STATESVILLE, N.C. -- "It's kind of a funny story how it all works out, I guess."
At which point Daniel Hemric starts the tale of how he came to be in this place, the palatial new shop for Brad Keselowski Racing. Not only is he here standing on the gleaming epoxy floors, he's the team namesake's newest driver, handpicked from a promising crop of young hotshoes.
As far as chance meetings go, his anecdote from the summer of 2012 makes for a tough story to top. Hemric, then a 21-year-old up-and-comer on the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour, had just converted a pass with five laps to go at Auto City Speedway in Clio, Michigan to secure his seventh win in 11 races that season, paving the way toward the series championship.
The race he won was called the BRAD 100, and home-state grand marshal Keselowski -- who was making his own march to a title in NASCAR's premier series that year -- was there to greet him in Victory Lane.
"He's like, 'Man, that was really cool to watch,' " Hemric recalls his current boss saying, "and that was really our first time shaking hands and meeting. Fast forward to (Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana) a couple months later in that year, same thing: We went on to win the race in more of a dominant fashion, but it was cool to start seeing the face and building somewhat of a relationship.
"From that point on, I think we both had the understanding -- at least from my end -- that if there was ever an opportunity to put stuff together to make it work, we wanted to figure out some way, some how to race together."
Those conversations kept going during their occasional encounters at the track through the years, and the timing never quite clicked for a partnership to develop until late last season. The plans for a full run this year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finally aligned for all parties concerned -- driver, owner, team (the No. 19 Ford) and sponsors (a full fleet including California Clean Power, Draw-Tite and Reese Brands).
Hemric's early laurels are encouraging, with two top-10 efforts in the first two races of 2016 and the ever-closer reality of achieving a breakthrough win. For Hemric, a NASCAR national series victory would be the next rotation in a series of full-circle moments.
The building blocks
Hemric's hometown listing is a familiar one in the NASCAR community -- Kannapolis, North Carolina, a place synonymous with Earnhardt. The 25-year-old driver grew up just down the road from Dale Earnhardt Inc., his childhood overlapping with that organization's heyday.
"You didn't have to go very far to see what the pinnacle was," Hemric said of his boyhood proximity to multiple racing facilities. "With the DEI shop being really close to my hometown and where I grew up and knowing that if you do all the right things and put yourself with the right people, this could be a possibility. That was at 5 or 6 years old, so now to be 25 and to be in a situation where that dream is definitely within grasp and you can really see it being a possible situation, something that you've been able to build and put yourself in, that's really cool."
His own glory years started early, with go-kart victories in nearby Concord around the time he graduated from kindergarten. Though he grew up in the cradle of NASCAR's industry hub, the formative stages of Hemric's career took him everywhere -- racing Super Late Models in the Midwest, Whelen Modifieds in the Northeast, and Legends Cars in the South.
Uncannily, Hemric learned from each region and each type of car, taking bits from every experience to place in his memory banks. The puzzle pieces have helped him become not only a better driver but also a better communicator, something that Chad Kendrick -- his crew chief -- detected early on.
From their earliest conversations, Hemric's feedback from his first laps with the No. 19 team made its own impact.
"It would overlay with the data, which was really impressive because a lot of drivers can't do that -- they can just say it was a little tight or it was a little free," said Kendrick, who has worked with current Sprint Cup Series regulars Keselowski,Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney. "He's very descriptive on exactly where it gets tight, why it got tight, what he's feeling in the left-rear, right-rear, wherever it's at. So very impressed with that.
"It's only two races in -- and really it's only one race in because Daytona is its own deal -- but after Atlanta, I was very impressed. And he's got mounds of talent, which is what you have to have."
Setting for success
Hemric has found a new home, but the team has also -- moving from its cozy former headquarters in nearby Mooresville into a lavish, 72,000-square-foot building on a country road that parallels Statesville's small regional airport. Keselowski, who documented his organization's transition in his most recent essay on his personal blog, has invested plenty of time and effort into making BKR's facility a showpiece.
The move has provide the team exponentially more space, allowing them to handle hanging bodies on their fleet of Ford F-150 trucks. There's a paint shop in the back of the building, numerous toolbox bays and workstations, plus the assortment of trophies in the lobby -- including a Crosley jukebox from one of Keselowski's multiple victories at Kentucky Speedway.
"A lot of thought went into it, and I think it was just off the many shops that Brad has experienced throughout his career," Hemric said, noting Roger Penske -- Keselowski's Sprint Cup team owner -- and his strong influence. "Being a huge part in the Penske building over there and seeing how Roger operated, I think that was a big role in how this place was assembled. If you're going to structure yourself off anybody, Roger's probably not a bad guy. To see all that's gone into this point, it's really, really interesting to see how many resources these guys have."
Those resources are a luxury for Kendrick's charges, who now have room to work on multiple trucks at once. The veteran crew chief also has an asset in Keselowski's leadership, which he says is hands-on without veering into micromanagement.
The mood Monday morning at the shop was a vibrant one, with a slight spring in the step potentially provided by the boss man's Sprint Cup victory the previous day at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Kendrick, however, said that the buoyancy comes naturally -- and daily -- working in such a pristine environment.
"Just having a nice facility like this at this level has encouraged the guys to be just better," Kendrick said. "I mean, when you walk into this place and work here day in and day out, it just boosts morale. Guys want to be better, look better, want to perform better. It just raises it to the next level. ... It'll be many years to come before somebody tops this."
The proverbial next level is something Hemric is striving for on-track as well. He made strides with NTS Motorsports in his rookie season last year, logging top-10 finishes in the majority of the 23 races and claiming seventh place in the final driver standings.
The results, however, were uneven, with each modest string of pleasantness disrupted by a setback -- either mechanical or racing-related.
"Everybody said it was character-building and we had a lot of that," Hemric says now. "We definitely experienced some pretty good highs and some pretty low lows. I felt like at the end of the day, the biggest thing that I was taught last year was how to excel in those opportunities where you don't have the best truck that day and how to make the most out of a rough situation.
"I found myself a couple of times thinking, 'Man, is this ever going to turn around?' You keep your head on your shoulders, position yourself on the restarts and next thing you know, you wind up with a good finish. I think all that stuff is really going to play a role as we get further into the season, we get closer to that Chase format and it's all going to matter."
Last year's feeling of exasperation is one that Kendrick hopes Hemric can cleanse, helping lift his confidence in the season's early going. Putting winning trucks into his hands is a major step.
It's the reason why Hemric wasn't delighted two weekends ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he matched his career-best effort in the truck series with a fourth-place finish. The reaction came in part because he knew that his first trip to Victory Lane in a national-series event was well within reach.
The attitude change, Kendrick said, should add fuel to Hemric's competitive drive. Now it's just a matter of scratching the win column.
"We talked about that when we knew Daniel was coming here," Kendrick said of his initial conversations with Keselowski and other BKR managers. "I really think he could be the guy that when he gets his first win, I really feel like he's going to be the guy that'll roll off three out of five, or roll off three or four in a row. I really feel like he could be that kind of guy, but you've just got to get that first one. The first one is always the hardest."
That first victory might be the hardest, but it also might be the most meaningful, providing Hemric another opportunity to have Keselowski greet him in Victory Lane under much different circumstances.
"It's definitely a dream come true how it all comes full circle," Hemric said. "Now it's just a matter of making the most of it."