Features

Fender To Fender: An Exclusive Interview With Jeremy Clements

on

SPEEDWAY, I.N. – In this week’s Fender to Fender exclusive interview, you’ll get to learn a lot about NASCAR Nationwide Series underdog Jeremy Clements. Clements, who drives for his family-owned race team, was kind enough to take time out to talk to Rubbings Racing in Indianapolis. As you’ll find out his little team does quite a bit with very little.

Toby Christie: How difficult are tracks like Indianapolis – technical tracks — for underfunded teams to do well?

Jeremy Clements: Yeah man, I mean we finished tenth a couple of years ago — the first race here — looking forward to being here again, a lot of history here. Feeling very privileged to even race here. So we’re going to give it our best shot. Hopefully we can get another top-10 — top-15 would be more realistic — but you never know how these races are going to play out.

TC: And you talk about the tradition of racing at Indy, your family is rich in racing tradition. I’ve been seeing team members walking around with the, ’51 it’s a family tradition’ on their shirts. Talk to fans who don’t know much about the Clements family and tell them a little more.

JC: Yeah my grandpa Crawford Clements, and his brother Luis Clements they got it all started back in the ’50s and ’60s. Raced in whatever it — I don’t even know what it was called — it was the Cup Series. But they won the championship with Rex White in ’60, then they ran with different drivers like Buck Baker and Cale Yarborough like I said Rex white through the ’50s and ’60s and then they started — my grandpa started Clements Racing Engines, and that’s what my dad and uncle run now today. And we build our own engines and they build for a bunch of dirt late-model teams and just all kinds of random racing stuff.

Johnny Davis’ cars out here in the Nationwide Series, and some ARCA stuff, so they’ve got their hands full with that. And that’s how we’re really able to do this deal on a tight, very tight budget because we build our own engines and it saves a lot of money.

TC: And how have you guys been able to work your way to being a top-10 team. You’ve got more top-10s to this point this season than you’ve had in any season of your career. What are you guys doing to elevate performance?

JC: You know, it’s all about getting better equipment and getting these cars faster. It’s — I’ve really got — I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s just about getting the cars fast and putting in execution. We’ve had some faster cars and had just parts break and stuff happen. And it’s about getting even just getting good tires every weekend is a big thing for us you know? We have to scrimp in that area, and just like I said putting it all together every week is the main thing and it’s a long season for us, small team that’s only got five cars so we have to make them all work each week.

TC: And you’ve only got five cars, how many total employees do you have?

JC: Well, uh — during the week we probably have four or five maybe total, and then coming to the track we have six, including myself that drives the car. Then we have to get a spotter, and the guys who pit the car on race day, and we just get them from a lower funded Cup team, so it’s not a very big team at all.

TC: That really puts things into perspective, because you’ve got big teams like Hendrick Motorsports that operate with more than 500 employees. So what you guys are accomplishing is impressive. What track do you have circled on the schedule that could be a place where you feel you could get a good run or maybe even steal a win?

JC: Well we’ve got the two road courses coming up, Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio.

Watkins Glen we ran okay there, we ran 17th last year. You’ve got to have some fast stuff there. I think Mid-Ohio we finished 10th last year, looking forward to going back there. The road courses I feel like we can really run good at. We’ve gotten our stuff better each time we’ve been, and I feel those races are the kind of races where you never know what’s going to happen. We could win there, I really feel that way.

We finished sixth a Road America earlier this year, and I like running them. They’re a lot of fun. I really look forward to every race. I don’t dislike any of the tracks. I have more favorites than others, we’ve got Bristol coming up and I really like that place a lot. We’ve raced — we were really fast there this year until the transmission came out of fourth gear there at one point and hit the wall. There and we go back to the tracks we’ve already been to; Charlotte, Kentucky, looking forward to going to Atlanta. Every week is a fun week, you know?

TC: A lot of people don’t know this about you, a few years ago you sustained a pretty severe injury, you can tell just by shaking your hand, what did that do to you? How long did it take you to recover from that gruesome hand injury?

JC: I had a big hand injury in 2004, July. Actually it was ten years ago July 24th. Same day my grandfather died, not the year. But it wasn’t even a wreck, it was a freak deal. The drive shaft [came] through the late-model dirt car, and they’ve got protective loops in there, but a piece of it came through the cockpit and pierced my hand and arm and about ripped it off. Had to get ten surgeries, they had to sew [my hand] to the side of my hip to get a skin graph. They had to do a bone graph and tendon graph from my foot, so it was bad. It was a mess. I am just blessed to still have it now.

