qualifying.

Q: Whether it be from a preparation side or just because you’re a fan of the sport, are there certain tracks you prefer going to?

A: I think that kind of changes as your driver changes. Or if you change organizations and drivers, it kind of changes where you’re at. Like, we’re really good at road courses with Chris. Like Chris is just—even though he’s grown up on oval tracks, he’s just a natural road racer. So we like those superspeedways that our organization is really fast at. And then our mile-and-a-half program has been—I mean, even as a whole, Fords, we’ve been struggling, and I think we’ve finally got some speed into our Mustang at the mile-and-a-halfs. So, it’s, I’d say, your short tracks and road courses and superspeedways we really like. But like I say, you can kind of like certain tracks—I like watching certain tracks, but I don’t like working there. {Laughter} It’s just the location or just how tight everything is in the garage area and stuff. It’s just lots of stuff that goes into it. It’s like, man, I love this place, but I don’t at the same time.

Q: When you’re in town for a race, is it just strictly business, or do you have time to do a little sightseeing or have a little downtime in between things? Or is it just strictly, “We’re here to win, we’re here to do what we need to do, and get out?”

A: You get more time to go do things, for sure, than what you used to. Because of Covid, it really shook up how everything’s done, how many people need to be at the track. Like, they found out that you could pretty much, you know, cut several—not necessarily cut, but you didn’t need as many people on the road to travel. And they did the whole condensed schedule deal to where we went from being gone Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday to just Friday, Saturday, Sunday at the worst. It really depends on where you’re at and what the schedule’s like. But you’ll go in, you’ll tech on Friday, and then as soon as you pass, you’re done. So, we’ll stay and help our tire guy get his tires done, and then we’ll leave the track. We’ll be out, we’ll go back to the room. Some people work out or go bike. I heard some of the other guys on different teams went down to see where Kennedy was assassinated and went through that museum and stuff like that, which is kind of nice. Me, I just like finding different places to eat. I love food and all that. {Laughter} And I just like to chill. You sit back and think about how things used to be done, where it was just like shoot from the hip as hard as you can go with the old car. And the way things were done then, which was fun. I miss it most days because this is the way it’s set up now; it’s kind of hurry up and wait. You only get 20 minutes of practice, so it ain’t like you’re getting three 50-minute practices like you used to.

Q: What’s your go to food when you’re on the road?

A: Mexican food. I’m pretty sure most of the people on our team are Mexican food guys. Mexican food or a good steak. That’s my thing. A good bone-in ribeye. Let’s see here. Well, out West—if we had Del Taco on the East Coast, it would run Taco Bell out of business. I mean, I like Taco Bell from time to time. You know, I’d still rather go have Chipotle or some authentic Mexican place. But Del Taco is a good little fast food joint, or Señor Taco.

But there’s a bunch of different, really good places, like St. Elmo’s in Indy. We go to Hard Eight in Texas. It’s really good Texas barbecue-style cooking. And just about anything. We stop and we land in the morning and we go straight to the track, and we always hit up Chick-fil-A. So there’s God’s chicken. {Laughter} Gotta have that. 

Taco Bell’s good, but it’s better when you’re drunk, though.

Good recovery food. 


Give me a couple of those cheesy rollups and one of those six-packs of those soft shells and I’m your guy. 

Right, give me a number 6. Two Chalupas and a hard taco. 

Kevin Gladman zoned in on pit road. Photo Credit: Kevin Gladman

Q: Since we’ve talked about food, how do you keep yourself in shape, both physically and mentally?

A: I definitely go to the gym now. I used to never go to the gym and now of course when you’re getting older you have got to take care of yourself. But my buddy is like, “Oh by the way, for pit stops, I’m going to have you hand in second can.” And I’m like, “you’re going to do what?” {Laughter}

And he’s like, “Yeah, nobody else can do it.” I was like, aw man. So I just started going to the gym. I could hand it to him, but I just felt bad if I was the weak link on the exchange handing over a 96-pound fuel can straight out to our giant fueler. And if we have a bobble there, I didn’t want it to be me. So I got into the gym and started working out, which has probably been the best thing I’ve ever done. I like it. I actually feel guilty if I don’t go at least two or three times a week. But just eating better in general, you just feel so much better, you know, physically, if you just cut out all the crap, like the processed food stuff. I haven’t had a soda in probably three years or more. Just water, adult beverages or coffee. That’s about it.

