John King II hoped to just finish last year’s O’Reilly 200 Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
After finishing 15th in the race, the Kingsport driver hopes to do even better Wednesday night in his second race on the high banks.
“Those big trucks with the radial tires, it was all new to me,” said King, 23. “To be able to run as good as well as we did, I was ecstatic.”
One advantage King enjoyed last year was family friend Bill Elliott serving as his spotter. With Elliott’s guidance and some good pit strategy, King ran as high as third place. He stayed among the top six for 60 laps before losing a lap on a pit stop.
“That was our first race ever, so that was an eye-opening experience,” he said. “We had a good truck, but it wasn’t as good as it could have been. But it was a lot of good seat time running with those better drivers. It was a really good outing for our first time.
“We just made a few rookie errors. We were short-handed in the pits, but it was a little better with Bill in my ear.”
Elliott, the 1988 NASCAR champion, was complimentary of King’s performance. At one point during the race, King asked if there was anything he needed to do differently, which Elliott responded, “You’re doing about anything I would be able to do.”
“That was a big deal for my confidence,” King said. “It was like someone straight out of high school going to pro football. Those races with all the national exposure and 80,000 people in the stands, it’s a lot of pressure for the first time. I felt like we blew it out of the water for what I wanted.”
King ran three more races last season, with finishes of 28th and 19th on the flat tracks of Loudon and Martinsville, before ending the year with a 27th-place run at Homestead.
After Homestead, he added another 1.5-mile superspeedway, Kentucky, to his resume this season, where he was sixth-fastest in the final practice. There were problems, however, during the race as he recovered from an early spin only to get collected in a multi-car accident on lap 77.
“When you step up to those mile-and-a-half tracks, it’s a whole different ballgame,” he said. “You have to stay in the throttle all the way around the race track. That’s been the biggest learning curve for me.
“Bristol has been a relatively easy track for me because you drive it in the corner and nine times out of 10, it’s going to stick. The only real problem you really have there is the exit (off the corners). But I’ve gained a lot of experience and that’s good for me being a relatively green driver in the trucks.”
Even at this stage of his career, King has been forced to make tough decisions. Although the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series returned to his hometown track, Kingsport Speedway, this season, King opted not to run his Late Model Stock car there.
He thinnks it’s important to show the No. 07 Toyota Truck Series team he’s fully committed to their program. For that reason, he’s also been spending as much time in the Charlotte area working at the Truck Series shop as he’s been spending at home.
“I would love to race at Kingsport,” he said. “There’s nothing better than running in front of the hometown crowd, especially when you have that support from them. But this is a good opportunity we have with the Truck Series.
“I’m not one just to show up at the race track with a helmet. I like to be in the middle of everything and do as much work as anyone else on the truck. I guess that’s been the way I’ve always done it.”
It was the way King was brought up from day one. Unlike most younger racers, he didn’t start out in go-karts. Instead, he started by helping out fellow Kingsport racer Rick Norris in the Crate Late Model division at Volunteer Speedway.
King said that racing with guys like Dale Ball of Johnson City, Bobby Mays of Jonesborough and Norris on the Volunteer dirt track helped him advance quickly in such a short time. Those guys will be cheering for King on Wednesday night, and his goal is crystal clear.
“The world is based off numbers, so people want to be able to look off a sheet and tell how good somebody is,” he said. “We’ve gotten some notoriety because we’ve gone to some race tracks and been able to be competitive. But you’ve got to back it up with finishes. I need to finish the race. ”