Photo: Melissa K. Smith
Local driver Casey Roderick hopes to do well in his first start at Daytona this weekend in NASCAR's Nationwide Series.
IF YOU WATCH
What: DRIVE4COPD 300
When: Saturday, noon
Where: Daytona International Speedway
More info: caseyroderickfanclub.com
When Casey Roderick was growing up, he made sure to watch the Daytona 500 every year.
“Oh, for sure. Everybody knows Daytona is the race of the year,” Roderick said.
The Super Bowl of stock car racing has produced some of the sport’s most memorable moments, everything from Dale Earnhardt’s death and Darrell Waltrip’s big win to the fight between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarbrough.
On Saturday, Roderick will race on the same track that has produced so many memories. The 19-year-old Lawrenceville native will compete in the DRIVE5COPD 300, part of the Nationwide Series at Daytona International Speedway.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Roderick said. “It’s exciting to be a part of it. This is what everyone dreams of doing.”
The Nationwide race will be the fourth of Roderick’s career. He competed in three last season and his best finish was 25th at Watkins Glen.
Roderick plans to drive his No. 08 Ford Mustang owned by Randy Hill Racing at Daytona and Phoenix this season. The race in Daytona is pivotal for the rest of year. If he does well, he could be on the series a lot more. If he doesn’t run well, then it could make for a long year.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure on me. Anyone that’s new to Nationwide or doesn’t have a lot of experience, then there’s pressure. But you have to learn from it,” Roderick said. “We want to run good, but you want your car to go home for the next race.”
It hasn’t been an easy journey to the Nationwide series for Roderick. He began racing when he was 4 years old and devoted his whole childhood to the sport. His parents David and Ginger have invested countless hours and thousands of dollars to help support him.
“The last couple of years have been tough because my family doesn’t have a lot of money. My family loves racing just as much as I do,” Roderick said. “They’ve sacrificed everything they have, financially they are not in good shape. If I had kids, I would do the same thing to see them succeed. I want to give back to them one day. I’m not some rich kid running around doing whatever I do.”
Roderick picked up racing when he was 4 after his father and uncle took him to a go-kart race in Lamar County.
“I was like ‘Man, I’d like to do that,’” he said.
His father talked to the track owner, who told him he had to be 8 to race. Eventually they settled that if he could bring his own cart, he could race. They came back with their own cart and Roderick impressed the track owner.
“He said that kid has got some talent,” Roderick said.
A couple of weeks later he competed in his first race and won.
“I took to it quick,” he said. “When you find something you like, you’re attracted to it.”
Roderick raced go-karts for the next six years. He moved up to Bandoleers racing when he was 10 and switched to Legends car racing when he turned 12.
That’s when the success started to pour in.
Roderick won the championship at the summer racing series Thursday Thunder at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2003-04. He captured the semi-pro title in ’05 and raced in Charlotte and Atlanta in ’06. A bad first race hurt his points in the Atlanta series, but he won the pro championship in Charlotte and the national championship later that year.
Roderick was the national points leader in 2007 and hooked up with legendary NASCAR driver Bill Elliot the following year.
“It was a lot of fun. He did give me ARCA races,” Roderick said. “He definitely helped my career out and opened some eyes. I’d say Bill Elliott opened some of the doors.”
By the time he was 15, Roderick moved out of his parents’ house to live with his grandfather on Lake Lanier. The move made it easier for Roderick to work with Elliot in his garage in Dawsonville while Roderick was home schooled.
“We were doing what we had to do to race,” Roderick said. “I had my grandfather, but I was on my own a lot.”
Roderick was officially on his own when he turned 18 and moved to Spartanburg, S.C. He now lives in North Carolina.
“I haven’t had the teenage life that most teens go through. I’ve had to see what life is really like,” Roderick said.
Roderick competed in a handful of ARCA races over the next couple of years. The most memorable was the one at New Jersey Motorsports Park in 2010. Roderick blew his engine and had to have another car delivered overnight from Dawsonville. He missed practice and qualifying and had to start in the back. He ended up winning the 35-car race for his only ARCA victory.
“Starting in dead last and wining it was huge,” Roderick said. “I think that opened a lot of eyes, too.”
Roderick worked the garage for Phoenix Racing in January last year and met Randy Hill, a Texas entrepreneur who recently started a race team.
Hill’s journey as a race car owner is being followed by a television crew for a pilot show that features Roderick.
It’s all part of an exciting year for Roderick, who is considered one of the sport’s up and coming drivers. Right now he’s just struggling to make ends meet. He earns about $500 a week, which is on the low end of a Nationwide driver’s salary.
“There’s a lot of kids that are up and coming and don’t have an opportunity,” Roderick said. “To say I have an opportunity to race Nationwide is pretty cool. There’s thousands of kids that want the opportunity I have.”
Roderick plans to stroll through the garage of the Cup series drivers for Daytona where he can catch a glimpse of his idol Jeff Gordon. He’s also a big fan of five-time champion Jimmy Johnson, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart and would like to one day be racing with them.
“I hope I can be one of them,” Roderick said. “My goal is to be in the Cup in the next five years. I think you need a year or two in Nationwide to get your feet wet. The Cup series is a tough place to race.”