Most drivers only get out of their race car when they are injured or absolutely cannot drive, but in 2005 Chad Hiller voluntarily climbed out of the seat. He took a job as a crew member with the Selma Shell team on the World of Outlaws circuit, with Paul McMahan as the driver at the time.
In his first full season on the road with the series this year as a driver, Hillier is using many of the lessons he learned in 2005 as a crew member, to help him in and out of the race car. While he learned plenty about racing and car set-up, it is some of the away from the track items that he believes have paid the biggest dividends for him this season as he embarks on the grueling World of Outlaws schedule.
“I learned a lot about life on the road, day in and day out,” said Hiller, driver of the DIRT Inc. Maxim. “Some nights you don’t get any sleep, and you learn how to function. I also got to see the different countryside, as well as learning how to save money and how to travel.”
While he was on the road turning wrenches that season, Hillier was able to meet countless people from all facets of the sport and points out how important establishing many of those relationships were to the development of his racing career. Many of the people he first came in contact with two years ago are still close to him and he talks to on a consistent basis.
“It’s a lot of hard work being on the road as a crew member,” explained the rookie. “I think I gained the respect of many people by coming out here and working for a full year. I was able to meet a lot of people and gained the respect of other people because I showed I was willing to work.”
While he has had plenty of success on the race track in his career and received plenty of accolades, Hillier is quick to point out just how hard crew members work and what they endure and sacrifice in their own lives to make sure the driver has the best equipment possible.
“The crew members really don’t get enough credit,” he stressed. “They are the ones that get up at seven in the morning and are at the car wash at midnight or two in the morning and driving through the night. It’s a tough job and a thankless job on a lot of nights.”
After winning track championships in all three sprint car divisions at Skagit Speedway in his home state of Washington, Hillier was at a crossroad of deciding where he wanted his career to go. The opportunity to join the Selma Shell team presented itself and after weighing all the possible options, Hillier decided to put his helmet away for a season and pick up a wrench.
“In my mind I told myself I was going to take a year and not worry about driving,” he noted. “I committed for a full year and I did a full year. It was not that tough until we got out to the West Coast in August and I got a chance to drive my dad’s car for a 360-race. After that the rest of the year was pretty tough, but I committed to the full year and I was not going to pull out. I had plenty of opportunities to go back home and drive during the season and had some opportunities before the season. I think it was something that I had to do to see if this is what I wanted to do as a career.”
While he uses a lot of the knowledge he gained in 2005 as a crew member, he also relies on some of the veterans of the series when he has a question. Being a rookie of the World of Outlaws circuit can be a very intimidating aspect, but Hillier has surrounded himself with good people that are willing to listen when he has a question and offer a helping hand, led by veteran crew chief Tyler Swank. Many of the tracks he visits this season, he first saw when he was a crew member in 2005.
“It helps some going back to these tracks and being able to think back about what it was like when I was there in 2005 and what gear we ran,” he said. “It helps in making sure you are a little closer with the car. It is a comfort issue so that you are not completely out there with the car. A lot of the guys out here are good about giving advice and some help. The competition is so tough this year that most people are doing their own thing. I think that sometimes benefits us because we are not worrying about what other people are doing.”
Hillier will visit River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, North Dakota for the first time in his career, in the opener of the Duel in the Dakotas on Friday, June 29. The high-banked bullring is similar to his home track of Skagit Speedway, where the World of Outlaws will compete on August 24 and 25.
“If it’s somewhere I have never been, I try to relate it to somewhere I have been before,” Hillier explained. “I try to relate it to maybe a track from back home or a track we raced on earlier this year. I watch the track as much as I can during the support races and see how the track is coming in. Sometimes you can follow the veteran guys around there and they will take the fast route around there so you can learn pretty quick.”
Entering the Duel in the Dakotas at River Cities Speedway on Friday, Hillier is 18th in the World of Outlaws championships standings and second in the battle for the Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year Award. Hillier is confident his team will continue to build on the solid foundation they have established in the first one-third of the season, as he returns to track for the second and third times, and also prepares to for four races in the Pacific Northwest in August, as well as two events at Castrol Raceway in Edmonton, where he has also competed in the past.
“It’s kind of like a roller coaster,” he said. “We have some good nights and some bad. We have fortunately been getting in the A-main. Some nights we feel like we should have done better and on other nights, we feel like we may have gotten a break. All in all, we are doing pretty good, we just want to crack the Top-10 a few more times.”
On Friday, June 29 at River Cities Speedway adult reserved tickets will be $33 with adult tickets $35 the day of the race, with reserved tickets for kids 12-under $15. General admission tickets for adults will be $28 in advance and $30 the day of the race, with general admission tickets for kids 6-12 $15, while kids 5-under will be admitted free to the general admission seating area.
For ticket information call SLS Promotions at: 815-344-2023 or visit http:// www.slspromotions.com.