Through the Paddock: Stephen Nasse on late models, emotion and future prospects

Barry Cantrell/Short Track Spotlight

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Each week in Through the Paddock, Aaron Bearden takes the time to spotlight a member of the racing community in an effort for both himself and the fans to learn more about them. Interviewees can range from drivers to crew members, media representatives and more.

The audio version of this piece can be found here.

From the country’s biggest racing tours to its smallest, there are a host of headline motorsports events to be seen year-round across the United States of America.

NASCAR has events like the Daytona 500 and Southern 500. The Verizon IndyCar Series runs the Indianapolis 500. Dirt track racing is headlined by the Chili Bowl Nationals among others, and short-track asphalt racing hosts a handful of events including the Snowball Derby and All-American 400.

Head to any of the major events that include an asphalt late model, and you’ll likely cross paths with Stephen Nasse.

Running a combination of Super and Pro Late Models races, Nasse spent this season scouring the country in search of big events and large paydays, while also contesting – and claiming – the Southern Super Series championship.

Known for his consistent speed and occasional bursts of emotion, Nasse has become one of late model racing’s most notable names after years of contending for victories in the discipline’s grandest stages. However, while he may be a stalwart of short-track racing, the 22-year-old is also eyeing a potential step up into the lower ranks of NASCAR and the ARCA Racing Series.

Kickin’ the Tires met up with Nasse on the morning of the Winchester 400 at Winchester Speedway to discuss the Floridian’s schedule planning, driving style and future prospects as one of late model racing’s top drivers.

How are you doing today, Stephen?

Stephen Nasse: I’m doing great. How are you?

I’m doing good so far. We’re here in the morning before the Winchester 400 – what I think is one of the more prestigious events in late model racing. Would you agree?

Yeah, this is definitely one of the big ones. You’ve got the (Snowball) Derby. You’ve got here. You’ve got the All-American (400). This is definitely one of them. We’re getting to the good parts of the year.

Because of a rainout yesterday, they have races today. We just got done watching a modified feature. What did you think watching them rip around this half-mile oval?

They’re fast, and it gets dicey out there. It’s definitely dangerous. You see some carnage, and that shows what could happen today in the Supers when you get a few more of those cars on the track, and a little more tire.

It could be a little dangerous, but that’s what we come to Winchester for. I know us, as a team we don’t bring our nicest pieces here because you know it could be a really rough day. When you get into something here, it’s not just a little fender or a quarter (panel), something like that. It’s a clip.

We’re prepared for the worst, but we want the best. We’ll see what happens.

How did you end up where you are today in late models?

You know, I’ve been racing for a long, long time, transforming into Super Late Models. I used to run the ASA South Series and stuff like that.

My dad’s always been into chasing big money races, so that’s what brought me here, to the Derby and shows like that. When you go to those and you see all of the competition there, we wanted to chase them in traveling series as well. Most of guys that are on top in the big races run down South with us.

That’s what we chase. We chase competition, and Super Late Model (racing) has some of the best competition around, so that’s all we do.

Have you ever had aspirations of running in NASCAR or one of the “upper” series, or has this always been your livelihood?

As a little kid I can’t say that I didn’t want to be a NASCAR driver growing up. But NASCAR changed as a whole, and it wasn’t something that I was real proud of.

Now I’ve came around, and I think it’s changing. That’s why I’ve been opening up my options and thinking about it. Obviously my family, they want to see me out there. My dad’s been a huge NASCAR fan (for) his whole life. That’d be a dream of his, and obviously it would be a dream of mine.

If the sport keeps on going in the direction it’s going, then you may see me out there.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you have a health scare a few years back?

Yeah. I had pneumonia, and I was in the hospital for two weeks. That kind of put a little damper on my career. I had to stop for that whole season, pretty much.

I don’t think it was that big of a deal, but I guess if you ask some health professionals it may have been. But we’re back, and it’s no problem nowadays.

On to the racing side of things, how many races do you run per year, and how do you decide which ones to run?

We normally run about 25-30 races per year, and that just depends on Speedweeks and how that week goes, because that’s five-to-seven there.

Obviously we run the big ones, and then you normally have about 10 points races. That’s normally about all the seasons are. Then we kind of pick and choose a few that we’d like to go off and run.

