Former University of Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks Hurler Christian Rose To Make ARCA Racing Debut

Teammates on The Shore now together with Christian Rose Racing

In 2018, Christian Rose (Martinsburg, West Virginia) pitched his senior season on the University of Maryland Eastern Shore baseball team and went on to graduation. He left campus with a degree in Hospitality Management, lifelong friendships he developed with teammates and a yearning for an outlet for his competitive nature.

But a long-running love of auto racing, a supportive family, a relentless drive — and just maybe a little spark of crazy — sent him on a journey that will place him behind the wheel of an Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) car at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Thursday (Sept. 23) and sponsored by his home state of West Virginia.

“I honestly cannot think of a better sponsor to have than my home state,” Rose said. “It is incredible to represent West Virginia and it means the world to me. I never in a million years would have thought that I would get to represent my state in baseball or racing or anything else.”

“The thing about racing is that you see so many people who don’t make it. But for the ones that do, it’s a matter of not giving up and pushing to get the right breaks and opportunities to come your way.”

So with just three years behind the wheel of a racecar, one has to wonder about how it all came together to bring Rose to this moment in an entirely different career than he expected and with former Hawks teammate Evan Bertone (Douglas, Massachusetts) as his manager.

Not surprisingly it was their baseball experience on The Shore that contributed to that in no small way.

“Baseball is a sport of failure,” Rose said. “It teaches you that not everything is going to go your way and I think that has been a huge life lesson not only in the race car, but in everyday life. We loved playing there and I don’t think either of us had any idea this would be the path we would be on three or four years later.

“Being able to be able to come from Maryland Eastern Shore is a great story and I want to be able to share that story on the racetrack.”

Rainbow Warrior

It wouldn’t be right to look at Rose’s sudden foray into motorsports as a whim. The groundwork was laid year’s earlier as the rabid NASCAR and Jeff Gordan fan gobbled up racing knowledge and started attending races at Daytona when he was 10.

“I had every autograph from Jeff growing up and later I got to be a Kyle Larson fan,” Rose said. “Gordon and Larson had a race where they crossed each other over back-and-forth back in 2014 and Jeff got out of the car smiling. As a fan, I was pissed that he didn’t win, but he took a more ‘you got me this time’ attitude. I was starting to pick my next favorite because I knew Jeff’s career was winding down. Larson has won 6 NASCAR races this year and been dominant.

“Those are the guys who I have looked up to the most on their driving abilities because they are the best at what they have done and that is something I do now is try to watch what they do and learn from it. I try to learn from anybody honestly and that includes short track level too — Bubba Pollard is one of the best.

Then there is the chance meeting in the Daytona Speedway garage with stock car driver and racing team owner B.J. McCloud and his crew. A 15-year-old Rose — who may or may not have snuck into the garage — was immediately taken with the whole idea of being a driver and says he begged his mother to help get him into racing instead of playing baseball. She wanted him to go to school and get his degree.

On the Diamond

Rose continued playing baseball and eventually would find himself as a member of the Hawks in 2017 when he was a relief pitcher on a staff that also included Bertone.

“We had our group, but the whole team was pretty close,” Rose said. “I want to give assistant coaches Ryan West and John O’Neil a lot of credit. Those two guys really brought us together as a team and they were incredible.”

O’Neil, who is now at Presbyterian College, was the Associate Head Coach in 2017 and West was the pitching coach — a role he now holds at Newberry College.

“Coach West in particular really beat into us what it takes to be good at your game and how to accomplish that,” Rose said. “He wanted us to understand that you are going to have good games, but it’s what happens after — what you do and how you overcome adversity— that matters. I’ve taken that approach to racing. I still talk to coach West and JO a lot.”

Get off the couch

Fast forward to post graduation 2018, and Rose and his family are watching a race at Kansas Motor Speedway on the television.

“I was sitting there and I was thinking about how baseball was always something that I was O.K. at, but I thought racing was where I was meant to be,” Rose said.

His mom suggested he try and reconnect with McCloud Racing and see if he could find a way to get a foot in the door.

That foot instead would be on the gas pedal.

Through some contacts he was able to get in touch with the race team and secure what probably amounted to one of the most unconventional tryouts in motorsports in the Fall of 2018.

It was September at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway and he had been invited to come run a time trial in a Super Late Model car.

This is the premier division of asphalt short track racing in the United States and Canada. These cars typically feature engines with upwards of 600 brake horsepower, American naturally aspirated V8s, under the hood of a custom built chassis weighing around 2,750 pounds because of a super lightweight aluminum interior.

It’s something you traditionally wouldn’t get into until you have been racing a decade.

“There was no way they thought I was going to be able to go out there and actually put up a decent time in a race car,” Rose said. “They basically threw me out there to the wolves to see what would happen. It was basically a joke.”

Just to make it more intimidating they brought in Matt Tifft who was fifth in points in the Xfinity Series at the time to set the target numbers. Against all odds and after some advice from Tifft, Rose made a run that was within five tenths of a second of his time.

“They basically asked me ‘You have never driven a race car before?’ and I was like ‘No.’” Rose said. “They pretty much threw a contract in the window and they were off to the races from there.”

Climbing the ranks

It wasn’t exactly as simple as that, but his first race came at Hickory just three months later. He then moved to Mooresville, North Carolina to pursue more opportunities. His first Late Model race came on January 5, 2019 when he finished 15th out of 24 entries at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida.

He signed with Cook Racing Technologies owned by Bruce Cook in 2020 and raced his first full-time campaign on the Late Model circuit.

“In Late Model, I have raced against the best competition in the country. I have gone against names that are in NASCAR already and the thing about local short tracks is that those guys race that track every single week. They know every bump divot and crack in the racetrack. It’s tough to go and beat those guys.

