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during the Screwball Whiskey 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York.  (HHP/David Tulis)
(Photo: Harold Hinson Photography/David Tulis)

Family First is the Way of Life for Justin Allgaier

By Dustin Albino

Justin Allgaier is a busy man throughout the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series season. 

Not only has the Illinois native visited victory lane twice, but he also welcomed his second child, Willow, to the Allgaier family. 

Prior to Willow entering the world on May 24, Allgaier already locked himself into the Xfinity Series Playoffs. And while performing on the racetrack brings its own pressure, being there for the birth of his second child was the most important item on his agenda. 

“Missing the birth of my second child wasn’t an option,” Allgaier recently told Jayski.com. “I know, for me, it’s super important. But we also have to look at what the requirements are. I’m pretty confident that missing a race for the birth of a baby is not an excused waiver for the playoffs. Managing that was really tough.”

Known to have a high heart rate watching her husband race, Ashley Allgaier was nervous Justin would miss the birth. 

But JR Motorsports and Allgaier’s sponsor BRANDT assured the couple they had nothing to worry about while the No. 7 Chevrolet was on track at Dover International Speedway and Circuit of The Americas. 

“Our sponsors are amazing and had a plane on standby for us,” Ashley said. “I was in communication with the sponsor, PR and Justin, the whole entire weekend.”

But if  Ashley would enter labor, there was a code word crew chief Jason Burdett would say on the radio to Allgaier, which was passed on from Mike Campbell (public relations manager for Allgaier). Essentially, that meant he had to get out of the racecar and get back to his wife. 

The code word? “Bluebird.” 

“It was so random because we were sitting on the couch talking about it, and I was like, ‘We need a code word,'” Ashley recalled. “He’s like, ‘What kind of code word are you going to say?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, bluebird,’ because we have all these bluebirds that are in our backyard and Harper likes looking at the bluebirds that land on her playhouse.” 

Right away, Allgaier thought that meant the couple was having a boy, as the soon-to-be second-time parents didn’t know the gender until birth. 

Fortunately for the Allgaiers, no code word was needed. At one of her doctor appointments, Ashley even learned new breathing mechanisms to keep her heart rate down while watching the races from afar. 

Allgaier said the couple had a great pregnancy and the birth went according to plan. However, leading into the race at Nashville Superspeedway just three weeks into her life, Willow stopped breathing because her passageways were blocked from spitting up through her nose. 

Thankfully, Justin performed CPR on his daughter to get her breathing again, though Ashley made a call to 9-1-1. It led to a trip to the children’s hospital in the back of an ambulance. 

“There’s nothing like having to do that to your own child,” Allgaier said. “Those challenges have been interesting to get through and manage.

“It was nothing that was life threatening at the time. We’re very lucky that it happened with Ashley sitting right next to her and I was able to do that. I think that makes you appreciate life when you go through something like that.”

Jokingly, Allgaier said he’s been a tad grumpier since Willow entered the world due to a lack of sleep. Ashley concurred that thought, saying, “I forgot how much I like sleep.”

But because of the incident, Willow attended her first race at Nashville. Though it seems young at three weeks, Harper, the Allgaiers’ first child, was at Bristol Motor Speedway at just two weeks old. It also allowed for both sides of the family to see the newborn. 

As Ashley said, though, she had to be near her husband in case anything went wrong. 

“Staying home wasn’t even an option because I didn’t feel that I was adequate enough to save Willow, if needed,” she stated. “I was very anxious and was like, ‘Alright, we’re going this weekend. It’s not even a question.’”

Since Nashville, there’s only been a few races that Ashley and the kids haven’t attended. Being on the road with the family allows Allgaier to help his wife take care of the kids. That’s something he enjoys doing. 

“As a family unit, we’re definitely stronger together and able to manage two kids, feeding and life in general with the two of us there,” Allgaier added. “It’s been nice to be able to have her at the racetrack and be there. Just being [at the track] and having them be a part of it means more to me than just them being at home.”

And Harper, who turned 8 years old at the beginning of August, has taken to being a big sister. Sure, there’s an age gap, but that hasn’t hindered her relationship with her parents. 

In fact, it’s grown stronger. Prior to the pregnancy, Harper wanted her parents to either have another child so she could become a big sister or a cat. As a family, they made the right choice. 

Ashley said, “The other day, she was talking to Willow and playing with her and said, ‘I’m so glad they didn’t get me a cat.’”

But being a big sister has come with its challenges. At the beginning, Harper wasn’t sure why she wasn’t getting more attention, and all the emphasis was on Willow. But in terms of playing the big sister role, she did amazing, Ashley explained. 

“She wanted to hold the baby, feed the baby, anything I needed she would help me with,” Ashley added. “Which is a little hard because they’re so small in the beginning. There was one time where she said, ‘I really want more Harper and mommy time and less Willow and mommy time.’

“The first couple of weeks were hard on her emotionally, but since then, if legally I could leave the house and let her babysit, she would be in heaven. She doesn’t want me to help.”

Allgaier said since the first couple of weeks, Harper has come to a realization of the time constraints of her parents. And now, she’s perfectly content that Willow is getting time with her parents as well. 

Certainly, though, life has changed for Allgaier by adding a second child to the mix. 

“Going from one (child) to two is almost harder than going from no kids to one,” Allgaier said. “I know that sounds crazy, but it’s a big challenge. [Ashley has] been an absolute rockstar with it, been an incredible mother and an incredible wife.

“I would say that’s taken some of the burden off of me; she may not agree completely that it’s been easy. [Harper has] been incredible and been a big help. That I think is what has made this work.”

Ashley, however, doesn’t believe her husband has changed at all. 

“He’s always been a hands-on and an involved dad,” she stated. “He hasn’t changed much. He’s always been family first and what can I do to help you today.”

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - MAY 08: Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 Good Humor Ice Cream Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Steakhouse Elite 200 at Darlington Raceway on May 08, 2021 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) | Getty Images
DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – MAY 08: Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 Good Humor Ice Cream Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Steakhouse Elite 200 at Darlington Raceway on May 08, 2021 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) | Getty Images

On the racing front, Allgaier is motivated as ever to get to the playoffs and have a shot at his first NASCAR championship. Yes, he’s made four of the last five Championship 4 races. But with the championship race held at Phoenix Raceway for the second year in a row, it only makes his odds of winning better. 

Along with the two wins, the No. 7 team has 10 top-five finishes (six in the last 10 races), including a trio of runner-up finishes to the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Toyota. But compared to Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger, he believes his JR Motorsports team is on par.

“I feel like we’re better than they are, to be honest with you,” Allgaier said last month. “I feel like what we do best is we’re able to put ourselves in the best position at the end of these races week in and week out. We may not be the fastest when we unload off the truck, but when the checkered flag falls, we either have one of the best speeds or the best speed.”

Compared to past years, Allgaier believes it will be tougher to make the Championship 4, partially because of a stout Xfinity Series field this season. 

But should Allgaier make it to Phoenix, he will have at least three people in his corner.

“I believe in him and we have people surrounding us that believe in him, but I think it would just be validation,” Ashley said of Allgaier possibly winning his first NASCAR title. “He’s worked so hard for it and there have been so many people that have gotten him to this level in his career. I think it could almost be like a thank you to them.

“If he makes it to the final four this year me and the girls will be there to support him. If he doesn’t I’m probably not going to drag my kids out there because of the simple fact of [having] a newborn. But my hope is we can be there to support him and get to watch him win a championship. If not, we’re there to be the first ones to hug him. At the end of the day, we have a healthy family and an amazing life. That doesn’t define who he is as a person.”