Slade Parsons is an 18-year old Senior at RJ Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, NC. Slade’s first time at a racetrack was when he was a kid sitting in the stands at Bowman-Gray Stadium just a few miles from where he grew up. At that moment he turned to his Dad Tony and said…that’s what I want to do.
Slade’s career took a huge turn upward in 2018 when he teamed with one of dirt racing’s true stars, Kyle Strickler. We sat down with Slade and talked about 2018, teaming with the High Side Tickler and what the future holds.
Q: At the end of the 2017 season you sat down with your family to see where you might race in 2018. At that time what did you think this past season would be like?
A: We really had no clue of our options…we thought we would race again with Mitchell Coble who had done a great job with our Crate Modified program and stay on dirt. In reality we really weren’t sure and had not sat down with Mitchell at that point. I just knew I wanted to continue racing.
Q: Your 2018 season took a dramatic change early in the year when Coble informed you that his plans were changing and that he would not be able to continue working together due to other business commitments.
A: It really took us by surprise. We were in a state of confusion. We knew we still wanted to race in the modifieds due to the fact that we had bought a UMP motor but my Dad and I were not prepared and didn’t have the experience to maintain a car.
Q: What happened next?
A: We sat down with Rolfe Schnur who has been our marketing arm for two years and put together a wish list of who we would want to work with. Rolfe was headed to Volusia County Speedway to talk with a few owners, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
Q: How did the process go in Florida?
A: He talked to about four or five people down there that he thought could do a great job and after initial meetings the front runner was Kyle Strickler. I couldn’t believe that when he told me.
Q: You met when they got back from Florida and there was an instant connection. What were you feeling when you realized that you were going to be Strickler’s teammate?
A: I felt like it was a dream. He is considered to be one of the best on dirt and I’m thinking, I’m going to be Kyle’s teammate. It was mind blowing and an opportunity that not many ever have. It was really cool meeting him and the anticipation was unreal.
Q: Kyle told you that he wanted you to run an identical car that he ran so that you could speed up the learning curve. How did that come about?
A: We had a different chassis and he thought that me running the exact same set-up would help me dramatically. We sold our racecar and purchased his Longhorn Chassis car he had just won five times with in Florida…I had always had good equipment but nothing like this.
Q: You had over two months until your first start. How trying was that for you?
A: It was tough. Going to the shop and working on the car and having the beast of the motor I knew we had kept me up at night thinking about opening day for me.
Q: Time passes and it’s time for you to race. Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, South Carolina has a good show and Friday night they have a practice…what was the drive like for you driving to the track?
A: I am usually nervous on the way to the track but three hours of sweaty palms and thoughts of getting in the car…I was nervous and excited.
Q: Friday night there was a test and it’s going to be your first time driving the car. You are sitting in line ready to pull out on the track…do you remember anything?
A: I just wanted to get started. Almost three months waiting for this moment. When I pulled onto the track, I was so ready. When I saw the green, it was hammer down and I’ve never looked back.
Q: It’s time for qualifying on Saturday. Did you feel different from when you used to qualify the Crate Modified?
A: I didn’t have as high expectations as in the past…the newness of the situation, the huge horsepower difference and I didn’t know the other drivers made me a little more cautious than normal.
Q: There were over 25 cars and you went out and qualified 5th…what were you thinking?
A: That they got the wrong transponder. That there must be some mistake. I was truly stunned and to see Kyle’s smile when he approached me is a moment I won’t likely forget.
Q: Your third race ever in the UMP modified Kyle takes you to the hallowed grounds of Eldora Speedway. That had to be a little overwhelming?
A: It was such a different experience than any track I had ever been to. It was a bigger and nicer facility and to tell you the truth…it was a little overwhelming. Right before I was supposed to go out, I am in the car watching the late models on the track and I am thinking…this is fast.
Q: You go out in qualifying following Kyle and you are thinking?
A: Well, I’ve got my foot to the floor going around Eldora and I’m thinking you go flat out all the way around here or you are going to qualify in the back. I ended up qualifying 4th out of 41 and it’s another one of those great looks from Kyle after I got out of the car. I redrew a 12 and we went non-stop for 20 laps and I finished 9th…I was pretty happy.
Q: It’s summertime and the weather is bad, and Kyle has his month of traveling and your car is sitting in the garage in Mooresville, NC for about five weeks. Must have been frustrating.
