KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is an elegant monument that was erected to commemorate President Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and to celebrate St. Louis’ central role in the rapid westward expansion that followed. Completed in October 1965, the Gateway Arch is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and has become an internationally famous symbol of St. Louis.
For Cole Custer, driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development (HRD) and native of Ladera Ranch, California, the hope is that the Gateway Arch is just as welcoming to those who travel from the West Coast to the East, as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series converges on Greater St. Louis at Gateway Motorsports Park for the first time since 2010.
A “veteran” driver of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series – as much as one can be at just 16 years of age – Custer has experienced success on both sides of the country. With three victories in the East Series and a win in the West Series in a combined 20 starts, Custer has proven his ability to find victory lane regardless of which coast he’s racing on. Now he’ll look to score his first victory not only in the Heartland of America, but also in the Camping World Truck Series.
While Custer will make his third Camping World Truck Series start of the 2014 season this weekend, it will mark the first time he will race at Gateway in any kind of vehicle. He has, however, tested twice at the 1.25-mile egg-shaped oval located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Madison, Illinois. In 2013, Custer visited Gateway once in his K&N Pro Series car, and again in his Camping World Truck.
Custer feels more than ready for Saturday’s Drivin’ for Linemen 200. It will be his first standalone Truck Series event – those that are not held in conjunction with other NASCAR touring series – and he’s counting on making the most of the opportunity. With no Sprint Cup or Nationwide Series drivers to overshadow the Truck Series up-and-comers, Custer fully expects to be in contention for his first Truck Series victory when the checkered flag waves Saturday night.
COLE CUSTER, Driver of the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado for Haas Racing Development:
You’ve had the opportunity to test at Gateway twice. Talk a little bit about the uniqueness of the racetrack.
“Both tests at Gateway went really well. I’m really looking forward to this weekend’s race. It’s a really cool track. Turns one and two are really tight, and you’ve got to hit your marks perfectly. Turns three and four are much wider. It reminds me a lot of entering turn three at Phoenix. You can drive the truck off into the corner hard and carry a lot of speed off of turn four.”
Talk a little bit about the challenges that Gateway presents. Turns one and two are almost paperclip-tight while turns three and four are more open and sweeping. Do you have to compromise the setup to be better at one end of the racetrack?
“Gateway is very different from one end of the track to the other. Turns one and two are tighter, while turns three and four are wider. You have to give up a little bit at each end to be good at both ends of the racetrack. You’ve got to make sure that you’re good at one end of the track so that you’ll be able to get your nose under someone and try to complete the pass at the other end. It’s a different kind of racetrack. It presents a unique challenge and, as a driver, that’s fun to me.”
While you’ve made two starts in the Camping World Truck Series, this will be the first time that you won’t have to contend with the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series drivers. I’m sure you appreciate racing them, but do you feel like you’ve got a little better opportunity to steal the spotlight this weekend?
“Not having the Sprint Cup or Nationwide drivers in the race gives us a really good shot at stealing the spotlight. But, it’s always nice to race with those guys because you can learn so much from them. But, there’s still a ton of talent in the Truck Series. You look at guys like Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter, Timothy Peters and some of the other guys, there are still a lot of veteran guys who you can learn from there. It’s going to be an awesome weekend for the Truck Series at Gateway because our race is the main event.”
Gateway will be the largest track that you’ve raced on to date in the Truck Series. Talk a little bit about that.
“It’s awesome that we can race at some of these bigger racetracks. It’s not the fastest track because it’s so flat, but it’s still a mile-and-a-quarter in length. You carry a lot of speed down the straightaways, similar to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The pavement is a little bit worn out, but I think that’s part of what makes it such a fun racetrack. I think it’s awesome that NASCAR is coming back to Gateway this weekend.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine