When the NASCAR K&N Pro Series takes on a road course there is sure to be a few road racing experts in the field. Some may have a racing background filled with left and right turns, some may simply have a knack for it, and others might have accomplishments and experience that set them apart from the rest.
Enter four time Trans Am champion, Ernie Francis Jr.
Francis started his racing career in go-karts when he was just four years old. Since then, he has quickly jumped through the ranks, winning in everything he steps foot in. Like many racers today, Francis was inspired by his father, Ernie Francis Sr., who showed him the way.
"It was all family driven when I started racing" said Francis. "My Dad was club racing dating back to the 80s doing a lot of formula racing so he was the one that got me into it. I grew up going to the track and watching him race and he is still close to my career now with my road course stuff."
Francis Jr. still drives for his family owned race team on the road course side, with his father over seeing the entire operation.
"It’s great to have him at the track, it’s good and bad at the same time because you know when you mess up that you’re going to deal with your team owner and your Dad at the same time" he said. "I really enjoy having him there and wouldn’t want to have it any other way."
Francis has certainly made his mark on the road racing scene, becoming the youngest Trans Am series champion at the age of 16 and in 2017 he became the winningest driver in series history. Francis, now 20, has his sights set on the top ranks of NASCAR, with his current stop being with the K&N Pro Series.
The transition from Trans Am racing to NASCAR is one that Francis sees as a challenge, something that he needs to check off the list in order for him to be satisfied with what he has been able to accomplish behind the wheel. Within his road racing background, Francis has driven front-wheel, rear-wheel and all-wheel drive cars, but strapping into a stock car had still yet to be done.
"It was me wanting to try something different, being able to drive anything that you want to put me in" he continued. "NASCAR racing was something that I’ve never really done and the opportunity came up with the Drive for Diversity program with Rev Racing and I thought it would something cool to put on my resume and say that not only can I road course race but I can also do some oval racing."
For Francis, stepping into Rev Racing was the first real time that he has worked with a new team around him. The past success with drivers like Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr. shows that the tools to succeed are in place for their drivers, and a win earlier this year with Ruben Garcia Jr. proves that the team has what it takes to win.
"It has been a really fun year" he said. "I think Rev Racing does a great job of making the drivers feel at home, we hang out off the track and race each other hard and clean on the track."
Francis made his K&N Pro Series debut at New Jersey Motorsports Park, a track that he has ample experience on with his Trans Am cars. To say it was an impressive debut would be an understatement as he qualified on the pole and went on to finish second to a fellow road course ace, Will Rodgers. Francis soaked it all in, learned everything he could, and is ready to carry that into his next stop, the big stage at Watkins Glen International.
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"We didn’t know how it was going to end up going into New Jersey being it was my first race with the team and the car" Francis said. "Putting the car on pole really opened everyone’s eyes so I think we have the same kind of goals for Watkins Glen and if we can advance the finishing position by one I think we’ll be pretty good."
Watkins Glen may just be another rung on the ladder as Francis chases his goals, but a win in front of the NASCAR industry could pay dividends for his career.
"If I can make it to the top ranks that’s something that I would really like to do. Now that I’m in it I think I’m really starting to enjoy NASCAR a lot more than I thought I would when I got into it."
Great Outdoors RV Superstore 100 Notes
- Will Rodgers will be looking to win his fifth straight K&N Pro Series road course event. He won this race a season ago.
- K&N Pro East points leader, Tyler Ankrum will join elite company if he is to win his fourth straight race this weekend. Only Ben Rhodes and Ricky Craven have conquered that feat.