WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Story by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda — Performance Motorsports Network audio — NASCAR Whelen Euro Series/Kevin Epstein photo —
The Cheever racing name is prevalent in the open wheel ranks, but has been far less noticable in full-fendered action — until recently.
Eddie Cheever Jr. made a career out of Formula One and IndyCar racing, and succeeded very handsomely in doing so. Cheever won the 1998 Indianapolis 500 and took a trip to Disney World, literally, to score his first-career IndyCar win in January 1997 at the Walt Disney World Speedway.
With the 57-year-old having transitioned to the T.V. booth, another Cheever has taken to the track to keep the family’s racing legacy burning brightly.
Eddie Cheever III has driven everything except for Indy cars, and the 22-year-old-driver is now a rising star in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series championship. The young gun driver faces a new challenge this weekend at Watkins Glen, competing in the K&N Pro Series East race at the 2.45 mile road-course.
“I had a chance to go around the track with Paul Menard, who’s a good friend of mine,” Cheever said. “He told me a few tips about the track and I can’t wait to have a go in the K&N Series and hope all goes well and have fun and go as fast as I can.”
Cheever is driving the No. 99 Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing and has two teammates to lean on that have competed at the New York road course in Nick Drake and Cole Custer. Drake came home with a top-10 in last year’s race, while Custer tried to run down leader Scott Heckert in the end before losing control of the No. 00 car and slamming into the sand barriers in the final turn.
The second-generation driver Cheever tested with Bill McAnally Racing two weeks ago to get settled into the K&N East-style cars. The Whelen Euro Series that he competes in regularly runs a different type of machine compared to the K&N Series.
“The main difference is the grip of the tires and the power of the engine,” Cheever said about the difference of the cars. “I think 200 horsepower more, so that’s going to be the hardest thing to get used to, but I’m up for challenge and can’t wait.”
A change of pace took place for the Italian driver when he switched from racing Formula 3 Series cars to the stock cars of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series in 2014. Since joining the Euro tour, Cheever has four series wins, including three in his rookie season — which earned him the series’ 2014 Rookie of the Year award.
He began the 2015 season with a victory in April at Valencia, Spain and currently sits second in series points, 29 markers behind Ander Vilarino entering the double-points playoffs to determine the season championship. The Euro Series doesn’t return to action until September, but Cheever is more than ready to challenge Vilarino for the championship.
“I’m going to give it my all in the Euro Series to win the championship,” Cheever said. “Last year, I came really close to winning it in my rookie year, and this year, I’ve been more careful in the first races not to make any mistakes and now, to come into the playoffs and give it all I have to win all four races and hopefully win the championship.”
Vilarino won the 2012 and 2013 Euro Series championship before falling short in his bid for three straight titles last year. With the veteran and the rookie Cheever battling to become this year’s champion, the 22-year-old Italian has learned some things from the Spanish national.
“He’s somebody to look up to because he has so much experience,” Cheever said of Vilarino. “I try to learn from him and hopefully beat him at the end of the year. That’s my goal because I want to win the championship. I try to learn from all the guys that have more experience than me.”
Friday evening’s K&N East race at Watkins Glen will be a learning experience for sure.
“I’ll try to follow the fast guys and see what they do and do my best and we’ll see from there where it goes.”
Cheever’s Friday morning didn’t go as planned when the engine expired on the No. 99 Toyota, but did get some on-track time before the race.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Following his engine failure in the opening practice, Cheever and Bill McAnally Racing announced their withdrawal from Friday afternoon’s Bully Hill Vineyards 125.
Listen in to Cheever’s conversation with the Race Chaser Online crew during Thursday’s Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show below: