Daniel Hemric carries with him on Saturday the hopes of every blue-collar race car driver who ever dreamed of stardom at the highest level.
That’s because the 26-year-old NASCAR Xfinity Series championship finalist is a throwback to a bygone era.
He never brought a check, doesn’t have a famous last name and was never a highly touted teenaged top prospect. He’s made it to the cusp of a NASCAR national touring championship the old-fashioned way: He won, kept winning and hasn’t stop winning.
Now, he’s one more victory away from proving that success in NASCAR isn’t necessarily bought, and can still be earned through hard work, perseverance and a little bit of good fortune.
It won’t be easy, of course.
Hemric is still looking for his first victory at any NASCAR level and Richard Childress Racing has yet to reach victory lane with any of its five Xfinity Series teams this season. And yet, here Hemric is, standing alongside the three-headed JR Motorsports behemoth of William Byron, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier.
Even though he hasn’t won, Hemric got here by doing what he has done every step of his career — getting the most out of his equipment possible.
„I think about some of the things we’ve had to overcome this season and I’m incredibly proud,“ Hemric told Autoweek on Friday. „No matter what happens, we can hold our heads high. We’ve beat 30 or something other guys to make it this far, and that says something about our group of guys and what we stand for.“
The same could be said for Hemric’s career as a whole.
On paper, it looks like the Kannapolis, North Carolina, native has followed a pretty standard career path: Legend Cars, Pro Late Models, Super Late Models, Trucks and now Xfinity, but it isn’t quite that simple. The past decade was fraught with adversity.
Not having any permanent high-dollar sponsors, Hemric jumped from part-time ride to part-time ride. He’s always been more than just the driver, spending every available extra hour in the shop, wrenching his own cars to make them faster.
For Hemric, when you don’t bring enough funding to cover an entire team, you have to serve multiple roles.
That’s exhausting, and when it doesn’t work out, a guy like Hemric would take it personally. That was the case in the early 2000s, when Hemric was driving part-time in the now defunct NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour for team owners Roger and David Hill.
It just wasn’t working out, and Hemric did something he rarely does: he took a step backwards.
„We just kept working at it and we just weren’t getting results,“ Hemric said. „I was working my butt off in the shop to make that car faster and it just wasn’t working out. I was very fortunate to have that opportunity, but it was also the only time in my career that I eventually chose to step away from a ride.“
Hemric wouldn’t say „quit,“ and that’s probably not the best way to describe it anyway. It was a de facto leap of faith that something better would come along.
He immediately found his way into racer-turned-owner Scott Neal’s Pro Late Model on what amounted to a one-off in the CRA JEGS Tour opener at Plymouth Speedway. He beat some guy named Erik Jones. That earned him a second start at Winchester Speedway. He finished third and earned another start at Illiana.
Neal and Hemric decided that maybe they should compete for the championship together. They did, winning eight of 14 total races that season.
His Pro Late Model success led him to Super Late Model team owner Jake Carswell, with the duo winning the inaugural Southern Super Series championship in 2013. He entered the final race, the All-American 400, 53 points behind Bubba Pollard.
That was roughly 20 positions on the track. He remarkably clinched the championship by one single point by finishing second to Chase Elliott once Pollard crashed out with 15 laps to go.
Carswell knows his way around his car, having bought it from the legendary Jody Ridley, but he just doesn’t have the mechanical acumen of a crew chief. He credits Hemric for elevating his team both as a driver and its lead engineer.
„Daniel elevated our Super Late Model program to levels it has never seen before or since,“ Carswell said. „The championship we won together is a highlight for our family. We miss racing with him but remain great friends. We would love to see him win the championship.“
Even though Hemric personifies the (grease) rags-to-riches analogy, he has had some valuable help along the way. Hemric did grow up with the Dillon Brothers as friends and they’ve helped out sporadically along the way.
When he made his Truck Series debut at Martinsville for Sharp Gallaher Racing, he did so with engine support from RCR. After stints at NTS Motorsports and Brad Keselowski Racing, he went home to race for Richard Childress in the Xfinity Series.
But again, it’s not like he’s ever had full-fledged support.
„I think the lesson here is that you have to work hard and create opportunities, but you also have to have a little bit of luck and help,“ Hemric said. „And when you catch a break or get an opportunity, you have to capitalize, make the most of it.“
Spotter and best friend Branden Lines has worked with Hemric since their Super Late Model days. He’s even worked a handful of Xfinity races this season for standalone races and road courses. He knows better than anyone what separates Hemric from his contemporaries.
„In my opinion, Daniel Hemric gets more out of a car than anyone in the country,“ Lines said. „That’s what makes him special. He gets more out of less. Give him a 12th-place car and he will finish fifth. Give him a fifth-place car and he’s going to race for the win.
„This sport is still built on talent. But you have to meet the right people and capitalize. All he’s ever done is win.“
And that’s how we’ve gotten to this point.
Hemric has taken an RCR program that runs just outside of the top five most weeks and has placed it inside the Championship 4. When Brennan Poole (literally) ran into problems last weekend at Phoenix to knock him out of that race, Hemric held off Cole Custer to advance.
He’s a survivor.
Hemric endured the sleepless nights turning wrenches on his Late Models, he survived the closure of a Truck Series team that was set to hire him full-time in 2014 and he survived the gauntlet that is the Xfinity Series chase for the championship.
„I feel like this shows what can be done when everything is stacked against you and your back is up against the wall,“ Hemric said. „Like I said, I’ve never given up. I feel like a lot of guys that I raced against growing up, when things didn’t work out in that particular moment they’ve trailed off and taken a regular life path.
„I don’t know what that looks like for me. I don’t know what life outside of racing looks like. I don’t know if I could have ever accepted it so I just kept chugging along.“
So even if he doesn’t win on Saturday, or doesn’t win the championship, he is proof that a blue collar short track can still make it to the highest levels through hard work and success.
With all due respect to Chase Elliott, Hemric is a man of the people, and perhaps the real people’s champion.
„This is for all those people that have given me rides or opportunities over the years,“ Hemric said. „I want this to show car owners across the country that you should give that kid a shot. Give him a chance to achieve his dream. They may not have any financial backing but I didn’t either. Just give him a chance to prove himself and good things can happen.“