ERIE, Colo. — Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Performance Motorsports Network audio — Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images photo —
The 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season was truly the championship run that Chris Eggleston never expected to have.
At the beginning of the season prior, he was racing locally in Colorado, scrapping for any chance he could get to put his name in a place where he might be able to grab a shot at greatness. Just shy of two years later, he’s calling himself a NASCAR champion — a turn of events so dramatic it still surprises even him.
“I feel like I’m living the true Cinderella story,” Eggleston said of his career surge since joining Bill McAnally Racing in 2014. “As more and more people have learned my story over the last year, it’s just become that much more special to me.”
Eggleston recounted the road to his championship season — which encompassed two wins, nine top-fives, 10 top-10s and a total of 135 laps led — during the NASCAR Touring Series Champion’s Week festivities, explaining how one phone call led to his ultimate dream coming true.
“It literally started off with me cold-calling team owner Bill McAnally,” Eggleston explained. “We talked about this just before the banquet, and he came over and said ‘Thank you for picking up that phone,’ because you don’t often see a driver pick up a phone and call a team owner. From there, we worked really hard to put a one race deal together, and somehow we made it work.”
That one-race deal came at Eggleston’s home track, Colorado National Speedway, and he did not disappoint. The hometown hero led 107 of 150 laps en route to victory in the race and didn’t just set the wheels in motion for his 2015 opportunities — he sent them flying down the road to success.
“For us to take advantage of that opportunity, put it in the winner’s circle that night in probably my one shot to ever do anything [in this sport] and get my foot in the door with Bill to show what we could do was really cool.”
After the win, McAnally worked tirelessly through the offseason to put the necessary pieces in place for his newest star to run for a championship. Eggleston said it took longer than he’d hoped, but just before the season was set to begin, he got the answer he was looking for.
“For him to call me up, barely a month before the season was set to start when we didn’t have a full, full deal together even though we were planning to run the season-opener together, was the most surreal moment. I’ll never forget it — I was back at home, working for my family-owned and operated fire sprinkler contracting business, and I get a phone call during the work week and it’s Bill. I said to myself, ‘This is weird that he’s calling me during normal hours; it must be important,’ and when I picked up the phone and he shared with us that we’d be running the full season, I was at a loss for words.”
“When we started the year at Kern [County Motorsports Park], I tell people it was easy then, because there was no pressure. It got harder halfway through the year when all of a sudden, we were leading the points. At that point everyone expected the world out of us. It was way more fun when people weren’t talking about us (laughs).”
But the more they began to talk after two wins in the first five races, the more Eggleston and his crew “put in a lot of hard work” and ultimately performed. Top fives in five of the final six races meant that the 26-year-old never dropped lower than second in points during the last half of the season, ultimately seizing the lead for good in the penultimate race of the year at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif.
That didn’t mean he slept well going into the finale at Phoenix International Raceway in November, though.
“There was a long break between All American and Phoenix,” said Eggleston. “It gave me plenty of time to overthink. Everyone knows that going into the last race of a championship run, you don’t sleep well, you’re a little crabby and you want to be alone. There’s so much that can happen out of your control that you worry about, but Roger (Bracken) and the rest of my team stayed upbeat and humble, which helped me. Every lap at Phoenix went by so slow until the drama happened on the last lap. That race held a lot of emotion for everyone.”
The drama that Eggleston was referring to was a bump from title rival Noah Gragson on the final corner of the final lap that nearly cost him the crown. However, Eggleston was able to hang on and seal the deal after a thrilling year for both he and the team.
“I’m so glad I was able to repay (Bill) for his trust in me to go out and perform. We got two big wins this year — at Irwindale Speedway and Shasta Speedway — and to cap off the season with a championship is the culmination of that repayment. He and his wife Deanna took a chance on a lone kid from Colorado, where a lot of people don’t even know racing exists, and it paid off. This has been such a cool opportunity and I just feel so blessed to be where I’m at now.”
Eggleston said the title, which was also McAnally’s record-tying sixth as a KNPSW car owner, meant even more to him as a driver because the competition all season long was the stiffest he had ever seen it on the “Left Coast”.
“Historically in the K&N West Series, you have that one veteran — Greg Pursley, David Mayhew, Eric Holmes — that goes out and can win five or six races, but this year we didn’t have that happen. No one won more than two races; the series had the most competition that I think it has ever had, so consistency was key. For us to get nine top fives in 13 races was a really big part of this championship drive. We couldn’t chance a DNF all year, and thankfully we never had a mechanical issue in our NAPA Toyota.”
The Colorado native and now, champion, also believes that next year’s K&N West series will be no easier to attack than the 2015 season was. He was confirmed for a second full season with BMR in November and stresses that the competition will be as high as ever.
“You’re seeing the younger generation step into their place in the sport, and a lot of them have a ton of talent,” Eggleston said. “A lot of those drivers are going to come with a blaze of glory next year, now that they’ve got a full-season under their belt. I think you’ll see the K&N West get even more prosperous from a notoriety standpoint next year because of that. It;s looking really healthy next year, and that’s not going to make it easy.”
“I am very excited and fortunate to have the opportunity to join forces again with Bill McAnally Racing for the 2016 season, though. I am really looking forward to building on the success that we had this year and have high hopes to defend our championship. It was awesome to win and to do it in my first full-season is unforgettable. I’m still so humbled and grateful for the honor and the opportunity.”
And if the current path is any indication, this year’s opportunity was just the beginning.
Listen in to an extended cut of Race Chaser Online’s conversation with Chris Eggleston by clicking on the player below:
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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