The doctors told me I wouldn’t race again, and to be able to prove them wrong was phenomenal. I have to thank the dear lord for saving it so we can still do this, but that derailed me for a year, and I actually had a Busch [Series] deal lined up for five races with a team, at that point and it got erased. It’s like you had to start over kinda. It definitely didn’t help my career I didn’t think, but I think everything happens for a reason, so maybe one day we’ll see why it happened.

TC: You had a possible spot lined up with a bigger team in the Nationwide Series, that fell through because of the injury, but do you enjoy this role as an underdog, you’re shaking your head right now, so you’d definitely prefer to be on a bigger team out-classing the field?

JC: Yes, of course. You know I had a shot in ’08 and ’09, I got to do some practice and qualifying for [Joe] Gibbs [Racing], but the thing was I never got to race. I had to sit in Joey Logano’s and Kyle Busch’s seat and they’re like 6’1″ – 6’2″ and I’m 5’7″ [they were] a lot taller, you know? It just was not a good situation as far as that, and I never got a chance to race, that’s the biggest part of it. It all went good, but they only had two teams at the time. These big teams they need $150,000 to $200,000 to race in Nationwide to race, and that’s what the price is to race with these big teams. It’s ridiculous. We can do it a lot, lot, lot cheaper than that and still be fairly competitive. But yeah you know in a perfect world I’d love to be with one of those bigger teams running for wins every weekend like I know I can. You know these guys — there’s a lot of good drivers out here — but equipment in my opinion is very very important, more than driving it seems. Some of these guys get in these cars, that I don’t think it’s that good, and they’ve got speed in them. So it’s all about equipment.

TC: Well hopefully a sponsor will come by. I know walking through the hauler here, things are a lot more modest than other teams. But what you guys are able to accomplish with so little is impressive, is that something you really are proud of?

JC: Yeah, it is. Don’t get me wrong, you know that’s why I said in a perfect world that’s what I’d love to do. But yeah we’re blessed to be here, and racing every week. People ask me sometimes, ‘Why do you still do this if you can’t win?’ Well I mean, you never know. We’ve ran pretty good here and there. There’s fourty-something cars every weekend, it’s a tough field and it’s hard to even run top-20. And when we can get a top-10 its like a win for us honestly. You know growing up racing dirt, and even before when I was racing dirt late models which is very competitive all across the united states, I won mostly everything I was in. Then we got to Nationwide, and you’re just not going to win unless you have the best stuff and really good people. But, yeah I’m very proud to be here and want to keep this deal going as long as we can. I think we do a good job for what we have.

TC: And you came up in that odd era where things transitioned from older more established drivers getting top-tier rides and now where 17 year olds are given the best stuff. How hard is it being in that time period trying to latch on to something?

JC: Yeah, I mean its part of it. It’s just circumstances. I had some opportunities when I was younger — not like I’m old now. I still feel like I’m a 20-year-old. They’ve got these young guys, and it’s just part of the sport. But it don’t matter until — I mean Mark Martin raced until he was 55 and he was still getting it done. In my opinion age is just dumber, and I’m not just saying that because I’m 29 now.

TC:50 years from now, how do you want the racing community to remember the career of Jeremy Clements?

JC: Well I hope they can look back and say, ‘he was a heck of a wheel man, and got the job done when he was in the proper stuff,’ and hope my goal is to get to the Cup Series one day, I know I can do that. I wouldn’t do any of this if I wasn’t any good at it. It’s too hard, it’s too much pressure on our family and team, so I just want to get the chance that I feel like I deserve. And I feel like we deserve as a team. I’m really proud of my team, Ricky Pearson and my dad Tony they set up the cars. Tommy Blackwell and those guys. We have a small team but we make it work, and are competitive and who knows what the future holds for us. Hopefully we can make it even better, we’ll just keep at it.

Print Friendly

About Toby Christie

Toby Christie is the Senior Writer for Rubbings Racing. He has been watching NASCAR since 1993, and has covered the sport as a media member since 2007. Toby is a proud member of the NMPA. Additionally, Toby is a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan, subpar guitarist and he is pretty good around a mini-golf course.

Recommended for you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *