BRISTOL, Tenn. - Today is the biggest day of Cale Conley's racing life.
The Vienna native will be running in NASCAR's Nationwide Series at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Conley posted the 18th fastest speed during both practice sessions Friday. He will roll out 13th during today's qualifying session.
He'll be lining up alongside NASCAR legends such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch, and he won't be doing it for some fly-by-night operation.
Photos by Tim Parks
Nationwide Series driver Cale Conley enters his car for the final practice session for today’s Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 presented by Lilly Diabetes at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Cale Conley is seen on the high-banks at Bristol Motor Speedway during Nationwide Series practice. Conley is driving for Richard Childress Racing.
Rather, he will be representing Richard Childress Racing, the most successful racing team in the history of NASCAR.
Earlier this year, Conley signed on with RCR, regarded as the New York Yankees of the racing world.
Asked if he considers Childress Racing first class, Conley said, "It's beyond that. I'm not off of Cloud Nine yet.''
He will be today. Instead of riding on Cloud Nine he will find himself in the black and blue No. 33 car for the 2 p.m. Nationwide Series race. He even has a sponsor in Okuma, a company that makes high-end racing car parts.
While Conley will be alone in the car, he will be backed not only by the best team in racing, but also by many local fans who are making the trip to Bristol. Those fans include virtually the entire Conley contingent, including his grandmothers.
"We travel together,'' Conley said.
While this is a moment for which Conley has been preparing for most of his life, he admits to being a little nervous about the big moment.
"I'm full of nerves,'' he said. "I'm nervous right now. But I'm going to control my feelings and enjoy the moment. I'm going to do the best I can and I'm going to learn a ton.''
Conley is one of several young drivers to recently join Richard Childress Racing, which controls his schedule. It selected him to run at Bristol, a half-mile track, because it is most like the circuits he has been running on the K&N East Series.
Speaking of the K&N, it also is running at Bristol today and Conley qualified fourth for the PittLite 125, which features a 36-car field and is scheduled to begin following the conclusion of the Nationwide Race at approximately 4:45 p.m.
Conley is getting a major indoctrination into what it is like to be a race driver for a major team.
On Friday, in addition to doing media interviews, he also had to attend rookie meetings, run practice laps and meet with his racing team that will be preparing his rides.
Once Conley gets in the car, there will be no holding back. The nerves will go away and the driver in him will take over.
"I'm excited,'' he said. "I'm ready to let it rip.''