During the racing season, former Waterloo Black Hawks defenseman Michael Annett doesn’t get home to Des Moines too often.
The skater-turned-stock car racer is guaranteed two trips to central Iowa when the NASCAR Xfinity Series makes its way to Iowa Speedway each summer. The second of those races is Saturday night in Newton, and besides turning laps at 130 miles per hour, Annett is looking forward to familiar scenery.
“One of my favorite parts is just going to your favorite restaurants; being able to go to those places and get comfort food. It just makes the whole weekend a lot more fun,” Annett says, also noting that the holidays might be his next chance to catch up with many of the people he will be seeing.
“I moved down to North Carolina a little over ten years ago, and they’re just not able to make it to a lot of races, but it’s pretty easy to go up I-80 to Newton, and it’s just fun for them to see what I do on a weekly basis.”
Annett has been living away from home, dating back to when he was still lacing up skates rather than racing up straightaways. Like many aspiring hockey players, Annett’s efforts to pursue his dream literally took him far from family and friends. In high school, he moved to the Chicago suburbs to play for Team Illinois, then came to Waterloo for the 2003/04 and 2004/05 seasons.
That experience proved valuable when Annett switched pursuits.
“If you’re going to be a professional in this sport, you’ve got to move down to the Mooresville/Charlotte area. You’re getting thrown to the wolves at a young age if you want to be a race car driver, and I think the same thing goes if you want to be a professional hockey player,” notes the 32-year-old.
“I had dealt with the move, dealt with being away from family and friends, and making new friends and making a new home at 16. When new guys move down here, I can see it. They’re dealing with being away from home, and I already had about three years of that in me, so I pretty much was able just to focus on the job at hand. It’s definitely helped me.”
A few other hockey habits have also followed Annett into racing.
“Everybody that was on the Black Hawks back when I was would agree: you got on the bus, you played cards, you went to Fazoli’s, and then you got back on the bus, and you went to sleep until we showed up at the rink.
“I’ve told everybody, I eat pasta when I’m at the track on Saturday afternoon, but my body tells me that I have to go to sleep afterwards, just because that’s what I was trained to do. You eat pasta and you go to sleep, then you wake up and you get after it.”
Saturday night, Annett is hoping the right balance of carbs and ethanol gasoline can help boost him toward the Xfinity Playoffs.
“Right now we’re on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs go, and it’s clear as day what we need to do week-in and week-out. That starts with just putting a whole weekend together: qualifying better, getting segment points, and having a great result at the end to make as many points as we can,” he explains, adding, “I think we’re just doing everything we can to right the ship and turn everything around and get ourselves into the playoffs.”
The 2018 season started with near simultaneous hope and disappointment. Annett qualified 7th at Daytona – a track which has been friendly over the years – but a wreck in the second half of the race led to a 37th-place finish, his worst of the year. That has left the #5 JR Motorsports team playing from behind ever since.
Annett is as clear-eyed about his career on NASCAR’s national circuits as he is about the 2018 season.
“I definitely thought I would have won more races than I have, and the plan is to win a whole lot more races. I signed a two-year extension with JR Motorsports and there’s definitely still time to get it done, but more pressure than anybody ever could put on me, I put on myself.
“I’m fortunate that I get two more years at least, and the rest of this season, to accomplish those goals. Right now, I’d say I was disappointed with the results I’ve had in 10-plus years, but I’m also able to still shift and get those results.”
The contract will keep Annett employed by the Earnhardt family, owners of JR Motorsports. It’s not the first time he has driven for racing royalty after being on teams owned by Richard Petty and Rusty Wallace earlier in his career.
“All those names that you mentioned, they’re the first ones to try to make you better as a driver, so I’ve been very fortunate to have those people.”
Besides owners, Annett has teammates he can lean on. JR Motorsports driver Elliott Sadler is currently third in the Xfinity standings, and Justin Allgaier won at Iowa when the series stopped in Newton earlier this summer.
“We’ve got a lot of notes in our notebook and we’ll probably unload right where he left that car in victory lane, so it’s very beneficial to be with a team like JR Motorsports and have all that feedback,” Annett says.
If Annett can make the most of that information and take the checkered flag for the first time Saturday night in Iowa, it will certainly spark a celebration among the dozens of family, friends, and fans who will be on hand.
It’s even possible that party still might be going on when Annett finds his way back to Iowa for Christmas.