Q: When you’re in the gym, are you more of like a free weights guy? Do you do cardio? What’s your usual workout routine? 

A: Definitely free weights. If you see this guy running, it’s probably because I ran out of ammunition and you should turn around and run too. 


Q:The next batch of questions are going to cycle more to overarching questions about the sport in general. What are your thoughts on the current NASCAR schedule? Are there any tracks you’d like to see added to it?

I think the schedule’s pretty good. The racing has changed and kind of picked up at most places that weren’t exactly ideal in the past. I think if I was running it, I would want to do more short tracks and try to go to different places we haven’t been to before. Which I think there’s things going on in the wind. You know, it’s getting close to Silly Season, so you hear all kinds of stuff. But some of the places I’m hearing that we might be going to here in the near future are going to be really cool. So I’m looking forward to that, but I think it’s a good, decent mix now. I’d like to see them change up and go to different places. But, you know, there’s so much that goes into it, and it kind of opens your eyes to it. Whenever you look at a place like North Wilkesboro—what they had to do just to get us back into that track was unreal. I went there when we were testing and was thinking, man, it’s going to be hard. They’re going to be hard-pressed to finish this up to where we can come here and race for the All-Star Race. And they got it done. And it turned out great. Like, actually, the traffic getting out of there was better there than it was any other place on the circuit. It was funny because you walk and go in there and it’s like, man, there’s no way we’re getting out of here before 1:00 in the morning. But stuff like that would be really cool to go back to. I’d like to go to Rockingham. It’s one track I’ve never got to go to on any NASCAR schedule. I went there and helped out with a couple of asphalt late models, which was pretty neat. So hopefully we get to go back to Rockingham at some point.

Q: What are your thoughts on this whole charter system controversy? Do you think it’s good for the sport? 

A: I don’t know, I’m up in the air on it. I’m just kind of like a fly on the wall sitting back and watching that unfold. I think it’s great that it gives ownership value, but the ins and outs and everything else, I’m not a hundred percent sure on. So I’ve been out of the sport for about three years, so I’m just kind of focusing on working on the car and making sure my things on my end are good. But, it’ll be interesting to see how this kind of all unfolds as things progress. I’ve heard a lot of people like different owners talk outside the sport. Which that’s just what it is, talk, but how they want to change it, and they’re not impressed with it. And some people like it, some people don’t, I don’t know. It’s just things changing. And you know what change brings. A lot of smoke.

Q:How do you feel about NASCAR’s continued efforts to try to grow the sport? They have series in Canada, Mexico, Europe. They’re trying to bring in a more diverse fanbase. You have new owners coming into the sport. Have they done a good job of trying to keep the sport moving in a progressive direction?

A: I think they’re doing pretty good. I think they need to do more on the grassroots level. Which what they’re doing now is great. Honestly, I don’t know. I think I saw something—You might have to look that up, but it was some sort of NASCAR grassroots sponsors, like a local asphalt track, like a four-banger race and a six-cylinder race. But it was like, it was anything that had this engine in it or something like that. And it almost looked like a 24-Hour of Lemons kind of thing, you know, but it wasn’t. But it was definitely a grassroots, pure sport style racing. You get a good cage, all the safety equipment and everything else. Because I’m pretty sure one of things that was in there was that it must pass safety tech, this and that. But no, the competition the way it is now—and like Trackhouse. Where the heck did they come from? I think they were at RCR with Daniel Suarez to begin with, and then all of a sudden it’s like they kind of meandered out of there. And it’s like, huh, wonder what’s going to happen to them. And here they are, you know, a two-car team which is in any weekend a force to be reckoned with. It’s unreal. The competition with the way this car is and then the new teams coming in it—like Spire. I think they’ll be on the up and coming here in the next year or two. And Front Row. Their partnership with us this year has helped them a lot. They’ve shown a lot of speed with Michael McDowell. There’s a lot of parity with this new car that NASCAR’s come up with, and we’ve been running. It just makes everybody relevant.

Q: Would you ever like to see NASCAR do something similar to what Tony Stewart’s done with the SRX Series? Maybe like some sort of crossover race between all the different series?

A: Oh, like an MX versus ATV untamed kind of thing? I think it would be cool. There’d be—because I’m big into short course racing, when I go back home, we race side-by-sides and everything else and whatnot. But you watch what they do, either the Midwest Series or even out West, they’ll take the different series, like Pro Buggy and Pro Light Truck, and they’ll run them against each other and put up like a $100,000 purse or something like that. And if there’s either like PRO 2 versus PRO 4 truck, you know, or whatever, then they’ll do a staggered time split. The other cars, the slower ones, will take off, I don’t know, 30-40 seconds before them and then they’ll drop the green on the other guys and then they have to chase them down and pass them. And if you’re going to win from the bigger series, pass everybody ahead of you and then take the checker. They could do something like that. Just know what the average lap and falloff is of each series, and you could do something like that. That’d be a pretty cool mashup, a big money race. Because, I mean, you’ve seen the way these cars are, or any car. Any car that runs the speeds that Xfinity and Truck and Cup do, aero is huge. So if you can get out in front, and even if you’re slower and you can take the line away from the guy, you might be able to stand a chance. But I think that would be pretty cool to do at a short track of some kind, like at Richmond or like Dover. Dover is like an overgrown Bristol. I like going there and watching those races. 

My million-dollar idea was always—baseball has old-timers day. NASCAR ought to do an old-timers race. Bring back a lot of the retired guys to do an exhibition.


Some of them guys, man, good luck getting some of them to come back. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. racing Daniel Hemric late in the going of the 2023 Food City 300 in the Xfinity Series. Photo Credit: Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of Food City 300 in closing laps after car catches fire (

We know Dale Jr. would strap in at the drop of a hat and lead the field. 


A: Well, that’s Junebug though. He’s a different breed altogether. That was really cool to see him do that. I don’t remember what happened to his car, they had a little fire going on in there at Bristol, but I hate that he couldn’t finish the race because he had a good chance to win it. But it was definitely cool too that his driver Justin Allgaier won it. So that’s good for them.

Q: What are your thoughts on the new TV contracts that might be coming up? Xfinity signed their huge deal with The CW. Cup and Trucks are still kind of up in the air. 

A: The competition is good. I mean, in just about any form of anything, for the most part, it just makes everything better, right? So who knows what the next TV deal after this will bring, you know? So I’m not sure. I’m sure it’s going to be an adjustment trying to figure out if you’re not really paying attention to it, and you’re trying to find the Cup race and what channel it’s going to be on. Of course, I don’t have to do that anymore because I’m there every weekend. So your focus is being there at the race and not so much how they’re televising it. But they seem to make some good decisions. So I’ll let them do their thing and trust that they got it right because the TV deal is crucial to our sport. We’ve got to have a good TV deal. There’s not as many people there at the track. And I think it’s because the TV coverage is so good that they just watch it from home, rather than being in, like, Texas in 100-degree heat on aluminum bleachers, you know?

If Kevin Gladman ran the sport, the rivalries would extend to not just on the track, but to tire choice too. Photo Credit: Tire Catalog – | California Chrome Wheel | Wheels And Tires

Q: Alright. Let’s say they make you the President of NASCAR. You’re in charge of everything and you can make any changes you want to every little thing about the sport. What would you do first? 

A: I’d probably put a chicane and jump in on the backstretch of every track. {Laughter} Nah, I don’t know. I think one of the things I would like to do—I don’t know if this is going to get me in trouble or not, but I would like to let there be tire competition. Let Pirelli come in. Let Firestone come in. Cooper. You know, anybody that’s got a tire that will last in the Cup Series. Hoosier, you know. And I understand everybody’s got their niche tire for their sport and everything else too. But you know, I like how F-1 and these other series have different—they’ll have the one manufacturer of tires, right? But they’ve got different compounds that they can choose from. I think we should have that aspect. And then, you know, at least one other tire manufacturer. Because do you know how much drama that would add? Like, “Oh, so-and-so, just whooped everybody’s can that run with Hoosiers or Pirellis,” or whatever. But then others will be like, “Oh no, the tried and true Goodyear tires are what’s still better than everybody else there,” you know. “Everybody else can’t keep their tires together, but Goodyear can.” So, I think that would be—it would add another little storyline. And then have you paid attention to what Denny’s thoughts were on point systems? On Actions Detrimental, he talked about how—I forget exactly how he had that set up. But anyhow, basically, every week there’d be like a group of four people racing each other, and there’ll be another group of four people racing each other just for points for that section, like this group of points deal where they’re only racing these guys. So it would mean the top two or whatever or transfer. However he had that worded. That would be all kinds of stuff going on and stories all over the place. It would be almost too much to follow, but it would be kind of cool.

