LAS VEGAS — To say that Riley Herbst is excited for his upcoming ARCA Racing Series season with Joe Gibbs Racing would be a massive understatement.
For the Las Vegas teenager, who turns 18 on Feb. 24 and was born and bred on the same west coast short tracks that produced NASCAR Premier Series champions Kurt and Kyle Busch, 2017 simply can’t arrive soon enough.
Herbst announced Thursday that he will join JGR to drive the No. 18 Toyota in ARCA’s national stock car series next year, and later told Race Chaser Online that the opportunity to drive for a multi-time championship winning organization on the national level is still sinking in.
“I can’t believe it myself; this is pretty surreal!” Herbst said of signing with the Gibbs team. “This has just been a childhood dream realized … I just wanted to be a race car driver and I can’t believe that this has taken me this far. I’m looking forward to the future.”
Herbst explained that the opportunity to drive for JGR at the ARCA level came in large part to NOS Energy Drink, who sponsored his efforts at the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West level this past season with Bill McAnally Racing.
“Our friends at NOS Energy Drink were a big part of making this possible. After this year in the K&N Series, we got into talks with JGR and (found out) they wanted to open up their own ARCA team. We wanted to go ARCA racing as well … and so the pieces fell together and we’re ready for next year.”
The 17-year-old scored seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in the K&N West ranks this season, with a best finish of third (three times) and 13 laps led at the second race at Utah Motorsports Campus in September, where Herbst contended for victory before fading in the final six laps.
However, he finished a distant seventh in the season point standings after several rough rounds early on derailed his title aspirations, while teammate Todd Gilliland hoisted the championship trophy.
“Yeah, (bad luck) was the story of our season,” Herbst lamented. “We never quite made it. We never crossed the finish line and made it to Victory Lane. But the points definitely didn’t show our No. 19 NOS Energy Drink team’s speed … we had pace all year in the Bill McAnally stables. We just had some bad luck early in the year that took us out of the point contention, a couple of wrecks that weren’t our fault, we just got in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Once Sonoma hit, we turned it on and we had three top-three (finishes) in a row and five top-five (finishes) in a row. We were surging our way back in the points … and then we got wrecked in the second-to-last race or the last race and it was a bummer. But we had a lot of speed and I really can’t thank everybody at BMR enough. What a great team and organization that is and I wish we could have gone to Victory Lane with them.”
Because of the fact that he doesn’t turn 18 until the week after the , Herbst will not be eligible to compete in the season-opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway, but he confirmed he will be taking laps during the ARCA open test at DIS, Jan. 13-14.
“I’m going to face some new challenges with the new tracks … the mile-and-a-halfs and tracks like Talladega (Superspeedway),” Herbst admitted. “I’ve never been there, but I’m going to lean on everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing and my teammates and we’re gonna work hard and really try to succeed this year in our ARCA season.”
“It really is a big bummer that we can’t start off the season by racing at Daytona, but I turn 18 six days after that race, so we’ll be able to do the full schedule after that. Even still, I’m excited to go there with my team and get some practice laps down so I can start to mesh and gel with the team. We’ll be cheering on somebody in the No. 18 Toyota Camry ARCA car (in February); we just don’t know who that is yet!”
The young rising star circled pit road, surprisingly, as one of the aspects he is most excited to tackle in 2017, but reiterated his readiness to kick off the season.
“I’m looking forward to the live pit stops. I think that’s gonna be very interesting … but really, I’m just ready to go race! I’m over this offseason and I’m ready to go hop in a car and go racing and mix it up with the best guys out there. ARCA’s gonna be very challenging this year with a lot of great competition and I’m ready!”
Herbst also explained where the name of his family-owned race team — Terrible Herbst Racing — came into being as well.
“My great-grandfather was a gasoline salesman on his way out west because he wanted to end up in Las Vegas. Each city he would go to, he would beat out everybody’s gas prices and everybody would nickname him “Terrible Herbst” and the name kind of stuck!”
Now, the fourth-generation Herbst is prepared to live up to that nickname, as he hopes to be “terrible trouble” to his competition on the race track.
“That would be pretty cool … to carry on the family name and legacy. I’m ready to get to work and see what we can accomplish.”
Listen to Race Chaser Online’s exclusive conversation with Riley Herbst on his upcoming ARCA season:
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as both the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series and the co-track announcer at Millbridge Speedway.
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