“Who is Jake Piel in the Number 76?” some might ask, so we thought it would be nice to see who the man behind the wheel is. Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers, sponsoring Piel Motorsports’ number 76 car, had a chance to sit down with driver Jake Piel, to ask him a few questions about racing and life.
How Did Jake Piel Get into Racing?
I can’t remember a time when racing was not a part of the Piel family fabric. My grandparents took my dad and uncles to Lake Hill Speedway and Belle-Claire Speedway when they were kids. When I was a kid, Dad was a mechanic and crew member for a local SCCA race team, so I spent many weekends travelling around the Midwest going to tracks with him. He even converted his own street car into a race car which he drove for a couple of seasons.
As time went on, we started looking for a way to get me behind the wheel, and we bought our first racing go-kart when I was thirteen. At the time, my uncles were racing Formula Lights tunnel hull boats, and their boat number was “67.” That’s where I got the “76” from, and it stuck.
What’s Your Most Memorable Racing Moment?
In 2008 and 2009 we ran a dirt micro sprint car in the POWRi National Micro Sprint Series. We were brand new to dirt racing, and were routinely competing against 70+ cars to try and make a 22-car A-main event. We struggled with mechanical issues for the first few races. At Belle-Claire Speedway we were running the B-main, where the field competes for the final 4 starting spots in the A-main.
I ran wide open on the cushion and drove more aggressively than I ever had in that car. We led the whole race, winning the B-main and moving to our first A-main ever. It was just a B-main victory – most teams wouldn’t get too jazzed about that – but Dad and I celebrated like we had just won at Daytona! It was a tough journey, but we really accomplished something as a team that night!
Is Your Success From Natural Ability or Hard Work?
To get behind the wheel of any race vehicle takes a certain amount of both skill and nerve. The first part you can work at over time; the second you just have to have. I wouldn’t say I have any unique ability to drive a car that makes me better than anyone else, but jus
t an effective combination of skill and nerve. One difficult aspect of racing is that you can’t just go out and practice on the street whenever you’d like – well, you shouldn’t – but you have to wait for open slots on track days. This can make the learning curve steeper than with other team or individual sports.
There are, however, drivers that you see breaking into today’s NASCAR scene who I would say are just freakishly talented. Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell are two that come to mind, and it seems like whatever car they strap into, they can win!
What’s Your Favorite Thing to Do When You’re Not Racing?
I’m very blessed to have grown up around my two favorite things: racing and the lake. Our family has had a place at Lake of the Ozarks my entire life, and we spend a lot of open weekends down there. It’s just half an hour from the track, so after some races, we’ll just stay at the lake house instead of driving back to St. Louis. Sitting on the dock on a sunny day, listening to music and enjoying a cold beverage, that’s my happy place.
How Do You Balance Your Professional, Personal, and Racing Time?
My career has been spent in the marketing and advertising world, and I’ve worked at a couple of St. Louis-based advertising agencies. Right now, I’m in corporate marketing for an animal nutrition company. Interestingly, because racing is very much a marketing-driven sport, I find that my professional experience comes in handy with the business side of Piel Motorsports. In motorsports marketing, it’s important to have business partners who support what we love and who see the win-win opportunities of the partnership.
I’m always working at balancing professional, personal, and racing time, but we’ve always said that family comes first. We don’t always make every race on the schedule. If we have a family or personal commitment, then we just don’t race. As much as Dad and I love the shop and the track, they take up a lot of time, and it’s just as important for us to enjoy life outside of racing.
How Well Do You Get Along with Other Drivers?
Racecar drivers are greedy. We want to win, just ask my fiancée, Lauren. We can have a great night at the track, finish second, load the car in the trailer without a scratch on it, and I will still complain the whole ride home about how we “should have” finished. Still, I get along great with my competitors.
For example, last May we were involved in a bad wreck at the beginning of our heat race. By the time the tow truck dropped the car off at our trailer, there were already four or five other drivers and their crew guys there, ready to help out. The car was too badly damaged to continue, but it was a neat moment to see everyone coming together to help Jake Piel’s little team from St. Louis. We all know what it takes to get these cars on the race track, and nobody likes to see one get loaded into the trailer early.
What Have You Achieved in Your Racing Career?
From day one, we were the underdog team. We’d go to regional and national go-kart races, with our little 12-foot trailer behind the family Durango, and we’d park next to guys with 18-wheeler semis, and that was for go-karts! Even without a win, there’s a real sense of accomplishment running competitively against the big teams. As we’ve climbed up the ranks, that underdog mentality is still with us. We’ll never outspend big teams, but we can beat them with determination and hard work.
Sure, we’ve won some races along the way, but I like to look at the bigger picture. I’m especially proud that we have become a successful race team without sacrificing our personal lives, finances, or sanity.
Will NASCAR’s New Rules Make the Races Better or Worse?
In the last few decades, NASCAR has become far more competitive than it used to be. There used to be only a few cars capable of winning each week, but that number is likely closer to twenty, today. Today’s cars are so closely matched that there is little margin for error. Drivers would “play it safe” for 350 miles, of a 500-mile race, which was boring for both drivers and fans.
Overall, I think the new rules are a great thing for the sport. With the new three-stage rule, those “meaningless” laps in the middle of a race now mean something. The whole strategy changes, crew chiefs gamble, and drivers push hard to win valuable points in each stage. The five-minute repair rule is easy to appreciate if you’ve ever had a tire go flat on the track without warning. Keeping debris off the track is a safety advantage, too.
If You Could Race or Have Dinner with Anybody, Past or Present, Who Would it Be?
If I could race against anybody, it would be Jeff Gordon. My dad went to the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, where he won the race. Love him or hate him, I’ve been a fan ever since. The farewell from the fans when Jeff retired in 2015 really showed how much people respected him, even if they used to “boo” him.
If I could have dinner with anyone, it would be Carl Edwards. Carl used to race at the same track I race at now. I watched him win races and do his signature backflip in victory lane when I was a kid. He is living proof that some unknown kid from Missouri can make it in the big leagues of NASCAR. I would love to pick his brain about how he worked his way to the top.
What Are Your Goals for This Year and Beyond?
In 2017, we are moving up to the Pro Late Model division of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at Lebanon I-44 Speedway. By the end of the season, we want to have a competitive top-5 team. With so many good teams, it’s going to be hard work. We have good partners and a good crew behind us, and countless hours and expertise has gone into preparing our new car for this season. We owe it to them to put on a good show!
Long-term, I would love to have a crack at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. I might not make it as a full-time driver, but to at least make a start in one of NASCAR’s top series would be a thrill of a lifetime. In this competitive, marketing-driven business, it’s increasingly tougher to break into NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup, Xfinity, and Camping World Trucks series. I recently turned 30, so perhaps that ship has set sail for me, but if the door is ever cracked open, I am going to knock it off the hinges!
Dobbs Tires & Auto Centers
For over forty years, Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers has supported the St. Louis area with professional automotive services, from tires, brakes, and maintenance to diagnostics and repairs. We’re proud to offer our services at forty locations – email, call, or stop in to see what we can do for you. We’re equally proud to support Piel Motorsports’ race to the top! You can keep tabs on Jake Piel’s Facebook page.
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