What else would I change? Oh, I would like to—I would probably have it to where you’d have, like some of these other different—they have horsepower and torque limits. It’s like, okay, you’re limited to 900 horse and 875 or 850 torque. Because NASCAR used to carry a chassis dyno. Not even themselves, but a chassis dyno followed them around at every track way back in the day. But it’s like, okay, here’s a manufacturer-styled engine, and this is the max you’re allowed to make. Have at it, and it better be within this. So then, you know, Ford could run their Eco-Boost, you know, or whatever they wanted to run. And you could see Kia get into it. You could see Honda probably get into it. All these other manufacturers I’d bet you’d see. Chrysler would get into it. Dodge would get back into it because I think, from my understanding, just when I was in my dealership a few years ago, I heard it through the grape vine there from a couple of regional guys that would come visit our dealership about how they—I think they designed, I don’t think it was a pentastar. But I think it was that new inline six-cylinder engine that was to get into NASCAR if they ever decided to go to a six-cylinder configuration. But I think that would be cool because it would bring in different manufacturers and would have teams like your smaller teams, like Rick Ware or Spire, or any team for that matter—if they wanted to switch manufacturers and they wanted to be the only Acura team or only Honda team, boom, there you go. And then now you got all this factory backing for everybody, so you’re not getting a trickledown effect for all of it and it’ll be even closer yet. But that would be my kind of thought. But this chassis is so—they designed it in such a way that we can’t really mess with it a whole lot because they don’t want us messing with it, obviously, because it’s all single-source parts and stuff. But if you were to take this car and rewind the clock and we’re running this back in say 2018, or ’17 or ’16, those years where you had three 50-minute practices. They’re so non-user-friendly for that, like this car is set up to build it in the shop. And how it’s built is pretty much how you’re going to race it when you unload because there’s no time in practice to really adjust stuff. And you’re only allowed to adjust a few things for NASCAR anyway. But this thing, this platform, if we would have had it back then and we were allowed to adjust on it and do things like we were with the old car, there’s no telling how fast we could have got around a racetrack with this thing. At the road courses, especially, I mean it, it’s already out of the box way faster than our old car at road courses. But I think that would have been really cool. It’s basically like that Project 56 or Garage 56 thing that they ran at Le Mans. That’s essentially what we would have ended up doing with it I feel like. Within the rules, obviously. But, you know, I really like this new car. It’s relevant to everything else.

Kevin relaxing out on the water. Photo Credit: Kevin Gladman

Q: When you’re not working and you’re away from the track, what do you like to do to unwind? What kind of hobbies do you have?

A: Oh, let’s see. Well, I have the sport and the gym. And then basically I’ve got a ’73 Dart. I’ve hauled it back down to North Carolina. I’ve almost got it done. I’m trying to get it finished up. A couple of odds and ends here so I can take it to our company cruise-in that we’ve got here on October 6. I’m working on that. And then just relax and unwind and get your mind right for the next week. Just go hanging out with friends. Actually, a couple of us will go out, as a lot of us work together, right? So (Josh) Sisco is my car chief, and then my other good buddy Clay was our shop guy. We were all on the #3 car together. He was the car chief in the #8 car with Kyle Busch. So he’ll invite us out on his boat, and we’ll go wake boarding, or wake surfing and stuff. I just learned how to wake surf. That was fun, I like doing that. And then most of the time, everybody else just hangs out with their kids and stuff like that during the week. And I’m just doing my thing. Just relax and get ready.

Q: Are you a big pop culture guy, big TV or movie buff? 

A: Not necessarily. I like a good Netflix show every now and then, stuff like that. But I really like hunting. That’s one thing I do miss about—you know, being back in the sport, I don’t have the leisure to just go one morning, go out and go turkey hunting in the spring. I completely missed turkey season. That’s like, my favorite thing to do. That and bow hunt deer. So that’s kind of going on back home. Dad’s been sending me trail cam picks. And I’m like, man, I can’t even go out there to help hang tree stands or anything. So that’s kind of a bummer. But I do make it back up for gun season. The season does end right before all that happens back in Ohio. So I make it back up there for hunting. 

Q: What’s your favorite auto racing movie? 

A: Oh man. Days of Thunder is a classic. I really like that one. That one’s probably my favorite. Talladega Nights was just funny. It was a good one. But I really like the Drive to Survive F1 series that they have out there. That’s pretty good.

Q: Let’s say your driver’s in a slump on track. What do you guys try to do from your perspective to kind of give them a little kick and get the ship going in the right direction?

A: Man, it just depends. I’ve been with so many different drivers. With some of them, just let them have their meltdown, and once they get quiet, then you and the crew chief and spotter all kind of key back up. Like alright, let’s focus forward. Nothing we can do about it now kind of thing, just anything you can do to kind of quell the situation. Last thing you want do is argue with them back and forth because then, you know, it’s just, it’s never good at that point. Kyle Busch was pretty good at, you know, doing his usual Kyle Busch thing, you know, telling you how he felt about the car and everything else. And still running the fastest laps of the race. So it all just depends, man. Everybody’s different. Like Chris, I’ve never really heard him have a meltdown to where, you know, you had to bring him out of anything. It was just like, yeah, totally agree, you know. Then focus forward. Boom, we’re back in it, you know. But there’s definitely some that, I think, like other drivers out there, that’s kind of like once they have a little meltdown, that’s there in their head enough that it just kind of shoots the rest of the day in the foot. But never really had that to where it kind of ruined the day. Maybe for a little bit there it’s a little rough going. But mainly just keep everybody plugged in, just try to keep them focused on the task at hand. That’s the main thing. 

Q: You’re the first crew person I’ve ever interviewed, everyone else has usually been on the driving side. Every driver has their zone for when they show up on race day and they go into their own personal zone so they’re ready to roll. What’s it like on the crew side? What’s your zone like?

A: Well race day for us crew guys is almost like our day off. Well not really a day off, but it’s just like our easy day, right? Because we would—the car would be done, all of our stuff is done, pit crew would show up. We would be there to support and all that stuff. And you’re just thinking yourself, alright, just nothing fall off the car, you know? {Laughter} And that’s basically still kind of the same thing now. Which, honestly, I don’t even worry about stuff falling off the car because there’s—you don’t rebuild the entire car in the garage area before the race anymore. It is what it is, everything’s done at the shop. But everybody is calm, cool, collected. Get you something to eat. Relax. The driver shows up. He’s in his usual zone, you know. It’s going to be a good day, especially if you got good practice and qualifying. It’s like, alright, all you’ve got to do is control what we can control. And, you know, focus on your job there—pay attention. The biggest thing is if you get caught out there catching butterflies and, you know, you cut a right rear down, or whatever—stuff, depending on certain tracks, happens quick. Here’s a good example of it. Just staying in the moment with everything is key. Because we were at COTA—I think it was COTA. We were one of the first pit stalls. So we left it up to Chris that if something was going to cause a caution on the track, to dive off into the pits because on a road course, if you can dive off and think something’s going to cause a caution and you pit and then the caution comes out, you just gained a bunch of track position because everybody else is going to come down and get tires and fuel, and you don’t have to because you just did it. That’s always a game you play at road courses. Well, he didn’t key up. He just pulled on in. And then all of a sudden I hear this noise, and I look out around the pit box, I’m like, oh crap, we’re in the box. And somebody keyed up on the radio says, “We’re on pit road! We’re on pit road! We’re in the box boys, let’s go!” {Laughter} So that was funny. It sucked at the time, but it’s funny looking back on it. But, but it’s mainly—just stay plugged into the situation. Everybody works so well together on our deal, so it works out pretty well. There’s times where it’s like you’re pretty apprehensive because we may not be that great at this place. Or the tires maybe, you know, might have an issue depending on how hard you run them and what your air pressures are, there’s a slight chance that you could, you know, break belts or whatever. The tire could start to come apart. So that first run with a lack of rubber on the track and stuff like that can usually be a little nerve-racking and stuff. But after that, it’s usually pretty good. It’s more or less just up to the pit crew and everything you can do to help them. Because we roll the tires in, hand the fuel in, catch the tires, throw the hose in, pull the hose, everything. Our job with them on the pit stop is just as critical as them doing their jobs. So just being heads up. Our pit crew is very heads up too. Our jack man this week saved us. They had a little bit of a mishap on the hang on the left front and it just took him a little longer to get the lug nut up. And before he—and the jack man was about to drop it and he stopped. He looked and waited for that thing that to tighten up to the hub. And then he dropped the jack and he took off. But sometimes you get in the moment, and these guys are, they’re athletes, right? You know, they’re so used to it being a dance, like everybody’s on at this spot at this point on. I know when I get to this point, I can drop the jack and not check, and it’ll be fine. Well, you get in that groove, it will bite you. And our guys are heads up enough to at least, you know, check as you’re coming up to twist a jack, look at your front, make sure that that’s good to go. Because I don’t know if you’ve seen this race this weekend. They had like two or three different cars lose rear tires from not having lug nuts tight. 

