Justin Allgaier remembers sitting in the stands of one of the nation’s superspeedways, imagining himself inside one of the precision stock cars.
Next to him sat Kelly Kovski, his childhood friend. Together, they did play-by-play of the race, pretending they were competing against professional drivers.
One of them would win the race. Another would place in the top 10, and Allgaier and Kovski would go through all the customary postrace obligations — thanking sponsors, waving to fans from victory lane and conducting television interviews.
Then Allgaier began to rise in the ranks of stock car racing. Years later, Allgaier and Kovski have yet to part ways.
Kovski works as a crew chief for Allgaier Motorsports but will go from atop a pit box to behind the wheel. Kovski will drive Sunday in the Menards 200 at Toledo Speedway under the Allgaier Motorsports flag, his first race on a paved track.
“I kept thinking, ‘OK, we’re going to go there and race,’ but Mike [Allgaier, a team co-owner] said to me, ‘No, you’re going to drive,’ ” Kovski said. “And I thought, ‘All right! Let’s go do this!’ ”
Kovski typically competes in ARCA’s two dirt-track races at the Du Quoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds and at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Ill., but will join a field at the Menards 200 that includes nine-time points champion and current points leader Frank Kimmel, as well as longtime driver James Hylton, who is retiring after this season, and Mason Mingus, who drove last month at the 7UP 150s at Toledo Speedway and who finished second to Kimmel in the Internatonal Motorsports Hall of Fame 250 on May 3 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Kovski tested last week at Toledo Speedway’s half-mile oval and found the main difference in racing on an asphalt surface.
“Dirt is a little more forgiving, as far as the way the cars handle and how you slide them around a little bit,” Kovski said. “You know they’re not underneath you, so to speak. Asphalt seems so secure, and then you lose traction real fast. Sometimes you don’t even know when it’s coming.”
Kovski will race on the same track where Allgaier, who now drives in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, won the Hantz Group 200 at Toledo Speedway in the fall of 2008. Allgaier won the ARCA points championship that season, picking his way through a race filled with crashes and controversy.
Now Kovski goes from observing and commanding to being told what to do and how to drive a stock car.
“Kelly always put his racing career on the back burner for me to race whenever I needed help,” Allgaier said. “My dad and I sat down and said, ‘How can we go at it again?’ So Kelly’s been there, been faithful about it, so we thought it would be cool for him to run at Toledo. This, for him, is kind of a bucket-list item.”
Allgaier drives for Turner Scott Motorsports and is currently fourth in the Nationwide points standings (299), behind leader Regan Smith (342), Defiance native Sam Hornish, Jr. (314), and Elliott Sadler (300).
Allgaier is part of a growing trend in auto racing. The Riverton, Ill., native is one of several NASCAR drivers to oversee their own racing teams, joining drivers such as Brad Keselowski, who owns a Camping World Trucks Series team, Michael Waltrip (Michael Waltrip Racing) and Kyle Busch (Kyle Busch Motorsports).
Tony Stewart owns Stewart-Haas Racing, a four-year-old Sprint Cup team with three drivers, but also sees team ownership in terms of business.
“It’s a constant work in progress,” Stewart told SportingNews.com in March. “You’re constantly in that mode of, ‘What can we do to make ourselves better than what we already are?’
“I go to bed sometimes going, ‘What was I thinking?’ There’s a lot fewer off-days than there used to be and a lot more responsibility.”
At the end of 2011, Allgaier Motorsports stopped running the ARCA circuit full-time, and instead concentrated on preparing to drive in certain races.
“When I was growing up, I was fortunate enough that my dad had a race team and was able to put me through my racing career and get me to the spot where I am right now in the Nationwide Racing Series,” Allgaier said. “When that happened, he looked at it and said, ‘I’d like to keep this going.’ For me, it was the love of trying to get me to move on, but once I was moved on it was like, let’s help somebody else.”
One more driver will get a chance to contribute to the Allgaier family business on Sunday at Toledo Speedway.
“I’ve always said that a crew chief that hasn’t gotten a chance to drive a car really doesn’t understand what the driver’s always sensing,” Kovski said. “This should help me out a lot.”