A: It was really hard with Kyle gone and every time we did have a chance to race it was raining. Hopefully next summer after I graduate from high school, we can take more road trips.
Q: You ran more races, but it was time for you to focus on the World Shirt Track Championships at the Dirt Track at Charlotte. Why does that race mean so much to you?
A: I won my first race there in a modified and I just seem to run really well there. It was going to be toughest field of the year but inside I felt like I had a good shot at being competitive.
Q: The Tuesday prior to the World Short Track Championships you had a test session with Penske Shocks. How much did that test help with your confidence?
A: I ran very close to Kyle and David Stremme’s times and I felt so good in the car. My confidence was sky high thinking if I can run close to Kyle and David we might be in good shape for the weekend. I did know that the next three days were going to be long…not a fan of waiting for a big race.
Q: It was now time for qualifying and at a big race like the WSTC you know that qualifying can make or break your weekend. You qualify well, and things look good. Mess up and it is going to be a long weekend.
A: I was definitely really nervous, but Kyle gave me some words of wisdom and told me to go out and drive your you know what’s off…
Q: There were 54 cars with three groups of 18 in Group A, B and C. You go out early in Group A and turn quick time for your group. What were you thinking?
A: When I went out and I thought I did terrible. The track was mushy and slimy, and I took it slow and easy. I got out of the car all frustrated and Rolfe texts me and says I am number one in my group. My response was pretty short. No effing way.
Q: You finished second in your heat and are starting 7th in the 30-lap championship event. You are looking at all of the stars starting around you and behind you. What are you thinking?
A: I had my regular pre-race nerves, but I am thinking this is really cool. Look how far we have come in one year. Kind of just tried to gather everything and breathe and hope that we could keep our car clean and out of the wrecks I knew were coming.
Q: After 30-green laps and another 30 or 40 yellow laps the checkered flag falls and you finish 7th. Surreal or real?
A: I knew I had a great car and the way some of the drivers were racing I was just glad I didn’t get wrecked or hurt. I was in and around the Top 5 most of the race but got shuffled back to tenth and made our way back to seventh in the last few laps. I had a great feeling of accomplishment…I was trading paint with drivers with so much more experience…and they knew that Slade Parsons could run with them.
Q: You got back to the hauler and saw Kyle…what did he say?
A: He told me he was proud of me and that I did a great job…it meant a lot.
Q: You came full circle in 2018. What are your hopes and dreams for 2019?
A: Keep running with Kyle and get to travel a bit more after I graduate from high school in May. I want to travel to the Midwest with Kyle and race at some of the tracks I’ve heard of but never seen and all the big money races.
Q: Drivers are usually their own worst critics. What is one thing that you need to work on inside the race car?
A: I need to be a little more patient. I made some moves that could have cost us a lot of money, but I was lucky and didn’t get involved. I now think to myself we got 20 laps in this race, don’t try and win it on the first lap.
Q: As a rookie driver in UMP modifieds what surprised you most about yourself this year?
A: Definitely my ability to get used to the horsepower so quickly. Going from a crate motor to our monster motor was not as big an adjustment as I thought it would be. I love the horsepower and I love going fast.
Q: If Kyle Strickler were standing in front of you at this moment, what would you tell him?
A: I would say thank you for the unbelievable opportunity of running out of your shop as a teammate. Thank you to you and your team for making my family feel a part of your racing family…your guys have made me and my father easy to fit in. Not everyone gets the opportunity to be the teammate of the High Side Tickler. Last, thank you for being my mentor, my driving coach, my friend and someone I look up to as a Champion.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: Oh yes…The person I want to thank the most is my Dad. He is 70 years old and three or four times a week he drives from Winston-Salem to Mooresville. He never has to be asked to do something…he finds something to do whether its working on my car or helping around the shop. On any day you can find him taking apart my car after a race, scrubbing the bathroom floors, helping clean Kyle’s car if they need help, but the bottom line is he does whatever it takes to help me live my dream. I guess you have to take a step back and see who your real hero is.
Slade Parsons knows that he has the ability to compete on the highest levels of UMP modified racing. He has a heavy foot with the ability to throw his Longhorn chassis No. 96 into the corners and come out on top. The future looks bright for the talented teen from Winston-Salem, NC.