Q: I did see that. That’s always a scary thought, especially with this one-lug system now.

A: Yep. And that thing’s torque is like, over a thousand foot pounds. It’s unreal.


When a crazy fire broke out during a pit stop Saturday night, Chris Buescher’s rear tire changer (Dalton Leonard) went to work to get Chris back out on track quickly. #NASCAR #pitstop #fire

♬ original sound – RFK Racing
Chris Buescher’s car was really hot at Darlington.

Q: Are you a fan of the one-lug system or do you prefer the old five system?

A: Ah, with this car, it just goes along with the technology and stuff that’s in the design of it. I think that we, you know, everybody’s resistant to change. It’s just human nature, right? So coming into it from not coming directly off of that to the one lug, and they had it a year already in this car before I got back into the sport. So they kind of ironed out most of it. At the beginning year, there was a little issue. They had a new lug nut design. It didn’t really work out. But I think now that we’ve got it ironed out that it’s nicer, I think. You can still have your mishaps, like knocking a lug nut off of a five lug, putting it on, or whatever. You know, obviously, there’s still a fire hazard with it in the left rear as we’ve seen a few weeks ago in our car. Which it got real hot in that corner of the car real fast, by the way. But yeah, it brings a different dynamic to it. It would just look weird if they had five lugs with this car. The thing about it that I wish that they could do, just from a crew guy’s standpoint, is figure out a way to put inner liners in these tires, which I understand they’re low pros, you can’t put them in there. But if you get a flat tire, your day’s pretty much all but done. One, from a track position standpoint because everybody runs about the same speed in the pack. And two, you drag everything off on the underbody. And they’re so underbody aero-dependent now with the full belly pan underneath there that you drag the strakes and rub blocks and your diffuser fins off and stuff like that when you get flats. It’s like you’re going to basically flounder around in the back the rest of the day.

Q: Do you ever see yourself moving up the chain, maybe becoming a crew chief? Or do you see yourself staying where you’re at working on the car?

No. Like, crew chief would be pretty lofty. Your lead engineer will usually be the next in line to become a crew chief somewhere. But definitely car chief. So he’s in charge of everything on the car and the crew guys, like the mechanics and all that stuff. And he answers directly to the engineering crew chief. So that’s definitely a goal of mine is to do that. And then eventually, maybe, when I do come off the road, just get into shop management of some capacity. But definitely would like to be a Competition Director at some point, which would be a pretty good one for me for a long-term goal. But definitely in the near future I would like to move up to car chief.

Q: What kind of advice do you have for young people that are trying to break into the sport, whether that be on the driving side or on the crew side?

