Twenty-one year-old Cole Whitt has hit it big by landing a full time ride the #88 Unilever/TaxSlayer car in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series, but that doesn’t mean he’s taking the opportunity for granted.
“It’s pretty crazy, and I sure didn’t see it coming. When I was back in California with my family at Christmas, the next thing I knew there was a call from JR Motorspsorts, saying that the Eury’s and Dale Jr. wanted to meet me to discuss the potential of a full time 2012 program. Of course I said ‘yes,’ but then the team said they wanted me to meet [the next day].”
“So, I took the redeye, and sat down with everyone the next morning in Charlotte. Everything seemed to go the way they wanted it to go, and the whole deal kind of came together over the next couple of weeks. Now, here I am about to start a full season with JRM and Unilever, driving the #88. It’s been a pretty cool moment [in my life], and it’s still pretty crazy to think about just how big this opportunity really is.”
The team spent the end of January testing, with both the team, and Cole feeling their way along together. “It been good…,” Whitt said, “…we’ve been working hard to learn how things work well as a team. We’ve been trying all kinds of things, trying different setups, and it’s been going pretty good, but we’re always trying to find more speed,” he said with a laugh.
MEET JRM’S COLE WHITT
Cole Whitt was born in Alpine California in 1991, and early on had figured out what he wanted to do with his life. As a kid he was originally inspired by watching one of his cousin’s race karts, and by 2004 his early karting wins and subsequent performances in sprint cars attracted the attention of Red Bull Racing. As a result, he was invited to join its RBR driver search program, where he became a semi-finalist in 2005, then went on to win Hoosier’s Sprint Car Rookie of the Year Award in 2006. Over the next year, he produced 34 national top-ten, and followed that up by becoming the youngest driver to ever win the USAC National Midget Championship in 2008.
The following year, he produced 17 Silver Crown, sprint, and midget car wins, but NASCAR beckoned, and by 2010 he was running in the Camping World Series East (CWSE), while at the same time, still doing a partial sprint and midget schedule. His fourth place finish in the CWSE Championship as a rookie, however, garnered him a ride in the Nationwide Series at Phoenix that year, where picked the pace immediately by producing a top-15 finish in his maiden event. The following weekend at Homestead he ran both the Camping World Truck, and Nationwide Series, and again produced credible finishes. From then on, NASCAR was going to be his focus.
Last year, he ran a full-season in trucks finishing ninth in the Camping World Series Championship, after leading at the half-way mark, the first rookie to ever do so. While he was making noise in the truck series, he also had an opportunity to run a Sprint Cup car for Red Bull Racing at Phoenix and, again, at Homestead during the final event of the year. Whitt’s consistent performances and good-natured demeanor caught the eye of JRM/Unilever and his personal characteristics, plus the sudden departure of Aric Almirola for Petty Racing, created his current golden opportunity.
“Along with the Eury’s and Dale Jr, I’ve had an opportunity to meet the Unilever family, and it’s pretty cool. As a new guy, the whole thing provides me with a lot of confidence. The scale of the support is crazy, and knowing that I have Unilever behind us means that we have a chance to put a winning car in victory lane every weekend.”
Currently, the team plans a series of ‘meet and greet’ programs to launch Cole’s ‘personality blitz,’ both just before, and during Daytona week, and everyone involved is excited to get started, “We have some meetings in the next week to learn more about Unilever’s products and stuff, and that, and plus everything else that’s going on is pretty cool.”