Garrett Smithley was enjoying a meal at a local Mexican restaurant last year in Mooresville, North Carolina, when Justin Allgaier walked up.

The two are competitors in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, although Smithley doesn’t have many starts. But he was driving for B.J. McLeod last year, and McLeod’s organization uses previously-run JR Motorsports cars – the team Allgaier is a full-time driver for.

“He knew that information,” Smithley said of the cars. “So, he was asking me about the chassis number and was like, ‘Oh, th at was a good car!’ He sat there and talked to me for about 10 minutes, encouraging and pumping me up. He’s just always been a super-nice guy.”

It’s hard to find someone from the garage who doesn’t have a nice thing to say about Allgaier. The 37-year-old is not only a NASCAR veteran, but one who has made a career for himself in the Xfinity Series through two different stints. Allgaier ran full-time in the series from 2009 through 2013 before returning in 2016 after a brief, tough tenure in the Cup Series. He hasn’t left since.

Wayne Auton, the NASCAR Xfinity Series managing director, jokingly calls Allgaier the “senior citizen” of the garage. Allgaier, as Smithley, Auton, and others will attest, he’s become the series leader.

“The way he handles drivers is just awesome,” said Auton. “He’ll come and tell me, ‘I’m going to talk to this driver,’ and he does it in such a professional way.”

For four years, Noah Gragson had access to Allgaier as a teammate at JR Motorsports. Whether it was Allgaier lending time to himself or Sam Meyer, Gragson was continually impressed by Allgaier’s commitment to teaching.

‘When you’re a young guy, you don’t know the questions you need to be asking, especially coming into the Xfinity Series,” said Gragson. “You just don’t know what the right feel is for the car.

“I really appreciate Justin’s work ethic and his friendship and his teammate bond. He’s really opened-minded and willing to go the extra mile to help anybody out.”

Allgaier has embraced the role of leader in the garage. But it comes with a balance.

“I’m still competing against drivers so you don’t want to be out of bounds,” said Allgaier. “Every driver makes mistakes, it’s just a matter of scale and how you make them. But sometimes younger drivers don’t get the credit for making the good decisions they make, so we’ve talked a lot about that.”

Not all mistakes are malicious, Allgaier explained. And sometimes, a driver might not understand why that mistake happened the way it did.

NASCAR officials, like Auton, are well aware the Xfinity Series is full of younger drivers looking to make a name for themselves. Those same drivers, however, hope to be on the fast track to the Cup Series. Allgaier has nothing but respect for Auton’s role or the other officials who mentor drivers, but Allgaier, who loves being a series regular, wanted to play a part.

“I basically told (Auton), I love this series, and I love where I’m at, so how do I help? How do I help you?” Allgaier said. “How do I help the series get better? That’s been important to me. It’s hard when you still make mistakes. That’s where it becomes difficult is when I’m still actively making mistakes.”

There is a lot of turnover in the Xfinity Series from year to year, be it drivers changing teams or leaving the series altogether. Even still, Allgaier doesn’t hesitate to pass on any lessons because those drivers need to understand the information and apply it the best way possible.

“I feel like I had a lot of people invested in me when I was younger and first getting into this sport, and it was my goal to help everybody,” Allgaier said.

Harrison Burton ran in the Xfinity Series from 2019 through 2021. It didn’t matter that Burton was on a different team because he and Allgaier talked “quite a bit” during those years.

“I don’t know if he ever did what you imagined Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. would do putting the hand on your shoulder and saying, ‘Hey man, what are you doing gout there?’” said Burton with a laugh. “What was cool about him, even in my first year, I felt like he respected me as a driver and wanted to get to me.”

During his time in the Xfinity Series from 2018 through 2020, Chase Briscoe easily bonded with Allgaier. According to Briscoe, they talked “all the time,” and Allgaier was always there with a helping and leading hand.

“He was always the first guy to come over,” said Briscoe. “I remember my third or fourth race at Fontana, he came to the car right after practice and was like, ‘Hey, you need to do this, this, and this.’ So, he’s always been really good to me.”

Allgaier has made over 400 starts in the Xfinity Series with 20 career wins. He’s never finished worse than seventh in the championship standings. But his character will always stand above his accomplishments.

Smithley isn’t the only driver that Allgaier has come across while out and about. The coolest conversation Allgaier said he had, was with Ryan Preece at a Panera Bread.

“He was eating lunch when I walked in, and I sat down with him, and we ended up talking for about two hours about what the future looked like for him,” said Allgaier. “He was debating about moving back home and quitting the sport completely. We sat and just talked. Now, he’s got a great car in the Cup Series. Dream ride. I’m so pumped because my conversation with him did not affect the outcome of what he was going to do, but it was a great conversation.

“I think a lot of times in life, we don’t need a specific direction to go, we just need the high points. Then you kind of formulate your own decision on what the right answer is. I think for all of us, if you can take one piece of positive out a conversation, it’s totally worth it.

“Everything we do in life is about people and communication. So, for me, I just invest back into people, and the rest will sort itself out.”