In 2011, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East featured a stacked field with numerous future NASCAR Cup Series stars. Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Matt DiBenedetto were both winners that year, while Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and Corey LaJoie also competed full-time with the series and battled for victories.
Rising above them all for the title that season was Georgia’s Max Gresham, taking the series championship with wins at Gresham Motorsports Park and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Gresham scored nine top-five finishes that season, only missing the top 10 once during the year.
Gresham may not have gone on to the same levels of professional racing success as others in the East series that year, but he can still look back on 2011 with very fond memories of a dominant season.
“That was a great year for me, professionally, as a driver,” Gresham told Speed51. “I felt like I really hit my stride that year with Joe Gibbs. We had a great team.
“It was one of those years where everything clicked and we had a dominant performance.”
While Gresham enjoyed tremendous success that season, it did not carry over as he climbed the racing ladder. He would eventually compete full-time in the NASCAR Truck Series, but never elevated beyond that point like many of the drivers he raced against.
“Going past that into upper series and different divisions, we didn’t have that same feel. I don’t want to say I peaked, but that year was something special for me.”
Gresham last competed in a race car in 2014. He went out on a strong note, finishing seventh in a Truck Series event at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I hung it up in 2014. Texas was my last Truck race, I got a top 10. That was with GMS Motorsports. It was a great way to go out and I haven’t touched anything since then.”
Gresham takes some responsibility for the that as well, acknowledging he may have passed up better opportunities to get as much seat time as possible.
“My mindset was, I wanted track time. I don’t think that was the right choice. You can look back on it now and say it wasn’t the right way, but I might have gone the other way and it wouldn’t have been different.”
Since his last race, Gresham has followed in his family’s footsteps selling insurance.
“I went to college in 2015 and graduated last year. I work for AmWINS, which is an insurance company. It was actually my sponsor for the last year and a half I was in the Truck Series. I work for them. I sit behind a desk and sell insurance.
“My dad and grandfather both worked in the insurance industry, so I basically followed them. My dad still works for the company I work for, so I get to see him on a professional level, which is different.”
Sometimes, those company meetings have had interesting exchanges when colleagues recognize the former racer.
“A lot of people recognize [Gresham's father] because of his position in the company. It’s funny to go into meetings where they know who he is, but then they say, ‘Didn’t you used to race?’"
While he no longer races, he compares the sport to an addiction. It’s still something he cares about, and knows how deeply people he competed with throughout the years are involved in racing.
“I’ve always told people it’s like crack when you get racing. Even if you’re just playing around, it’s all or nothing. When you’re diehard like that, like a lot of those guys I raced with growing up, it’s your life. If you got back into it, you’d be trying to go right back to the top.”
Gresham is also a recent newlywed. With his free time, he still scratches his competitive itch by competing in amateur bass fishing tournaments.
“I got married about a month ago. Besides that, I spend my time fishing in bass tournaments. That’s about the extent of my adrenaline, competing in amateur tournaments.
“It’s a little bit slower, but you get that major adrenaline rush of a race. There are sometimes upwards of 150 or 200 boats competing in these deals. They go out by number, and then it comes down to who has the faster boat to get to the preferred spot. In that sense, it’s like a race, but other than that it’s slower-paced.”
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor
-Photo credit: Getty Images for NASCAR