Unadilla native David Ragan is set to start his third season with Front Row Motorsports.
This weekend, he will get going in the Super Bowl of motor sports, the Daytona 500.
Last month, Ragan got behind the wheel for a bit of a tune-up race a race in Cordele.
We spent time with him discussing everything from strategy for this season, to his thoughts on becoming a new dad.
David Ragan and his crew rolled out the super late model division car at Speedfest a few weeks ago.
He wanted to tune-up his skills before the official NASCAR season gets underway.
"I've got to fix things after a bumpy ride through Georgia roads," he said as he rummaged through a tool box.
Ragan endured a bumpy ride himself about this time last year.
He and Front Row Motorsports didn't have a signature sponsor.
Farm Rich eventually came on board and signed on again this year.
That leaves a lot of headaches in the dust when the money's already in place.
"We're 14, a lot more organized, a lot more ahead of schedule to start the 2014 season," Ragan said.
He thinks that symmetry is due in part to his big win at Talladega last year.
Grabbing the checkered flag was the first big win for his team.
But Ragan did struggle at the end of the year . He had some engine troubles the last few races of the season. He missed the Chase for the Cup and finished 28th in the points standing.
"We did have some engine issues last year and that really hurt us going into November and December, but it's a new year. It's a little out of our control because we do buy our engines from an engine supplier, but hopefully, the Ford guys have it all worked out," Ragan said with a smile. "They have strong engines and we don't have any concerns about our engine program."
Getting to the Chase, which is like the postseason for NASCAR, is going to change this year.
In the past, it all went by points, the top drivers got in. Now the flags matter more than the digits on a leaderboard.
"With the new NASCAR points system, if you win a race, you're going to get into the Chase starting this year, so I think it's important to be consistently in contention for the races, and if we can get that first win, I think that will be huge and that will relieve a lot of pressure," Ragan said.
Ragan is a realistic guy. He knows he has some growing to do as a driver. He also realizes that Front Row only has so many resources when you're competing with the big dogs like Roush Racing or Hendrick Motorsports.
"We know we're a long ways from being a championship contender, but if we can just show a little progression from what we had last year, that would be big," Ragan figured.
The 28-year-old also has a big event on the horizon. He and his wife are expecting their first child in four months or so.
Yep, smack in the middle of the season, but there is a game plan on the table.
" It's going to be a busy summer with our little girl coming on board in June," Ragan projected. "It's going to be a busy couple of weeks, but we have a lot of friends that have their own airplanes back and forth, so I'll be able to travel. I don't want to miss a race, and I certainly don't want to miss the birth of our girl, so I'll be at both. Hopefully, she doesn't decide to come at 12:00 on a Sunday afternoon, so other than, that 3-4 hour window, I'll be there."
Call it a big learning curve just around the bend, becoming a new dad or jockeying for a few wins in 2014. But every time he climbs behind the wheel, Ragan constantly evaluates his own performance.
" I work on making better decisions, or quicker decisions, and the more smart you are, the more you'll understand what's going on, the better off you drive in making those decisions," Ragan said. "If I make a call to pass this guy to run the middle lane or run the high groove, I can't afford to make any mistakes."
You may remember when Ragan won Talladega last year, his teammate David Gilliland played an instrumental role by really pushing him across the finish line.
Ragan says maybe this year it's his turn to return the favor for his friend.
He also says for some reason he's pretty relaxed at Daytona, he won there in the summer of 2011.
He did tell us the Brickyard gives him butterflies.