Drive fast. Turn left.

  • 2018 UMES alum Christian Rose turning heads in NASCAR

    Monday, August 12, 2019
    Christian Rose

    Drivers, start your engines” are four words that motivate Christian Rose to show up for work - sometimes as many as seven days a week. 

    The UMES alum is hoping someday to answer that call to action at Daytona International Speedway on the second Sunday in February.  By the current trajectory of his fledgling career as a stock car driver, that goal might not be unrealistic. 

    A side-arm relief pitcher on the university's baseball team, Rose traded gripping a rosin bag for a 12-inch steering wheel on a race circuit for entry-level drivers just months after graduating with honors in May 2018. 

    He's been a NASCAR fan as far back as he can remember growing up in Martinsburg, W.Va.  At age 12, Rose mischievously snuck into the garage area at the Daytona track, where a pit crew member of B.J. McLeod's team encouraged him to pursue his dream of being a driver. 

    Education came first, however.  His mother insisted he go to college.  After earning his bachelor's degree, that long-ago conversation he had in the Daytona garage gnawed at him - even though he had no competitive driving experience. 

    Sherman Lambert, a well-connected attorney and car enthusiast in Rose's hometown, maintains a second home in Daytona Beach and counts NASCAR executives among his professional acquaintances and friends.  When someone suggested Rose reach out to Lambert for advice, it set fast-spinning wheels in motion that led to a tryout with McLeod's team. 

    It also didn't hurt that Lambert is one of UMES' most distinguished alumni (1974) who relishes helping next-gen graduates from their shared alma mater.  A member of UMES' Board of Visitors, Lambert said he initially was unaware Rose was a fellow alum.

    UMES alumni Sherman Lambert (1974) & Christian Rose (2018)

    “He's been so good to me,” Rose said of Lambert.  “Racing is a lot about who you know.” 

    Rose soon found himself squeezing his angular 6-foot-4 frame into the driver's seat of an 800-horsepower stock car - “a beast,” he calls it - testing his skills with veteran driver Matt Tifft. 

    As Rose tells it, the seasoned pros in the pit that September day at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway were astonished at how skillfully he navigated the “World's Most Famous Short-Track.” 

    Tifft “really helped a lot,” Rose told his hometown newspaper, The Journal, in January.  “My (lap) time was five-, sixth-tenths of a second off his, and they … were like, 'Are you sure you've never driven before?'” 

    Team McLeod signed Rose on the spot. 

    Now, Lambert proudly says “I am a trustee of Christian Rose's dream.” 

    In his first competitive race earlier this year at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida, Rose piloted his super late model Toyota to a 15th place finish after starting from the back row of a 24-car starting grid. 

    More recently, he finished fifth in a 15-car field at the same half-mile track, which is used extensively as a testing ground to identify the next generation of stock car drivers. 

    Rose says he's had to learn to rely on spotters radioing advice to him while driving upwards of 140 miles-per-hour.  At that speed, decisions are made in microseconds, and can lead to wrecks, which he also has experienced. 

    NASCAR closely monitors rookie racers to identify drivers with skills to move up to tougher levels of competition.  So far, Rose says he's gotten positive feedback from critiques and is hopeful of making the leap in 2020 to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and the ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) Menard Series. 

    Drivers looking to move up also need sponsors to help defray the myriad expenses that go into keeping a competitive car on the track. 

    “People don't realize how much you have to sell yourself - put yourself out there as a brand,” said Rose, who took hospitality-tourism management courses while UMES. 

    His racing team website and social media platforms feature images of Rose signing autographs for adults and children.  Rose paid a mid-summer visit to Martinsburg to meet-and-greet fans at the 2019 Berkeley County Youth Fair. 

    The latter was “a cool experience to come back and see kids chase their dreams,” he told the local newspaper.  “It's been humbling.” 

    A mid-year move to former driver Mike Skinner's team has Rose hoping to make NASCAR's Gander Outdoors Truck Series by 2021. 

    “I am a newcomer - beating the odds, because I love to race,” his website says.  “We are doing this the old fashioned way.” 

    “I'm living the dream,” he said.  “It's been a huge opportunity not a lot of people have. I'm grateful to everyone who has helped me.”