December 17, 2013 — Audio/story by Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — photo by Isaac Arjonilla — Ladera Ranch, CA — For most 15-year olds, life is about fighting through high school and getting a driver’s license.
However for Cole Custer, life in 2013 has been about fighting on the race track and not just driving to learn, but driving to win.
A season of highs and lows has been Custer’s story, but the story itself goes much deeper. The Tesoro High School freshman started out 2013 with a simple goal in mind: finish races and learn how to handle driving a full-size K&N Pro Series stock car, but four races into the season, that goal morphed in a way that Cole nor his race team ever expected.
“We started out the year expecting to struggle, you know, expecting to grab a few top tens, but that it was gonna be a tough road for us,” Custer recounted in a recent interview to Race Chaser Online. “And then…we finished third at Richmond. And suddenly the whole objective changed.”
That might seem surprising to some, but to the Custer family, it wasn’t so much an unexpected surprise as an expected one. From the time he was four years old, Cole Custer has had the need for speed, racing his way up through quarter midgets and full-size USAC midgets to reach the ranks of NASCAR’s top touring series. Custer won the USAC National Ford Focus midget championship in 2011 at just 13 years old, and has been a rapid study in any vehicle he’s stepped in.
“People always say ‘there’s gonna be a learning curve’, but just when (my parents and I) think they’re going to be right, it seems like things start to fall into place. And we go out and make something happen.”
Those somethings have ranged from a win in his NASCAR late model debut last year at I-10 Speedway in nearby Blythe, California, to a third-place finish in just his fourth K&N Pro Series East start at Richmond International Raceway, to a stunning performance at Iowa Speedway in August that handed Custer his first career K&N Pro Series win in his rookie season of competition.
“The Iowa race was almost surreal in a way; we just ran our race and ended up leading every lap. I didn’t think we were gonna run quite that strong; I knew we were gonna contend, but to go out and win it the way we did was something even I didn’t expect.”
It was something a lot of people didn’t expect, but his team and family were not among them. Many of the critics attribute Custer’s rapid success to the support of his father Joe, the executive vice-president at Stewart-Haas Racing, and the funding and equipment provided by Haas Automation and by Ken Schrader Racing, Custer’s team for 2013. But the young superstar doesn’t see it that way at all.
“People want to say the only reason we’re performing like this is because I’ve got the right stuff behind me, and that may be part of it, but it’s a lot more than that. My dad has always pushed me to be the best I can behind the wheel; he’s never handed anything to me though. I’ve had to go out and prove I can do it. And I’m thankful for that, especially this year.”
He’s gone out and proved he’s got what it takes so far in his budding career. Custer added a second K&N East win at Loudon, New Hampshire in September and nearly added a third win in the K&N West Series at Phoenix before contact with Gray Gaulding on the final lap relegated him to a sixth place finish after leading every other lap in the event. He finished eighth in the final K&N Pro Series East standings and fourth in a stacked rookie class this season.
Now, as he looks to get his road license in about six weeks time after he turns 16, Custer is already looking ahead to the 2014 road, where he’ll look to tackle roughly 10 NASCAR Camping World Truck races with the KSR team in addition to running the major NASCAR-weekend undercard races with the K&N East and West series.
“I know one place I’m looking forward to getting back to next season is Phoenix,” Custer added. “We were so close, and to lose it the way that we did was a tough way to end our season. But it taught me a lot too, and now I’m ready to bounce back and make 2014 an even stronger run than we had this year.”
Has it been a perfect run this year? No, and Cole will tell you that straight up. But for him, it’s been a dream season and the year has laid him a solid foundation to build upon as he looks to continue marching up the ladder.
“It’s not been a perfect year, but I don’t care about that. For a lot of people, it’s about going fast and about the spotlight. For me, it’s about the competition.”
And with all he’s already done, he’s certainly shown that competition that Cole Custer is around to stay.
Listen in as our Jacob Seelman sat down for a candid interview about Cole’s 2013 season, his path into racing and his upcoming plans: