Parker Kligerman's Big Adventure

Jordan Hollender

Briggs S. and Beth Cunningham, as well as the Kligermans, were in attendance the next week at Kentucky Speedway for one of the year's best races anywhere. After Kligerman missed the pole by a whisker, Cunningham told me, "Penske used to win for my dad." He said Kligerman's cars are based in Penske's Mooresville, North Carolina, shop, and a "whatever Parker wants" decree had been issued. I challenged Cunningham to put Kligerman's special essence into a word. Crew chief Chris Carrier, of Bristol, Virginia, had simply said, "He's pretty durn good." All Cunningham could produce was that the midget racing had been good experience.

Kligerman led fifty-six of the first sixty-two laps on the mile and a half, but he fell to twelfth after a pit stop as Steve Arpin took the lead briefly before Grant Enfinger streaked by. Kligerman caught up, and for the final twenty breathtaking laps, they ran cheek-by-jowl. More than once, when the challenge nearly succeeded, Enfinger slyly shaved Kligerman away against slower traffic. Finally, in the very last turn, with the tires on both cars as useless as skinny jeans in a fat man's closet, Kligerman slipped by and won. The Kligermans and the Cunninghams celebrated deliriously. As Robert had earlier said, "It's not like watching him play soccer when he was six years old."

After Kentucky, Justin Lofton, the masterful, bright-smiling, twenty-three-year-old Californian who remained a close second in the championship, announced the redoubling of his team's efforts. Lofton comes from the Imperial Valley, where the family's operation fattens Holstein steers cast off by the state's huge dairy industry. Lofton raced mountain bikes until fracturing his femur at sixteen. Still on crutches, he climbed into a super-stock Ford Mustang in the Colorado Hill Climb Association. He subsequently drove a desert buggy in the Mojave and a stock car at Irwindale Speedway. He directed his own team in NASCAR's western series before moving to Charlotte and entering ARCA competition in 2008. Unlike Kligerman, he puts little credence in sim-racing. "I don't find it a lot of help," he said. "To sit down in front of a computer with no sweat or anything just doesn't do it for me."

Lofton captured the pole next time out, breaking the record at Berlin Raceway, and went on to win the race. The track is on a fairground just outside Marne, Michigan, and tire smoke wafts over the village when a car spins out. The boyhood home of former General Motors president Ed Cole, father of the Chevy V-8, stands not far from turn 2. Kligerman, who was flu-stricken and pallid, ducked into an ambulance for a liter of saline by IV before the race. Sixth place - despite being spun out early and later receiving a pit-road violation penalty - seemed pretty good. "That's what championships are made of - making the best of a bad night," he said.

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