We Talked To Chase Elliott About What It Takes To Make It As A NASCAR Driver (And If Boneless Wings Are Really Wings)

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When you come from a certain pedigree and decide to make your way down the same path as those that came before you, you do so knowing you’ll be living in the shadow of your predecessors.

This was initially the case with Chase Elliott—the son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott—but that changed at a young age when he had the spotlight shined on him after being featured in Sports Illustrated when he was only 13 years old.

I recently got the chance to talk with Chase, and while he described that experience as “wild,” he knew he wouldn’t have found himself in the pages of the magazine if it wasn’t for his father’s legacy. As a result, he knew he’d have to fight an uphill battle to ensure he didn’t go down in history as “Bill Elliott’s son.”

Thankfully, the man dubbed “Million Dollar Bill” was there every step of the way to pass on the lessons he’d learned during his storied career. He blessed Chase with advice concerning life on and off the track but nothing stayed with his son more than one particular piece of knowledge:

“The biggest thing was to do your own thing. It’s easy to get caught up in what other people are doing so you’ve got to stay in your lane and not worry so much about everybody else.”

Bill was obviously the biggest influence in Chase’s life but the younger Elliott says he grew up idolizing Tony Stewart (in another interview, he admits he was too starstruck to talk with Stewart when he started hanging around the track with his dad).

While Elliott could have gone the way of Danny Almonte and countless other up-and-comers who never lived up to the name they made for themselves at a young age, he was lucky enough to have a support system that put him on the right trajectory thanks to a number of mentors who guided him during his teenage years:

“I’ve been kind of lucky to lean on a lot of guys. It’s hard to pick one as I’ve been influenced here and there. The cool thing about that is probably that everyone has their knacks and things that they’re good at so you can pick apart a little bit of somebody and a little bit of someone else.”

Elliott became the youngest person (and the first rookie) to win the Nationwide Series championship when he secured the title as a 19-year-old in 2014, and just one year later, he would arrive in the big leagues after Jeff Gordon handed him the keys to the No. 24 car to compete for Hendricks Motorsports in what was then the Sprint Cup Series.

Upon entering NASCAR’s top tier, Elliott would grind for a few years in search of his first major victory and repeatedly flirted with the top spot before finally securing his first bigtime win at Watkins Glen in 2018—the same year he inherited his dad’s hallowed No. 9 car.

Auto racing is a sport that’s as grueling physically as it is mentally and Elliott says both aspects are equally challenging when it comes to mastering the craft:

“It’s kind of hard to pick one. Race day itself is probably the biggest thing physically but throughout the weekend, qualifying and practice are more on the mental side. It really is a nice balance of both.”

In order to stay at the top of his game, he follows a strict cardio routine and does everything he can to prepare for the heat he has to endure on Sundays (he says some guys on the tour have saunas in their homes but he doesn’t use one religiously).

As far as race day is concerned, Elliott doesn’t do anything in particular to pump himself up—it’s too loud at the track to listen to music—but rather relies on members of his crew to help him work on final preparations and get in the zone.

When we chatted, Elliott was prepping for last weekend’s race at Sonoma after making the trek to Lake Tahoe a few days before, where he served as a judge for this year’s Hooters Pageant (as he put it: “It’s not the worst job in the world).

When asked which driver he’d grab a beer and wings with if given the chance, he said Ryan Blaney would be his first pick but acknowledged a lot of the guys on the tour keep to themselves. As a result, Elliott seems to have more foes than friends, as when I inquired which driver he’d throw a beer at if given the chance, he replied, “I wouldn’t have enough beer to throw.”

At one point during the conversation, Elliott told me he’s a boneless wings guy so I couldn’t resist asking him to address one of my favorite debates: Are boneless wings actually wings? I’m of the firm opinion they’re just glorified chicken nuggets, but if Elliott is to be believed, they’re just as worthy of the title as their bone-in relatives.

Chase is currently in the playoff hunt as this year’s NASCAR season continues to unfold, and while only time will tell if Bill remains the most famous Elliott, it won’t be for lack of trying if he does.