The Driver’s Seat: Riding in Chevy’s 2019 Silverado 1500 NASCAR Pace Truck
Off to the Races!
I love racing. All kinds of racing, really (except bicycle racing—that I can do without). In fact, one of my favorite annual racing events is the Wiener Nationals, which is a charity event put on by the hot-dog chain Wienerschnitzel, where they race dachshunds at the Los Alamitos Race Course in Cypress, California, in between horse races. We’re actually not here to talk about wiener-dog racing, although if you find yourself in Southern California in July, it’s worth checking out. Instead, I want to talk auto racing, specifically NASCAR and the Daytona 500.
Thanks to our wonderful friends at Chevrolet, Truck Trend, along with a half dozen other outlets, recently had the opportunity to attend the legendary race to take part in a historic event. You see, the 61st running of the Great American Race was set to be the first one paced by a pickup. And, as you could probably guess, that pickup was a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500.
Before you get your feathers in a ruffle, no, this was not the first time a pickup has paced a NASCAR-sanctioned racing event. It has happened a few times in the past, with Chevy running a pace pickup in the 1990s and again in 2005, Ford fielded an F-150 in 2014, and Toyota put up a pace Tundra in 2017. Specifically, this was to be the first time a truck had paced the Daytona 500.
For this event, Chevrolet built two identical pace vehicles. From the outside, the trucks appear to be 2019 Silverado RSTs, and that’s what Chevy would like you to believe. However, those in the know will quickly point out that the 2019 RST is not available with the 6.2L V-8—as the pace trucks are equipped—only the 5.3L V-8 and 2.7L I-4.
To pull off this ruse, Chevy started with a pair of LTZ-trimmed pickups in Northsky Blue Metallic and added the bits (bumpers, grille, wheels, and so on) necessary to make them appear as if they were RSTs. Intake, exhaust, and brakes were also added from the Chevrolet Performance catalog. Aside from the body mods and requisite lighting and communications equipment, the trucks are otherwise as you’d find them on the dealer lot.
This next part of the story is bound to make any NASCAR fan a bit jealous. We weren’t just in town to look at the new pace trucks; we also got to take a ride in one. Arriving at the track before sunup on race day—after receiving a police escort from our hotel, no less—we were treated to a hot lap around Daytona International Speedway in one of the pace trucks. Since there were two trucks, we were split into two groups, with half riding with NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who would also be starting the race in the pace truck) and the other half with rising star Tyler Reddick, who is the current Xfinity Series champion and was also making his Monster Energy Cup debut that same day. We rode with Tyler and, holy cow, it was an unbelievable experience. The ease at which he piloted the Silverado at its top speed (electronically limited to about 104 mph) inches away from the wall was both amazing and terrifying at the same time.
The hot lap wasn’t the only surreal experience we had on race day, either. Before each Monster Energy Cup race, the drivers are introduced with much fanfare and fireworks and are then paraded around the track in a fleet of 40 Silverado pickups for the fans (160,000 in total at Daytona) to cheer or boo accordingly. Chevrolet and Toyota trade off events throughout the season, so you won’t see Silverados at every race, but the introductions work the same each weekend. Anyway, the night before we were chosen at random from all the journalists that Chevrolet brought out to Daytona to ride along with Tim Asoklis, Silverado light-duty chief engineer, and parade a Chevrolet driver around the track.
We ended up with Chase Elliot, driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliot. It was a surreal experience listening to the crowd shout his name and cheer louder and louder as we slowly crept down the front stretch. The cheering continued all the way around the 2.5-mile oval until we dropped him off to get ready for the start of the race. This was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience for a racing fan like me, and I’ll be eternally grateful for the opportunity.
After the trips around the track in the pair of Silverados was complete, we ventured down to the infield for the national anthem and a flyover by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. We watched the green flag drop from pit road, then headed back to our seats to eat terrible fried food, drink cheap beer, and watch four hours of great racing. At the end of the night, it was Kyle Busch and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota that won the race, so we skipped the post-race party out of respect for our hosts.
While it may not seem like much, to truck fans like us, seeing pickups involved in one of the highest levels of racing in the United States is awesome. We would love to see trucks replace cars as pace vehicles at all racing events, but realistically, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So major kudos to Chevrolet for putting Silverado out front where it belongs. In addition to Daytona, the pace Silverados will be running at a few more select NASCAR events during the 2019 season.