Josh Bilicki has done it all while blazing a trail from Dairyland to NASCAR

Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images

Josh Bilicki has done it all while blazing a trail from Dairyland to NASCAR

NASCAR

Josh Bilicki has done it all while blazing a trail from Dairyland to NASCAR

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Menominee Falls, Wisconsin is far from the center of the NASCAR empire. But a village in Waukesha County with some 35,000 inhabitants in its 33 square miles does serve as the home base for one Cup Series driver and his name is Josh Bilicki. The 2022 season marked his sixth year in NASCAR’s premiere series, where the 27 year-old driver has strung together 87 starts, 19,625 laps and one career top-10 finish. While these numbers may not send Planet Cup spinning on its axis, to get them Bilicki has basically done it all as a one-man band,

“I’ve got a bad cold,” notes Bilicki when asked how he has been spending his offseason in America’s Dairyland. “You know I live up here in Wisconsin, so it is starting to get cold. I get sick once a year and it is always around this time. I’m used to it. I’m in the cold quite a bit up here and I guess my body just said, ‘F-you.’ Other than that, we’re all good.

“I commute pretty much every weekend in the Cup season,” continues Bilicki who took the green flag in 16 Cup races this season driving for Spire Motorsports. “I’m the only Cup driver that does not live in the Charlotte area. I fly commercial every week, through Chicago. It’s not only a commute to the racetrack, it’s also a commute to the airport.”

Why does he put himself through all that? “I love Wisconsin. I love this area. I could see myself getting a place in Charlotte, but this will always be my home.”

Bilicki started his racing career at age four when he started competing in kid-karts in and around Wisconsin. Not long after came sports cars, and Josh spent plenty of time making the 53-mile jaunt up US-45 North to Elkhart Lake’s Road America as he bean to dial-in his motor racing future.

“Road courses were always my background and my first love and I grew up racing karts from age four up to age 16. From there I started racing sports cars in the SCCA at age 14,” he relates. “I ran a couple IMSA races in a BMW and I also a few Trans Am races. However, and all along the way, I always wanted to take the next step. I was really struggling to put together the budget that I needed to go professional racing and to make a living. I did a lot of driver coaching and that’s how I made a living from age 18 to 22. But that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to drive. I wanted to be a race car driver and race competitively.”

After getting his start in IMSA road racing Bilicki worked his way into NASCAR in unorthodox fashion. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

The chance to do so came, appropriately enough for a 21st century racer, via social media.

“The opportunity came up for me to drive the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America. That’s my backyard and I certainly have some laps around Road America. The opportunity stemmed from me sending a Facebook message to a NASCAR team,” Bilicki explains. “It was the Wednesday before the Saturday race. I looked at the entry list and one team had both of their cars listed as ‘To Be Announced.’ I thought, ‘What the heck. I’m going to send them a Facebook message. That very night they e-mailed me back and said they were looking for a driver and they knew I was local. I told them I would race for free because I just wanted to get my foot in the door. They liked that and told me that if I could get my license approved and could buy four sets of tires — which at the time was $10,000 — that I would be in the car.

“Believe it or not, the first sponsor that I called agreed to buy me the four sets of tires, so that was done. My biggest hassle was getting approved on time and getting my drug test done. Luckily, I drove in IMSA, and NASCAR owns IMSA so all of that paper work transferred over. My biggest headache was just getting in touch with Brett Bodine in getting approved from NASCAR. I got approved and Friday I was in the car practicing. It was a crazy Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It was a super-cool experience for me and that just led to so many more opportunities in NASCAR.

“In 2016 I ran three NASCAR races and two of them were on ovals. I kind of saw that there was a lot more interest from my sponsors, even the sponsors that I was approaching and cold calling at the time. 2016 through 2017 was my transition year from sports car racing to NASCAR and every year just got better — and and now we are in the Cup Series.”

A self-made, do-it-yourself racing character if ever there was one, Bilicki has thoroughly enjoyed making his own way in, arguably, the most competitive and most commercial form of motor racing in the world.

“Yeah, I do it all. A lot of people don’t understand what I do behind the scenes. I consider myself more of a businessman than I do a race car driver at times, you know? I spend all off-season and all week in between aces making sure my sponsors are happy and making sure they are taken care of. I’m also approaching new sponsors and trying to connect those that sponsor me right now with other businesses in the sport to see what are opportunities there. I’m always making sure my sponsors get their best value and getting a return.

“Yeah, if it’s not driving a race car. It’s working on press releases, ad graphics and stuff like that. I have a great team behind me now that has taken some of the pressure off of my shoulders. However, two years ago I literally designed almost every single race car that I drove. I typed up and did all the press releases. I did my own graphics for social media. I literally did everything and now I have gotten to a point where I think I have made a name of myself enough to where I can now start focusing on driving more.

“Like I said, I have a great team behind me and I’m involved in every step. I was just on the phone today with my sponsor for 2023 and I know everything going on. I like to know everything going on. Then there are the other drivers like the Kyle Larsons of the world. I think Kyle is the most bad-ass race car driver on the planet, but he’s probably not on all of those race team calls. So I think that is one thing that separates me from some of those guys. I understand the business side of this and I take on a lot of other roles other than just a driver.”

While mixing it up with NASCAR’s established stars in the races with Spire Motorsports’ No. 77  Chevrolet, Bilicki has his hands more full than most of them the rest of the week. Rusty Jarrett/Motorsport Images

I asked Bilicki if the other racers he lines up against knew much about his unique approach.

“I think so,” he says. “Some drivers do, but some drivers probably have no idea. Some drivers I don’t think pay attention to anything but driving. If I go ask Joey Logano, he has no idea of what roles I’m taking on in racing. Some of the drivers that are kind of more in the middle or the back of the pack — kind of like where I’m driving right now — I think a lot of them kind of know what I do behind the scenes. I think that has gotten me to where I am because I work so hard and I’m not just a driver. I’m investing all of my life into racing. All of my free time goes into making sure everything is successful on the track and off the track.

“Up until 2021 I drove almost every race that I did with Rick Ware Racing. Rick and I have a lot of mutual respect. I just felt like it was in my best interest to go in a different direction. For 2022 I drove for Spire Motorsports. Honestly, this year we had higher expectations than where we ended up. We thought this Next Gen car was going to be more of an equalizer, but for some of the smaller teams like Rick Ware Racing and Spire Motorsports, we had our own struggles and there were races where we just had mechanical issues. There were also races where our engine expired. We also had a streak of races that were really good. We started the season with some really good runs and then in the middle of the season we just had mechanical issues. There was Pocono where I was involved in a first-lap wreck and my tire fell off and I hit the wall.

“Looking back on this year, it was a little disappointing. Looking at the big picture, though, I still get to drive race cars for a living, so I don’t think I’m ever going to use the word disappointing. As a competitor, yes, there were some disappointments, but looking at the big picture, I’m still blessed.”

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