By Cole Cusumano
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Try finding a more eclectic personality in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series garage than Carson Hocevar, and you’ll quickly realize it’s a tall task (pun intended). The 18-year-old rookie towers over a majority of his competitors, while exuding a unique and light-hearted enthusiasm felt by all — as evident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It’s about 11 a.m. in the Truck Series garage area and teams are already all business in preparing their machines for the Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200. A burst of laughter overpowers the monotonous ratcheting; a few heads turn (including mine) to see Hocevar joking with one of his crew members, flailing his arms while dressed in street clothes and gold-framed sunglasses.
“I want to have fun,” Hocevar told NEWS FROM THE PITS with a smile. “I like having fun. I have a lot of sarcasm and a lot of smartass to myself that I just enjoy.”
Whether he’s sporting outrageous accessories during pre-race or embracing the nature of his height with Napoleon Dynamite humor or a Gumby pit sign, you’ll know exactly who and where Hocevar is.
This is the personality fans have become accustomed to, which is why he’s one of the more beloved drivers in the Truck Series – but he wasn’t always this upbeat. Hocevar was all business at the beginning of his Rookie of the Year campaign, so much so to the point he’d throw his phone in his hauler on race day to steer clear from distractions.
“We were mediocre, just getting our feet wet as full-time guys,” Hocevar said. “I was ultra focused and now I’m kind of not even looking at the race and just trying to mess around and enjoy it as much as possible, right before the last second when we get in the truck, and it’s actually made it a lot better.
“I’ve enjoyed race days a lot more and it’s making everybody work harder and enjoy coming [the track] and working.
“I think it works out even better and everybody enjoys it, as well as myself.”
Hocevar’s infectious attitude is responsible for the culture change and morale boost within Niece Motorsports. His magnetic energy creates a light atmosphere — something the team feeds off of, as they blend fun with rigorous work ethic.
Following a top-10 night at Bristol Motor Speedway, Hocevar advanced into the Round of 8 for the Truck Series playoffs and the team earned a much needed two-day break after a tough week. This didn’t prevent the No. 42 crew from coming in at 7 a.m. the next morning and working off the clock.
“He makes it fun [at the shop],” hauler driver, Michael Steele, told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “When he comes in, he’s always in a really good mood and joking. He brings a little spark to the deal when he comes in and he’s always got something funny to show you that he’s found on his phone from Youtube, TikTok or something.”
Obviously, a driving factor in the team showing up on their days off to work came courtesy of advancing into the next round of the postseason, but it also coincides with expectations set in place at the beginning of the year.
“Making the second round is huge for this team,” Hocevar said. “We have three goals; win a race, win Rookie of the Year and ultimately make the playoffs, and we’re really close to getting all three.”
The 18-year-old got the year started by making a statement with a top-five at Daytona International Speedway. This was the lone bright spot in the opening seven races, as things quickly fell apart. Suddenly, these three goals didn’t seem attainable: until Phil Gould took over as crew chief.
Hocevar felt his presence is what motivated himself and the No. 42 crew to kick it into gear. Gould’s rein has guided the team to an additional six top-10s (including a runner-up at Charlotte Motor Speedway), which is good enough for his driver to hold an eight-point lead over Chandler Smith in the rookie standings. All of this on top of a deep playoff run.
“We’re still chasing something, right?” Hocevar said. “We’re not here for bragging rights or building momentum for next year like everyone says (something which he doesn’t believe in). To be racing for something still this year and giving these guys motivation is huge.”
With three races remaining, Niece Motorsports’ and Hocevar’s goals are very much intact, which is why the production level and mood throughout the team has been amplified.
“Well, I mean, it’s a big deal,” Steele said. “You can’t be over prepared for anything and, honestly, you never know what can go wrong. We’re in the playoffs, so everything’s got to be perfect; if it ain’t, you might as well not even show up to work.”
Hocevar understands the Round of 8 won’t be easy with tracks like Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville Speedway serving as wild card events, but he knows there’s unfinished business to close out the season.
His bid for the Championship 4 took a hit (like most playoff drivers) in Las Vegas, after a controversial caution caused Hocevar to finish 22nd and two laps off the pace, in an event where he could’ve maximized points.
As a result, he sits 16 points out of spot in the final round with Talladega looming, but as has been on display through four races — anything can happen in the postseason. Regardless, Hocevar is keeping his head held high with a smile from ear-to-ear as he looks to solidify his Rookie of the Year bid.