As a pitcher in high school and then eventually Hagerstown Community College and Maryland-Eastern Shore, Christian Rose concentrated on helping his respective teams win games. But when he wasn’t pitching, there was a part of him that wondered how his favorite NASCAR drivers were faring.
And on Sundays in the fall, when his friends gathered to watch NFL games, Rose slipped away to his apartment to watch more auto racing.
“That’s when I kind of knew that racing was a love of mine,” he said. “I was always a huge fan.”
Rose is no longer a bystander. He has been driving professionally for the last three years and has been piloting the No. 42 car for Cook Racing Technologies since 2020.
Rose currently ranks sixth in the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) Menards East Series and 30th in the overall circuit. He compared the ARCA Series’ relationship with NASCAR to Single-A baseball’s link to Major League Baseball.
Rose, who turned 27 on June 14, considers himself fortunate for finding another athletic pursuit after baseball.
B.J. McLeod, a professional driver and team owner who helped launch Rose’s career in auto racing, said Rose’s growth in the sport has been remarkable.
“It’s a huge undertaking to be able to have the guts to get out there and try to do this,” McLeod said. “Most people definitely wouldn’t try that, and he did, and there’s no doubt he’s light-years from when he first drove for me.”
Baseball seemed a likely destination for Rose, who began playing T-ball at the age of 4 and whose maternal great-grandfather dabbled in professional baseball. But Rose, who grew up in Martinsburg, West Virginia, also developed a fondness for auto racing thanks to a TV remote control in the shape of Jeff Gordon’s Rainbow Warrior No. 24 car and annual summer trips to Daytona, Florida, where he attended Daytona 500 races while his parents and sister lounged on the beach.
At one race, a then-10-year-old Rose walked through an unguarded gate to get inside one of the drivers’ garages.
“I kept my head down, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is really working,’” he recalled. “I ended up staying in there, and I was blown away because I was getting to see all the drivers and everything. After everything that I had watched on TV, it was just surreal.”
Before he was caught trying to enter pit road without the proper credential, Rose struck up a conversation with an employee of B.J. McLeod Motorsports, who encouraged Rose to reach out to the eponymous owner and professional driver about taking a test drive when he was older. After turning 15, Rose did contact McLeod, a seven-year veteran of the NASCAR Cup Series. But after discussing the idea with his mother, Rose turned his attention back to baseball.
After spending his first two years at Hagerstown Community College, Rose transferred to UMES, where as a senior in 2018 he led the team in appearances (22) and finished nine games as a side-armed relief pitcher.
Hawks coach Brian Hollamon said the running joke among the players and coaches was that the 6-foot-4, 185-pound Rose would more likely make an appearance on a reality show such as “The Jersey Shore” than turn to racing. But Hollaman said he is not surprised by Rose’s determination.
“He was always pushing himself hard and doing things the right way,” he said.
After graduating in 2018 with a bachelor’s in hospitality management, Rose began working for Marriott and envisioned working on one of the resorts in the tropics. But watching a race with his parents in his apartment in Ocean City that summer reminded him of that past opportunity with McLeod, and Rose contacted McLeod again.
During a test session, Rose clocked a time just a few tenths of a second slower than one posted by Matt Tifft, a professional driver. That caught McLeod’s attention, and McLeod was equally impressed by Rose’s enthusiasm.
“He came in, and I met him and his parents, and he just had a ton of passion and drive to try to figure out a path to the sport, and I respect that no matter what the experience level,” said McLeod, owner also of Live Fast Motorsports.
Aside from adapting to G-force pulls behind the steering wheel, the 130-degree heat inside the car, and understanding the car’s intricacies, Rose said one of his biggest opponents is a lack of experience. He noted that he has had some strong performances this season, but fell short of top-five showings.
“We’ve had learning curves,” he said. “We kind of went into this season talking to our race owner saying that this was a learning year and that the results we get would be a positive, but we need to come in and learn from those mistakes that we make, understanding that I don’t have a lot of seat time so that next year, we can go into attack mode.”
Rose, who is partnered with the West Virginia Department of Tourism, is not shy about expressing his confidence in reaching the NASCAR Cup Series and eventually winning the championship.
“I say that, and a lot of people will probably laugh and think that I’m crazy for saying that,” he said. “But if you’re not in this sport trying to be the best and beating the best, then you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons.”
McLeod said he would never discourage Rose from his objective. With racing, he said, you can “push longer and work harder” than other professional sports.
A diehard fan of both the Orioles and Washington Commanders, Rose said he misses being on the baseball field, but not the physical pain he put his right arm through.
“Racing is the real love for me,” he said. “I loved baseball, and I still love baseball, but it just wasn’t in the cards for me to make a profession out of [it]. Racing gives me that opportunity, and it gives me something where I wake up every day and am excited to go to the race shop and am ready to get to the racetrack every week.”