NASCAR’s Next Generation: Dalton Sargeant
Dalton Sargeant has 45 minutes to spare and he has to eat lunch at some point.
The 17-year-old driver is between classes at Cardinal Gibbons Catholic High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when he speaks with NASCAR Talk.
He has just left math class and when the bell rings next he will be in government class. His favorite class is geography.
“The teacher is pretty lenient on everybody since we’re all seniors,” Sargeant says.
It was in math class last semester when Sargeant received a call from NASCAR about being part of the NASCAR Next program, which is aimed at spotlighting the sport’s emerging stars.
Without a word, Sargeant looked at a number he didn’t recognize and left the room.
He would discuss the next chapter of an unorthodox racing career that began by racing go-karts in the parking lot at Homestead-Miami Speedway and open-wheel cars in Europe for two years. Now he’s learning the stock-car racing ropes on the K&N Pro Series East circuit for HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks while dabbling in the Camping World Truck Series, making his debut at Bristol Motor Speedway last month and finishing 10th.
This Q&A had been edited and condensed.
NASCAR TALK: You raced at Bristol a few months before your first Truck race in the K&N Pro Series East. How does Bristol drive differently in those series?
DALTON SARGEANT: One thing with the Truck compared to the K&N car is that the Truck is on radial tires, so it reacts a lot differently. It has a lot more grip, so you’re able to carry a lot more speed through the corners, which is a really cool experience. It’s a really fast track and absolutely a blast. Another great experience about running in the Truck series was I got to race against guys like Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch, and I got to learn a lot running around those guys and going in there with the trucks I was a lot more prepared than when I had gone there in the K&N car for the first time.
NT: Was it a difficult decision to move to Europe?
DS: It was easy.
NT: What made it easy?
DS: Just a desire to pursue a Formula One career made the decision easy. I desired that career path a lot, really. I didn’t have a problem whatsoever moving there.
NT: You lived in Europe for a little over two years. That’s not the usual route that stock car drivers take. What led to that?
DS: In the stock car industry you have to be living in Charlotte (N.C). It’s the same way in F1, you have to be living over in Europe. So it was really important. I went over there and I lived in Switzerland for two-and-a-half years. I was running karts as well as an open-wheel formula car, single-seaters and learning as much as I could. At the end of the day, I just didn’t have as much fun with it as I thought I was going to have and just didn’t enjoy it. So I decided to make the switch back to the U.S. and go stock-car racing, and I’ve loved it ever since.
NT: How would you compare the racing culture there to that in the Southeastern United States?
DS: It’s honestly a lot different. Everything over there, I’m not saying NASCAR is not advanced, they look at data acquisition a lot more than in the K&N series and Truck series and what we do. At the same time, it seems NASCAR is really advancing in some of that stuff. Another thing that was pretty difficult was the language barrier. I raced for two Italian teams over there, so I did have to pick up the language somewhat as well as them working with me on their English.
It was complicated but it was a good learning experience. It taught me a lot, and I think it was a positive move for me, not just for racing, but my life in general to be able to go over there and live there for a few years.
NT: Where in Switzerland did you live?
DS: I lived in Lugano, it’s a city about an hour north of Milan.
NT: Were you living there by yourself or were you there with family?
DS: I was there with my mother (Madelyn) and my brother (Logan). I attended an American school there in Switzerland for my first two years of high school. We didn’t really race much in Switzerland, we traveled around a lot, back and forth. My father was there somewhat as well. We just traveled around whether it was racing in Italy, England or wherever.
NT: What was your favorite place to visit?
DS: I definitely liked Rome a lot. It was a cool city, always busy. Whenever we had a race around Rome, I would try to swing by and the culture there is really cool.
NT: In Europe what was your favorite track to race?
DS: I would have to say my favorite Formula car track was probably Barcelona (Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya). It’s just really high speed, it was one of the larger tracks I had been on. Just a lot of fast sweeping corners and it was a really cool track. The track itself kind of nurtured a lot of tough competition.
NT: From that style of racing, have you learned anything that has helped you in your return to American racing?
DS: When I moved back from Switzerland and made the transition to stock cars, the passing’s a little different and you have a lot more side-by-side racing on the ovals than what you have on road courses in Formula cars. At the same time, it taught me quite a few unique techniques that some of these stock car drivers don’t know.
NT: Like what?
DS: Some of the techniques while braking as well as in the road course racing you have a lot of different styles of wheel control. You have tight hairpins (turns) as well as fast sweeping corners. Being able to make different transitions on the wheel throughout the race depending on the different lines that you take.
NT: How much of a culture shock was that for you going over there and when you came back, did it feel like you missed a lot?
DS: No, not really. I knew what I was going to be facing when I moved over there. I knew the expectations, and at the same time, when I came back I had almost gotten homesick within the three years, so to be able to come back was kind of a good feeling for myself.