Are there and bucket list races or tracks that you haven’t been to and want to, or any you have to hit up every year?

Slinger Nationals is really something I would like to get to, and then I really want to win the Governor’s Cup down south in New Smyrna (Speedway). That’s one that’s been around the family, and is only a couple hours from where I grew up.

Those are just a couple of them, then obviously the big ones are the Derby and stuff like that. You’ve gotta aspire to win one of those. You’ve gotta want to, and we chase them and try.

I went up to Milwaukee a couple years ago and tried out the Milwaukee Mile. I really like speed, so we like to try to chase it. And I like rough racing, and you get that at Slinger and up north. I think we’ll get our feet wet in it a little bit.

What kind of goals do you set with that kind of schedule?

Obviously we want to win races, and we’ve actually came up short this season. We haven’t got a win yet, but we’ve got five seconds, I believe.

We’ve been knocking on the door, but we just want consistent runs. Yeah, the wins are nice, but I guess second and third always feel good when they start piling up – when you start to build a good stat sheet.

The goal is just to stay clean and try to keep one car, that way you can keep working on the setup. When you start wrecking cars, that’s when you start not learning stuff because you’re rebuilding instead of making your stuff work better. We just really try to stay clean all season.

2017’s been a strong year for Stephen Nasse, though he’s fallen just short of a few major victories. (Photo: Barry Cantrell/Short Track Spotlight)

When you have all of those runner-up finishes, is that more positive because you’re so close, or more frustrating?

You know, it really goes both ways. They’re really bittersweet.

I like running well, and I know a lot of guys would wish they were in my position running second in those races. But at the same time, I’m a winner at heart. That’s what I got into racing for, because I liked winning and I was pretty good at it, so we kept at it.

I’m a little sour when I don’t get them, but you can’t be too salty because a lot of guys that are really struggling would love to be in your position. You’ve gotta remember that.

Driving styles vary so much between regions and series. Do you have to approach weekends with a different style or mentality?

Yeah. You always run differently in different parts of the states.

Up here in Indiana you’ve got some of the guys that are a little rough around the edges. You get into the Carolinas, and you get a lot cleaner racing. But then you get back down to where I’m from in Florida… Guys up in the Carolinas didn’t really know what rub rails were on the Super Late Models, so they kind of laughed at us.

When you get down in Florida, rubbing is racing. In North Carolina it’s all about the nice cars, and everybody wants to keep their stuff real nice, which I definitely respect.

You have to know where you’re at, and let that determine how you’re going to race there.

How would you describe your driving style?

Man, it really just depends on where I’m at and who I’m racing. I can be really clean, and I can be rough.

It’s like a double-edged sword – there’s two sides of me, and that’s mean and nice. You get what you give.

Would you say you’re an emotional driver?

Yeah, I guess I’m emotional about the sport. Not so much on the track anymore. I definitely feel like when I was a little bit younger I let things get to me more.

Now I just don’t put up with any crap. If somebody wrecks me, I really don’t want them to finish the race. And that’s the only time, most of the time, that I can get back at them. Because as you said, I do these traveling, big races. It’s not like I’m running with these guys on a regular basis.

When you bite me, I bite you back. That’s just how it goes.

There’s been rumors about you in NASCAR and everywhere else. What are your goals moving forward, and where do you see yourself moving onward to?

We’ve been talking to a few different teams, and there was some ARCA (Racing Series) talk, some (Camping World) Truck Series talk.

Obviously that’s something I’ve dreamt of doing since I was a little kid. The dream kind of wore off when I saw the sport kind of turn in a direction I didn’t want to go, but my family still has strong interest in it.

We’re looking, and there’s a chance that you may see me out there in the 2018 season, and maybe even really late in the 2017 season. We’ll find out.

Where can fans keep track of you and your team online?

The best place is on Twitter, and that’s @StephenNasse. That’s the best place to get all of the racing information.

We have a Facebook, just Stephen Nasse. But the Twitter is kept up better than the Facebook, so that’s the best place to follow me.

Thanks for your time Stephen, and for being flexible because this genius forgot his microphone yesterday. I appreciate that.

I really appreciate you making time for me, and for working with my flaws as well.

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