For the boy who grew up a few blocks off of Trenholm Road — the one who, at age 4, told his mom he wanted to be a race car driver — it was a perfect day. He was driving on the NASCAR® circuit. His #famouslyfast truck was sponsored by his hometown of Columbia. And he had just qualified to race at Daytona.
“I’m a history buff,” says Jordan Anderson. “I think that comes from growing up in Columbia. I love history and all of the history of our sport is at Daytona. It’s sort of our Super Bowl. To race there, with my hometown as my sponsor, was a dream come true.”
Jordan had one of his best runs of the season at Daytona in February of this year. This is his second full season on the national circuit racing in NASCAR.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series runs on the same calendar as NASCAR’s marquis series, the Sprint Cup. Truck series drivers race modified pickups on the same famous tracks where stock cars compete. Even casual fans will recognize some of the names of truck team drivers — Busch, Kahne, Harvick, Keselowski. It’s not uncommon for Sprint Cup regulars to compete.
This NASCAR racing tier is also a proving ground for up-and-comers like Jordan. In two years, he’s built a following in the sport and is known for his friendly, approachable style and his savviness in social media. Jordan, like other young drivers competing in NASCAR’s truck and Xfinity series, believes he’s putting himself in position to achieve his ultimate dream.
Jordan has accomplished a lot in the 20 years since he announced his career plans from the back seat as his mom drove them to the grocery store. “I said, ‘I want to be a NASCAR driver when I grow up.’ Kids say spaceman or cowboy all the time,” Jordan says, still impressed that his family took his dreams as seriously as he did.
“I still believe that my family thinks I’m crazy, but they’ve supported me 100 percent from day one.”
Jordan got his first go-kart at age 5. “My first ever laps were around the Satchel Ford Elementary school parking lot in Forest Acres,” he says.
Two years later, while watching go-kart races at a track near Interstate 20 at age 7, he met a 13-year-old boy wearing a cast. The teen had broken his arm go-kart racing. Jordan started talking to the kid in the cast, who turned out to be a past champion in the World Karting Association. The champ asked Jordan if he wanted to come out and try karting. “I said yes before my mom and dad could say no,” Jordan remembers. “That was it. I was hooked on it. And I’ve been hooked on it ever since.“
To dream of racing cars when you grow up in Forest Acres is unusual, and Jordan is quick to point that out. “Columbia wasn’t a hotbed for racing when I was growing up. No one in my family was involved in racing.”
Jordan’s mother, Sherry Anderson, owns a hair salon. His father, Clif Anderson, works in property management and coached youth baseball teams when Jordan was growing up. Until he was 11, Jordan was both racing and playing ball on teams coached by his dad.
“My dad said, ‘It’s too much. You’ve got to choose. You can’t do both.’ So, I went to my mom and said, ‘I’m going to break his heart.’” Jordan was wrong. His father’s heart would embrace his son’s decision. But Clif did have one big problem with racing — the cost.
“When I was 12, my dad challenged me. Racing is expensive. He said, ‘We as a family have to find a way to support this,’” Jordan shares. “We watched NASCAR and saw all of the sponsors for those race teams. My dad said, ‘Can you find sponsors?’ I was able to do it, fortunately. I filled my race car at 12 with sponsorships.”
The accomplishment earned him a news release from Charlotte Motor Speedway proclaiming him a “12-year-old marketing maven.” His father’s challenge led Jordan to discover another talent. Over the years, he’s made a name for himself not only on the track but also as a driver with a knack for the business side of racing too.
At age 17, in addition to lining up sponsors for his own car, he had a business building websites for other drivers. After graduating from A.C. Flora High School, he went to Belmont Abbey College in Charlotte, where he majored in business with a minor in motorsports marketing. Jordan sees himself as both a determined driver and a bootstrapping entrepreneur.
His do-it-all approach has been one of the keys to his current success. This past year, in his rookie season on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, he worked on his truck himself, lined up his own sponsors and even drove the rig alone to haul his truck to races as far away as Toronto, Canada and Las Vegas.
“When you’ve got something that burns deep inside of you, a passion to do something, you’re going to do whatever it takes,” Jordan says. It’s that attitude, along with his role as the unlikely driver, that has helped him build a strong fan base.
“That first year, a lot of people followed me because my story is really different from the norm,” he says. Fans, it turns out, can get behind someone who isn’t named Petty or Earnhardt.
“Usually in NASCAR, someone in the driver’s family was in racing. Or the family is part of a big corporation. My story is definitely different. I think that’s why fans think it’s cool and why they relate.”
During the 2015 season, Jordan met another Columbia native who could relate, a man who shared his passion for racing and his outsider’s relationship to the sport. Jeff Bolen, a lifelong NASCAR fan, had driven race cars himself. Jordan says they saw the potential to make a good team. Bolen Motorsports was born.
“There’s truth to that saying ‘power in numbers,’” Jordan says. They were able to put a shop in place, built trucks and hired a crew to support Jordan for the 2016 season. His number 66 Chevrolet Silverado truck carries Columbia’s Famously Hot logo around the track, with the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau and the Columbia Regional Sports Council on board as partners. “The TV announcers love the homegrown aspect,” he says. “To have your city on your race car, that’s special.
“When we announced the sponsorship, the president of Darlington Raceway was there,” Jordan says, recalling that the first NASCAR race he saw was from the grandstands at Darlington. “Now I’m driving on these tracks to represent South Carolina, so I really do feel like it has come full circle.”
Another supporter who’s circled around Jordan this year has been his sister, Jennifer Anderson. A college sophomore, she’s managed to balance classes with serving as a public relations and marketing assistant for her brother. “It’s been cool to have her here,” he says.
For Jordan, ever more in demand to sign autographs, meet with sponsors, tweet with fans and post videos on Facebook, extra help on every front improves his ability to focus on job number one.
“You have to show up and be ready to drive,” he says. He races on the same weekends as NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, usually the Friday night before the top tier race. Jordan and the rest of the field aren’t allowed to practice, except on those race weekends. “That’s good because it keeps our costs down,” he says. “But it means you have to be sharp mentally and physically.”
Risk, Jordan says, is always on every driver’s mind. And those first moments when he puts on his helmet and starts the engine are intense.
“Can you stay focused? Can you put doubt, worry aside? It’s such an amazing feeling, all of the emotions you have in the first three minutes after you start the engine,” he says. “You’ve got to clear your mind and be ready to race.”
Jordan relies on his faith to manage fear and bring focus. “God has always been in the forefront of my life. That good moral compass keeps you pointed in the right direction,” he says.
He also appreciates that NASCAR is faith-oriented, providing pastors to pray with drivers. “I pray before every race. It helps me put the fear aside. It helps my family too. Now my mom no longer worries. She can just relax and watch the race.”
Jordan hopes she and everyone else will see him driving in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series before long. “A lot of it is timing, putting myself in the right positions, and having the right people helping me,” he says. The truck series gives him the chance to drive on the same tracks — Talladega, Charlotte, Daytona. He also has a front row seat, week after week, to see what it takes to get to the next level.
It’s an opportunity he’s eager to secure for himself and his hometown.
“I’m just an average kid from Columbia who’s been able to pursue his dream. The reason I am where I am today is because of the people in Columbia who’ve helped me get here,” Jordan says, “and I want to give the people from South Carolina someone to pull for. I’m working hard to represent Columbia in a positive light everywhere I go — and I feel very honored to have this opportunity.”
You can follow Jordan on Facebook and Instagram @JordanAndersonRacing, on Twitter @J66Anderson and on Snapchat J19Anderson.