Ask Daniel Hemric to name his all-time favorite race car driver, and he doesn’t hesitate: Dale Earnhardt Sr. Not surprising from a guy who grew up in Earnhardt’s hometown of Kannapolis, North Carolina. What is surprising? Unlike Earnhardt — and many others in the racing world — Daniel has no family ties to racing himself. He’s a self-described “self-made” driver whose hard work is paying off in 2019.
Get to know the driver of the No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as he kicks off his first full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Like a lot of drivers, Daniel cut his teeth racing go-carts, then progressed through Bandolero Cars, Legends Cars and Late Models. He spent two seasons driving in the Gander Outdoor Truck Series before joining Richard Childress Racing (RCR) in 2017. The past two seasons, he’s raced in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, earning back-to-back playoff berths. None of it came easy.
“I come from a blue-collar background — no family ties to racing and no financial backing,” Daniel says. “I had to find my own rides and build my own race cars.”
That background gives him a different perspective than other drivers in the Cup Series, he believes.
“I’m hands-on to a level most drivers aren’t anymore,” Daniel says. “If you come to the RCR shop on a Monday or Tuesday, you’ll find me rolling around underneath the race car. That’s what helps me tick.”
It also gives him confidence he’ll be a good representative of the Cat brand, even though his first experience behind the controls of a machine didn’t come till late 2018.
“Hard work was the way my grandparents, my dad, my stepdad and my mom made a living,” Daniel says. “They did whatever it took to put food on the table. The same concept applies to my journey through racing. I didn’t grow up around equipment, but I think I can connect to Cat workers and customers because of my background.”
No one understands Daniel’s road to the Cup Series better than his wife — and not just because they’re married. Kenzie (Ruston) Hemric was an accomplished race car driver herself before retiring in 2015.
The daughter of a dirt bike racer and the granddaughter of a dirt track racer, Kenzie began racing stock cars professionally in 2011. Like Daniel, she worked her way up the ranks through Bandolero and Legends Cars. In 2013, she was the first woman to join the NASCAR Next program, which spotlights talented young competitors. She was also a member of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, racing in the K&N Pro Series East during the 2013-2015 seasons.
Kenzie and Daniel met on the track as competitors, racing against one another both before and after their 2015 engagement. They were married in 2017.
“Our relationship is so unique compared to other couples in the racing world,” Kenzie says. “I really understand what he’s going through — the good and the bad. I’m his biggest critic.”
This past fall, when Daniel got word he’d be driving the Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in the Cup Series for 2019, it was a dream come true.
“I got the call from Richard Childress himself,” Daniel says. “‘You’re my man’ — that’s what he told me. You work your whole life to get that kind of phone call.”
Making the move more special for Daniel was learning he’d be doing it in the No. 8 car — made famous by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and also driven by Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Ralph Earnhardt. While he’s excited to follow in the lineage of the drivers who came before him, he’s also eager to make his own mark.
“Twenty-two years of doing nothing but racing, and now here I am,” Daniel says. “It’s incredible to be associated with a brand like Caterpillar. I want Cat Racing fans to know I’m all in, all the time. With me, there’s no riding. I always give 110% because I know the guys in the shop and in the pits do, too.”
Daniel Hemric kicks off the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday, February 17, at the 61st running of The Great American Race — the DAYTONA 500. You can follow his progress all season long at CatRacing.com.