“The thing that gives me the most motivation is that this is only my third year doing this. We have had Top 5 runs. I had a chance to win a race at New Smyrna last year and I made a Rookie mistake that cost me a shot at the win. We have been able to compete and hold the lead lap. As somebody who has only done it for three years versus some of these guys who have been doing it 20 and some guys 40 years, to go out there and hold our own is pretty cool.”

Not an athlete?

Rose thinks it’s important for people to understand that he may not play baseball any more, but he’s still an athlete. He’s heard all the comments about the car doing all the work or how all he has to do is keep turning left.

“To this day, I can say I have gone through some very hard workouts as a Division I athlete and training to compete in that atmosphere, but driving a racecar is the hardest work I have ever done,” Rose said. “It’s constantly working the wheel with biceps and chest while sitting in a car where it’s 120 degrees.”

Add to that a level of danger that ramps up the stakes tremendously.

“People don’t understand when you are driving a racecar you have to drive it to its edge without wrecking on every single corner,” he said. “In baseball, if you give up a homerun they can give you the ball back and you pitch to the next guy. In a racecar, if you drive over the edge by an inch on either end or get into the throttle an inch too soon you are in the wall, the car is destroyed and you have to pay to fix the racecar. It’s a very strenuous and mind boggling experience when you are first starting out. You are basically doing a 3-hour workout in a sauna.”

Not many people get the opportunity to do what they love and Rose counts himself lucky that he got help along the way to make it possible. He knows he could spend an hour just running down the list of those who were a part of his journey.

Almost Heaven

Even with all the help, things have never been easy, so having an opportunity to run several west coast races with a sponsor like West Virginia Tourism has been an incredible opportunity for the team. Sponsors don’t come easy.

“It is a lot of phone calls and a lot of emails,” Rose said. “I can’t even begin to tell you how many times we have been told no. That is something that everybody told us in the racing world. You are going to get 10,000 No’s before one ‘Yes’ changes your life forever.”

Christian Rose racing had approached the state last year, but were unsuccessful. They improved the pitch, while Rose’s profile increased since and they were able to ink a deal this time around.

“It’s a pretty cool deal and whatever we can do to help show people that it is a beautiful state and bring people out that haven’t been there is great,” Rose said. “A lot of companies are moving to West Virginia and there is a lot of growth. That is our message — we want to share it and have open arms to anybody who wants to come in.”

West Virginia Tourism joined a host of other existing Rose partners including: Black Draft Distillery, Big K Trucking and Lopez Reality among others. He also has a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of the Eastern Panhandle to help them promote their Triple Play Initiative that focuses on taking care of yourself overall.

“We want to talk to kids and let them know that I didn’t know I was going to be on this path,” Rose said. “If you have a dream you can chase it and make it happen. If anyone wants to donate or help out the boys and girls club they can text “racing” to 26989. We have a goal we are trying to reach to help them out.”

ARCA time

The step up to the ARCA Menard’s Series comes with its own set of challenges and advantages. The first blessing has been his Cook Racing team which has prepared him for this step.

“The atmosphere they have provided to me and allowed me to be successful is incredible,” Rose said. “I really want to give them a lot of credit for not only allowing me to drive their cars but also helping me with the resources to be the best.”

The first of the latter is teammate Amber Slagle, who made her ARCA debut earlier this year, so she has experience in the ARCA cars that Rose can tap into.

“She is a hell of a driver,” he said. “I get to lean on her a lot and on her experience. She and I have a competition where she has beaten me three or four times so far. We push each other and she is someone I can walk over to if I have a question. She has helped tremendously over the last year. This has been the first time in my career I have had someone like that I can lean on and I think it has made me a better race driver.”

Rose said he is coming off of one of his best Late Model Races of the season a couple weeks ago and a successful test session — his first time in an ARCA car — helped with his stress level.

“I haven’t really had any nerves this week,” Rose said. “These things are way heavier. They drive like boats. They are not really a lot of fun to drive and different from what you would experience in a late model. But I took to it pretty well. Everything I was worried about kind of got lifted off my shoulders. As we get into Wednesday’s flight and Thursday morning race day it is going to be a little harder to sleep.”

Into the Bull Ring

Thursday’s Star Nursery 150 will be shown live on NBC Sports Gold’s TrackPass with a live audio feed available on ARCARacing.com. A delayed broadcast of the event will air on NBCSN on Thursday, Sept. 30, starting at 5 p.m. ET.

The 3/8 mile track isn’t called the Bullring for nothing and Rose likened it to “a lap and a half around a high school field.” He knows there will be a lot of contact and fender rubbing on that type of track.

“The competition is definitely going to go up in this race,” Rose said. “The restarts are going to be more aggressive. Everything I have done before is heightened up a little bit. This is going to be replayed on NBC sports network next week so it’s my first time on NBC sports network. We’re also racing on a cup weekend before all of the bigger series, so we will have a great crowd out there. Those are the biggest differences. It will be totally different in a way, but still racing.”

The COVID 19 pandemic has altered the qualifying and practice schedules for most racing series, so he will have limited time on the track on Thursday to figure things out. Drivers will have just an hour of practice time early Thursday to get the feel for the track and feel the cars out.

“We’ll have two practice runs, come in, cool the motor off, tape the nose off and get it set up for a bonsai qualifying run,” Rose said. “Once you come off the track from qualifying you are done until the race. That is pretty much it. It’s super quick. I honestly like that. If I have too much time to think, that kind of dials me out.

“We have talked about our goals for the race. Goal No. 1 is to run all laps and don’t beat yourself. If you can run on the lead lap in the first race that’s a goal. Obviously then going on to the next race we just continue the climb.”

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