Eckes Embracing Team Leader Role at McAnally-Hilgemann

By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Superspeedways have been a place where Christian Eckes has learned how to ‘lose 1,000 races.’ The McAnally-Hilgemann Racing (MHR) driver since has learned how to be a team leader for an ever-expanding NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series organization.

Christian eckes is embracing the role of team leader in the mcanally-hilgemann racing nascar craftsman truck series team.
Christian Eckes. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Eckes has become a regular that’s in contention to win at both Daytona Int’l Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. However, he’s never made it to the checkered flag first at either speedway. Several times he’s been the leader entering overtime, only to lose the race in some way during the ensuing extension to the race distance. Eckes has even finished runner-up in the rain-shortened season-opener at Daytona in 2023.

“The last superspeedway race I had, I learned how to lose another one,” Eckes joked. “I was leading on the green, white, checkered, and then having a shot at Daytona. Then last year, obviously leading on both green, white, checkers is tough to swallow still, but every time I come to these truck races. I learned more and more about what not to do at Talladega. Last year, blocking like we did, but in the same aspect, it’s good to learn those lessons. I feel like I’m more prepared for this year because of it.”

While the Middletown, N.Y. native is still learning how to win a superspeedway race, he is also navigating the changing dynamic of his team. Jake Garcia moved from MHR to ThorSport Racing while Eckes gains Tyler Ankrum and Daniel Dye as full-time teammates with Zane Smith and Jack Wood also splitting time a fourth truck.

The Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) and ThorSport alum recognizes a different team chemistry that MHR has. Prior to Eckes joining the team, MHR hit a slump in 2022, earning zero top-five finishes. The driver of the No. 19 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Silverado RST earned four victories and the team’s first NASCAR Playoff berth.

Eckes has assumed the role of team leader and veteran. As such, he’ll be working with Ankrum, Dye, and Wood, guiding them through the same ‘racing waters’ that he’s waded through.

“(The team dynamic) changed a lot,” Eckes said. “To be able to have teammates and to want them to succeed as well, not that I didn’t want them to succeed last year, but just more of a team chemistry in a way that I’ve been used to in my truck series career other than last year has been good to have.

“The mindset of this whole organization has changed so much over the past year and a half, and it’s been cool to be a part of with that going from no top fives in 2022 to winning four races, so I think we’re all excited for this expansion.” 

Christian eckes is embracing the role of team leader in the mcanally-hilgemann racing nascar craftsman truck series team.
#19: Christian Eckes, McAnally Hilgemann Racing, NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet Silverado. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Nigel Kinrade Photography)

The continued education for Eckes as a competitor in NASCAR has also taken place off the racetrack. The 23-year-old has become more involved in the day-to-day activities at MHR. Since joining the team, he has helped build the organization into one that was competing for victories each week. Now the team is poised to become the successor to the powerhouse GMS Racing team.

“One thing about this team that’s different from the teams I’ve been at in the past is that I’m super involved in the day-to-day things which has been really fun to be a part of,” Eckes explained.

“I’ve said multiple times that to have a team built around me in the way that I would picture a successful team to be. It’s been cool to be a part of that and it’s cool to kind of, you know, teach the younger kids what maybe I made mistakes at, being more involved and now compared to where I was. I think it’s going to be a great year for the organization.” 

That education of the inner workings of a NASCAR team wasn’t without some previous mistakes. Eckes wasn’t always around his previous teams, KBM and ThorSport as often as he felt like he needed to be. As he’s matured into a multi-time race winner and championship contender, the Truck Series driver has come into his own. Being more involved with the team is just a part of that maturity process.

“When I was younger, I probably wasn’t around (the team) as much as I needed to be, KBM and ThorSport, I kind of changed,” Eckes admitted. “But when you go from team to team you tend to mature a little bit and figure out what’s going wrong and what racetrack or what race team. That’s been the biggest thing for me is to get more involved and be around and (have) a more hands on approach, which has helped so far. It’s been cool to have that role.”

The learning never ends, and for Eckes, he hopes to apply those lessons from both one and off the track in achieving his first superspeedway win in the season opening Fresh From Florida 250 at Daytona on February 16. Coverage of the race starts at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1, the Motor Racing Network, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

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