NASCAR Driver Blake Koch Talks ESPN Controversy and Racing Sans Major Sponsors
Courtesy of Tristar Motorsports Blake Koch is working on moving up from NASCAR's Nationwide Series to the Sprint Cup.
NASCAR driver Blake Koch started his 88th Nationwide Series race and his second Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway this past weekend. Being a young driver without a major sponsor has its ups and downs, and, for Koch, last weekend was mostly the latter. On Saturday, he had to park his car after three laps into the Nationwide event because of vibrations (finishing 39th), and on Sunday, he finished 37th in the Sprint Cup race.
Koch has spent the past five years climbing through the ranks of the sport, starting out as a development driver for the regional K&N West Series before making the jump to the Nationwide Series (NASCAR's equivalent to baseball's AAA minor leagues). In 2011, he finished as the runner up to Timmy Hill for the Nationwide Rookie of the Year award.
Then, in 2012, Koch found himself in the middle of a controversy when ESPN decided not to run an advertisement in which Koch urged NASCAR fans to "rise up and vote" because the ad violated the network's stance against running commercials with religious or political messages.
Because the ad didn't advocate voting for a specific party or candidate, critics (like conservative bloggers and Fox and Friends) charged ESPN for discriminating against Koch, saying the network pulled the commercial because Koch's website prominently features messages about the driver's Christian faith. ESPN responded by saying they decided not to run the ad because the website of the commercial's sponsor, Rise Up and Register, heavily featured links to BeMyVote.com, a group focused on electing pro-life candidates.
While the blogs and Fox News slammed ESPN, Koch tried not to pour fuel on the fire, telling Sporting News, "I have nothing bad to say about ESPN. They can air whatever they want to air. It's their network. I watch ESPN all the time; I think they do a great job of airing our races," while also maintaining that, "one thing I'm not going to do is stand away from my faith just to please [someone]."
Koch talked with Jackalope Ranch about life as a NASCAR driver, racing without a big sponsor, and what life after the controversy has been like.
So I was reading that you didn't start racing cars until you were 22?
Yep, about 21, 22 somewhere around there. I raced amateur for two years, then I raced NASCAR K&N series. My first start ever [in a K&N car] was here in Phoenix. It's one of my favorite tracks for sure, just because it's in the driver's hands a little bit. You can move around in the car -- it's not just a mile-and-a-half where you hold it open in a Nationwide car. You can move around a little bit and find some speed here.
You know, most guys start racing when they're five, six years old, so I got a late start, but I did race dirt bikes growing up. Dirt bikes helped me have the racer mentality: the attitude, the commitment, the discipline, and all that kind of stuff that you can't really learn quickly.
Do you notice any difference between the way you drive and the other guys who were in go-karts before they could walk?
No, not really. Once you get to this level, everybody is so good that it's a real team effort. It's just how well their cars are prepared and how well they hit on the setup. There's not that much that us as drivers can do to make up on those things.
Now, when you're talking to an experienced driver, someone like Kyle Busch or Brad Keselowski - a lot of those guys who race [Sprint] Cup and Nationwide - where they're going to shine is during the race, on re-starts. Just because they've done it so many times, and they're smart. They know what to expect, getting in and out of their pit stall. They've done it a lot more than a lot of Nationwide guys. Just knowing how to pack the air on different people and move that air around and mess with that.
But as far as raw speed, practice and qualifying, goes, there's only so much you can do as a driver to get the speed out of the car. The credit really goes to the team in how good of a job they do to get that car prepared. And I've got a really good team behind me, so I'm proud of them.