A: Man, all I could tell you is any experience is good experience. There’s a lot of things I learned the hard way. Like when I first got into the sport, I knew dirt racing. I didn’t know anything about asphalt racing. But one of the first things my manager, my direct boss, Flash—he was like the car chief, crew chief of the R&D deal that I was on. He said, “Hey, go pull that splitter off that car over there, and keep track of where all the splitter shins were.” And I’m like, “Um, what’s a splitter?” {Laughter} I didn’t know. But mechanically-wise, it didn’t matter. I could work on anything, that’s just the kind of attitude I have. It doesn’t matter what it is, if somebody put it together, I might be able to take it apart and put it back together, just like somebody else did it. You know? If somebody else did it, why can’t I? But no, you just have to have a good attitude about it. But yeah—it’s not just so much about right place, right time. Knowing what I know now, if I didn’t want to spend money on college—which I don’t take any of that back, that was probably the most fun I’ve had, one of the best times in my life was being up there in school. I made a lot of my really good friends that were all on the modified team together and stuff. We’re all down in NASCAR now. One of them, who’s actually our driver on one of the modifieds up there, he’s an engine tuner on the #2 car in the Cup Series. And then one of my other buddies, he’s at Spire, he’s a mechanic there. And then another one was truck driver/mechanic at Kaulig. And another one’s a truck driver, an extra truck driver and shop guy at Penske. I mean, we’re all over the place. But if you get down here and just get in front of people, constantly knock on the door on the shop kind of thing, you know, you can get in it that way. One of my favorite stories about not having to have really any background, but just driving, wanting to do it and just talking to the right people—he actually turned out to be one of our better suspension guys in the shop, like assembling suspension and hanging it on the car and stuff like that with the old setup. He was Mike Dillon’s lawn boy. He cut his grass and stuff, and this, that and the other and just showed interest in it and talked about it. Got him in the shop one day and say, “Oh, here, work with this guy for a little while, and work with him.” The next thing you know, he became a full-time employee. So, there’s—it’s wild how stuff works like that. You just got to want to do it, and people will help you. You just, you know, talk to the right people, and just go show that you want to do it. You can’t be just one of those guys that likes to screw around and this, that and the other and be real arrogant about things because there’s always something to be learned, for sure. And the driving side of it, just from my limited experience of running pro and a side by side, and a Pro Buggy and stuff like that, is trial and error. Looking at places work—reading the rule book. That’s the biggest thing. Read the rulebook and work where they’re not and where there’s gray areas to be had. Not cheating. You know, you’re bettering your car. Understanding vehicle dynamics is huge. Kyle Larson is probably one of the other drivers that you really look at, you know. He’s so well versed across different types of racing. So, you know, if you have the opportunity to go run this other series limited-time as a driver and then still run this, do it. I mean, there’s situations that that other car might put you in that will help you later on in something else that you can kind of call back on. And it just suits—like how his driving style is, you can run that thing on the edge up against the fence and touch the fence and keep going. Where some people touch the fence, and then they lose like ten spots because they’re like, “Oh no, I just touched the fence.” He’s like, no, this is normal. Let’s just keep going.

Q: You’ve been in the sport, you’ve been in several of the series, you’ve seen a lot of different drivers. Who do you think is the best driver out there that hasn’t gotten their big break yet because they’re racing for a smaller team or they haven’t hit that right combo yet?

A: Hmm. I’d say Chris is a good example of that, for sure. Where he’s been, you know, how RFK is on the rise now. It’s tough because you look at all that and you’re like—Corey LaJoie is a good driver. I mean, he’s constantly qualifying really well here lately. Whether it be not being used to a car that drives like it’s supposed to, and he got in the #9 car with all that pressure or whatever, and it didn’t quite work out for him there. Michael McDowell is another good one, a good example of that. I mean, he got that win this year and lately has been running up front consistently because their equipment’s been, you know, changed around a lot. I don’t really see one really that sticks out because everybody seems to be doing a lot better now. But Carson Hocevar will be one to watch in the Cup Series. And Zane Smith. Some of these up-and-comers will be good to watch. Oh, and there’s another one that proved it this weekend too, even though he got caught up in a late wreck: Erik Jones. That organization over there, Legacy, they seem to be really picking things up there. So he’s definitely good. There’s really not a bad driver in the Cup Series, to be honest with you. I mean, it’s just circumstantial for the most part, but I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see how things progress, but there’s an old saying that holds true: “Fast cars are always going to be fast cars.”

Q: My last question for you. What goals do you have for yourself and for Chris for the rest of the season, as well as in the next year?

A: For the rest of this season is just make it to the Round of 8 and then to the Round of 4. That’s our deal right now. My thing is I’m not looking straight at the championship right now. It’s just more or less okay, you know, just keep doing what we’ve been doing. Just focus on it one race at a time. We didn’t have a great finish this past week, but we did get, I think, the most points or almost the most points of anybody. And a bunch of other really good cars had bad, bad luck, and we ended up picking up another spot in the championship standings. But, yeah, ultimately, you’re always—no matter how you run throughout a season, you always—your goal is always the championship and the win. But right now it’s just, you know, short-term goals, the next race, the next round kind of thing, just get to the end. And then if you’re fortunate enough to make it to Phoenix, then go for the championship. And then next year, I want us to actually dominate at The Clash. {Laughter} If you had told me we’d be where we are right now with the three wins and running this well and this far and deep into the Playoffs with our Clash at the Coliseum performance, I would’ve said you’re crazy. {Laughter} We seemed to really struggle at that place. And Martinsville is not really that great to us either, but it’s an area to work on. But just to continue to build on what we’ve got going on already, to where we’re a powerhouse every week. Kind of like how the big bad wolf was always, you know, JGR and the Toyotas and Hendrick, you know. And Penske was always a threat. So, we want to be better than they are. So, I’d say that’s my goal right now for next year.

This interview took place on September 25, 2023.

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