Devon Rouse set to race NASCAR Camping Worlds Truck Series
Devon Rouse faces the biggest moment of his fledgling racing career.
Rouse, a Burlington native and the first openly gay NASCAR driver, is scheduled to race the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Clean Harbors 150 on Saturday at Knoxville Raceway.
Rouse, who moved to Huntersville, North Carolina from Burlington last winter, will race in No. 43 owned by Richard Petty, which brings a lot of pressure in itself.
And with Spry Complete Oral Care and Kleer on board as sponsors, it could be a major turning point in Rouse’s career.
“This weekend is a trial run with this new sponsor. You’re going to see a lot more of them, which is a really, really good thing,” Rouse said Thursday night while stopping at Heartland Harley-Davidson in Burlington, where he signed autographs and greeted fans.
“This weekend is huge. I’m driving the infamous No. 43 owned by Richard Petty. It’s a Petty GMS truck passed through Reaume Brothers. There’s a big story with the number on this truck. It “There are big shoes to fill, which is 100% OK. I’m ready for that. It’s also how this weekend is really going to determine my year and next year, especially with this sponsor.
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Rouse was scheduled to participate in two Friday night practice sessions at Knoxville Raceway. Four qualifying races are scheduled from 6-6:45 p.m. Saturday, with the 150-lap Clean Harbors 150 presented by Premier Chevy Dealers starting at 8:15 p.m.
Rouse said he plans to have an autograph session on Saturday afternoon at Knoxville Raceway
Rouse will compete in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Clean Harbors 150 for the second year in a row. He finished 18th in a race marred by an accident a year ago.
Rouse hopes the experience he gained from last year’s dirt race will help him break into the top 10.
“I go into it knowing more than I did last year,” Rouse said. “I went there blind, not knowing how the truck was going to handle there. Not knowing how it was going to react. But also testing this truck only on tarmac tracks. So having all of that not worry – the unknown and the unexpected – that’s out of the way. I’m looking forward to not having to worry about that in this race.
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Rouse, who made a name for himself driving sprint cars at 34 Raceway in Middletown, said adapting to the power and speed of the trucks was not difficult. It’s the weight of the trucks that takes some time to adapt to, especially on dirt.
“It’s very different,” Rouse said. “The reason the sprint cars are so fast and the way they are is the power to weight ratio. It’s almost three sprint cars in weight. They don’t compare. These are running at Daytona at 190 mph. But you put a sprint car on that track in Knoxville and they go 150 mph. We might only hit 100 mph. That’s a big difference.
Since moving to North Carolina to be closer to NASCAR headquarters in Charlotte, Rouse has been busy networking and working full time. He works for K1 Sports Gear, where he helps make racing suits, Nomex underwear, gloves and shoes.
“The connections and relationships I made there are helping my career tremendously,” Rouse said. “It’s great living in North Carolina. I’m where I want to be. I’m in the racing world and the connections and relationships I’m building are amazing. I never would have achieved that here. And So that completely changes the game.” I’ve worked very, very, very hard on my career to find those sponsors and make those connections. It’s difficult. It’s very, very difficult.”
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Rouse wanted to make a stop in Burlington before heading to Knoxville, so he and his team set up shop at Heartland Harley-Davidson on Thursday and pulled the truck out. Fans flocked to the parking lot to talk to Rouse, see the truck up close, get autographs and take photos with the rising NASCAR star.
“A big thank you to (Heartland Harley-Davidson General Manager) Craig Knoll,” Rouse said. “I called him earlier in the week. I didn’t give him much notice that my team and I would like to do this. Can we do this? He was all for it. It was great. It was great to launch a new sponsor. They sent all of their products here with some sample options and all of their new gum. It’s been great exposure for the brand, great exposure for me. It’s huge. This creates a great dynamic for this weekend.
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Rouse is looking forward to Saturday’s race. But that comes with a lot of pressure. How Rouse handles that pressure and the No. 43 truck will go a long way in determining his future plans in the sport.
“I know (Petty’s) grandson, Thad Moffitt, who normally drives that truck,” Rouse said. “It’s big shoes to fill. It’s part of the package with the weekend. There’s a lot of pressure this weekend with the sponsor with my performance and all eyes watching. There are several, “
Rouse is tentatively scheduled to race in the Atlas 100 at Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield on August 21 and the Southern Illinois 100 at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds on September 4, both events in the ARCA Menards Series.
“This weekend is a trial run to see how it goes. There will be a lot of development from there,” Rouse said. “It’s huge. There’s just something about being in front of your audience and your loved ones. There’s something about it. It’s unparalleled. It’s a whole different energy. I think you you feel comfortable because those are your roots. I’m very comfortable racing here. It’s a big thing.
Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA TODAY Network in Burlington, Iowa, which has covered local sports for 31 years. Contact him at [email protected]