Boris Said has considered himself retired from full-time racing for about five years, but he still loves to drive.
Over the last few years, Said has done that in various ways, including the occasional NASCAR event. Saturday, Oct. 7, Said will return to the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the first time since 2021, piloting the No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in the Charlotte Roval race.
It is an admittedly “surreal” opportunity for Said, who turned 61 years old earlier this month.
“If I do well in this race, it’ll definitely be my last for sure in NASCAR,” Said tells RACER. “To end like this in the best car I’ve ever had is pretty neat. It’s exciting.”
Said and Rick Hendrick have been business partners in the car dealership world for over a decade. But getting a one-off ride came out of the blue just a few weeks ago.
“Carl Long had called me to run a couple of races and I’m like, ‘Carl, your cars aren’t competitive, and I won’t make your car look any better than anyone you could put in it,’ so I declined,” Said says. “But I said, ‘If you build a Chevrolet, I’ll bring you a really good motor,’ because I figured I could just call my partner Rick, and he’ll give me a motor, right? So, we agreed to do that.
“I called up Rick and asked him for a motor and he turned me down. His exact words were, ‘It’s going to be a hard no,’ and I got mad. I said, ‘I’m your friggin’ partner, it’s just a motor.’ Like, you’re a rich guy, come on.”
Hendrick then turned the tables on Said by asking … if he liked Christmas.
“I said, ‘I love Christmas,’” Said recalls. “It’s my favorite holiday. I like the movies; I like everything about Christmas. He goes, ‘Well, how about I give you an early Christmas present, and you just drive the 17 car instead of messing around with that guy’s car?’ And I think he just did it as a joke, but I’ll take it.”
Greg Ives, the crew chief of the No. 17 car, is eager to work with Said, but wasn’t prepared for another race being added to the schedule. Hendrick Motorsports had previously planned for last month’s race at Watkins Glen to be its final Xfinity Series event of the season.
“With our processes, the car comes in, it gets stripped down and everything gets gone back through,” Ives says. “So, it gets stripped down (after Watkins Glen) and Chad [Knaus] goes, ‘We may have another race with the road course car.’ We all looked at each other and he said, ‘So, don’t tear it down too far.’
“So, we stripped it all the way down the chassis basically, everything was out of the car and went through (everything). … Initially, it was going to be, ‘Hey, maybe we’ll be ready for next year,’ but we got the call to get her ready again. I got Boris’s phone number from Alan [Gustafson] and texted with him about what he needed and started to plan for (simulator) sessions and prep work and doing all the right things so we can have a successful week.”
Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
Using both the oval track and the infield portion of Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Roval is not a purpose-built road course. It has unique characteristics that force those like Ives to figure out how to get speed and handling in both areas. Although it’s a tough and tight course, a critic would degrade the Roval by calling it a parking lot — and some Cup Series drivers have.
“It’s funny, I’ve raced every track in the world and I’ve never raced on the Roval,” Said says. “Which is weird. But it doesn’t look like my favorite track. I’m more of a technical, high-speed kind of guy and I think the Roval looks fairly low-speed but very technical. But it’s a track, and I like all tracks. So, I’ll just have to figure it out.”
Said and Ives have already been watching video together and going through the seat fitting process. Of course, there is simulator time built into the preparation process. But as far as getting the car ready, Said is not that “picky” other than getting the feet/pedal area comfortable. Said still uses a clutch and brakes right-footed.
“Other than that, it’s just getting familiar with what switches are where and where everything is because that needs to be second nature,” Said says. “When you walk in this place (Hendrick Motorsports), and you’ve raced cars for 37 years, I’ve raced for some really good teams and factories, the BMW factory in Europe, and you sit there and think about only 38 people get to race an Xfinity race. There are a lot of racers in the world who would give their leg to get in this car. So, it just feels surreal. Crazy.”
One big difference when Said gets to Charlotte will be the lack of track time. Back in the days when he was considered a “road course ringer” who popped in twice a year, there were hours of practice time to help him be competitive.
“Now I’m coming off the couch and have 20 minutes of practice, so I don’t know what to expect,” Said says. “I don’t know if I’ll be competitive. In my head, I really want to finish in the top 10. I would be happy with that. But I always assess my goals as I’m going. If I can run in the top 10, then I want to run in the top five, and if I can do that, then I’ll do anything for a win, and I don’t care who’s going for a championship.
“But I guess I have to wait and see. I really don’t know what to expect. I know there’s a reason why 61-year-olds aren’t racing. I just don’t know if my brain has figured that out. But I still feel in good shape and from the inside out, I feel like I’m 30 years old again.”
Ives has a similar passion: Although he’s no longer a full-time crew chief, just as Said still loves to race, Ives still loves to be on the pit box.
“It’s pretty cool to have somebody come back and appreciate it,” Ives says “A lot of these guys who get to drive Sunday or dirt racing or do this and that, they may think of it as another race. I don’t think Boris is thinking of it as another race. I think we can go and have some fun and do something special and learn along the way how to get our equipment better.”
Boris the Road Course Ringer at Watkins Glen in 2000 and in a very different situation than what he’s facing now. F.Peirce Williams/Motorsport Images
Said has made 149 starts across the three national series, with a victory in the Craftsman Truck Series (Sonoma, 1998) and the Xfinity Series (Montreal, 2010). Along the way, Said has driven decent equipment that he could try to make up the difference in, as well as equipment that was far from competitive.
“And I didn’t care, I just wanted to race,” he says. “I love racing. Every race, to me, I feel like a kid at Christmas. That feeling in 37 years, and I don’t know how many races I’ve run, has never changed.”
The goal was always to find a faster, more competitive car and a more competitive series. It was an accident that Said “fell into NASCAR” when he was called to substitute for Jimmy Spencer, who had been injured at Indianapolis in 1998. It evolved into Said becoming a mentor for drivers on road courses and then a test driver.
“I was never running for championships or running more than five or six races a year, but I feel lucky,” Said says. “It was fun and such a big part of my life, and it’s not so much what you’ve done or the money you made, it’s the people you meet along the way.”
Hendrick was one of those people. It just took some time to come full circle with a quality ride that could very well be Said’s last.
“I think it would be a mic drop moment,” laughs Said. “If somebody had told me 20 years ago I would even know Rick Hendrick — and he’d know my name — I would have told them they were crazy. At the end of my racing career with BMW, they gave me an open point where I was going to open a car dealership. At the time, everybody told me, just go hire GM and it’ll be like printing money. It was a long process and as I was getting closer and seeing how much money it actually takes, I was like, I need a partner. Someone who knows.
“I remember this so clearly: I was doing the NASCAR race at Las Vegas and I was walking to the grid and Rick Hendrick was walking by. I’ve never said boo to him; I knew Ricky and used to send Ricky ‘No Fear’ clothes. But as he was walking by, he said, ‘Hey, Boris, I met a friend of yours, and he was talking good about you.’ It was the president of BMW. So, I said, ‘Next time, tell him I want my dealership’ because we were just in the process. Rick said, ‘If you ever need any help, call me.’
“I called him and he just has this crazy personality where you feel comfortable around him. We made a deal and now for 12 years, he’s been my mentor and the guy I call with the stupidest questions in the world at all hours of the day. And he’s my friend. I never would have thought my racing career would have led to that. It’s pretty cool.”