The Frontstretch: Beyond the Cockpit: How To Love Life As A Truck Series Owner by Bryan Davis Keith -- Wednesday May 25, 2011

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Beyond the Cockpit: How To Love Life As A Truck Series Owner

Bryan Davis Keith · Wednesday May 25, 2011

 

While new Truck Series owner Joe Dinette made waves by turning his lottery winnings into his own race team, the owner of the No. 23 Truck isn’t the only owner in the series that’s just having fun being an owner at the top level of stock car racing. Running a part-time schedule, Mark Beaver and MAKE Motorsports are making the jump from dirt racing to big-time NASCAR, enjoying it every step of the way. Frontstretch caught up with the co-owner of the No. 50 team at Charlotte.

Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch.com: The Truck Series has a lot of healthy fields so far this year, drawing lots of entries.

Mark Beaver: Brutal, it’s just been brutal.

Keith: Why the Truck Series? Why is this suddenly the place to be?

Beaver: Well, the big reason is the Truck Series versus Nationwide and Sprint Cup, it’s growing. As far as the demographics go, you look at the Truck Series…it’s not a steep climb, it’s a nice, steady climb of people getting into Truck racing. It’s probably the best racing out there. The reason we got into the Truck Series, we came from dirt late models, and it was a natural progression. We did well there, we set the track record at Charlotte across the way, we were winning a third of the races we were doing in the dirt deal, so we said it’s time to step up. The guys in the Truck Series, Wayne Auton, all the people in NASCAR, from the day we got here, they’ve been nothing but good to us. Now don’t get me wrong, they tell us when we mess up, but they’ve really looked after us. Everyone talks about NASCAR’s done this, NASCAR’s done that. We haven’t experienced that here. Our sponsor, Liberty Tire Recycling, they make a rubberized mulch that’s sold in Wal-Mart and other big stores, they came on with us last year and we couldn’t ask for a better sponsor. They don’t shell out a ton of money for us to waste, but they give us enough to come out to the race track and do what we can do. It’s been a fun ride.

Keith: Moving from dirt to asphalt is a big transition in itself. But moving up here, you’re playing with the big boys now. From an ownership perspective, what has the move brought in terms of challenges?

Beaver: I never had a clue. Never. From my side of it, it’s 60% business and 40% racing, because if you don’t take care of the business side of it you’re going to lose it. For the dirt car, it was let’s go run this one and it’ll cost you $1000, $1500 a race. Not here.

Keith: That won’t even buy you 4 tires here.

Beaver: Nope. The thing is, moving up has made us…as a dirt team, all our guys wore the same type of shirt, same type of uniform, we ran it as a business, but it was always a losing proposition. This deal here, if you watch your Ps and Qs, don’t do stupid things with sponsorship money, it’s still to a point where a midsize company can afford it. Liberty is a large company, they’re North America’s largest tire company, but a midsize company can still do this.

I guess our biggest challenge going from dirt to asphalt was people. Getting the right people in place. Not only are you looking for a crew chief, you’re looking for a car chief, you’re looking for good people in the shop. Then you’ve got to look at the back side of it. You need a good shock specialist. The dirt deal, we ran the same four shocks and they were infinitely adjustable. These things are fixed, you’ve got to have a shock specialist to work on it. The engineering side of it…the dirt side, we never heard of a pull-down rig. A pull-down rig? That’s what we do when we pull it down to get it on the trailer.

If I could do it all over again, I’d do it over. The only thing I’d change, I might have approached the way I hired people differently. There’s a ton of people out there, and out of that ton there’s probably 50 really good truck people. There’s a lot of Cup guys looking for jobs, there’s a lot of Nationwide guys looking for jobs. Trucks are a different animal. They have a ton of downforce, they use a lot of sideforce. You can’t set one up like a Nationwide car, and you’ve got to look at that. With the dirt deal, if we went out and had a bad night, no big deal. We messed up a quarterpanel, it was no big deal, cost us $100 to fix it. Crush a quarterpanel on one of these things, it costs $3000-$4000. That’s a big difference.

Keith: You’re fortunate enough to have a sponsor right now, so this isn’t quite the losing venture it’d be if you were running with blank quarterpanels. That said, the economy is really bad right now. How did you manage to find sponsorship, and what would you say to teams out there looking for it?

Beaver: A lot of people look at it and they go, I want you to sponsor my truck and you’ll get advertising on it. That’s not really the way we approached this deal. This deal with Pinnacle and Liberty isn’t so much what’s on the truck as what’s going on behind the scenes. The business-to-business opportunities that being in NASCAR can bring to Liberty tires. The associations with tire companies, with the manufacturers…the biggest thing that I see, and I’ve made the same mistake, it’s going to people and said if you’re on my truck, you’ll be on TV. People say that’s great, that’s wonderful, if you’ve got a startup business and you need to advertise right then. The way we approached this, its multi-faceted with hospitality. We’ve got 60 people here with Liberty for this race, and we’re taking care of them hospitality wise.

Then in the business-to-business relationships, we’ll do trade shows with them, tell the story of how their mulch is partly made with our race tires. Liberty recycles all the Cup, NNS and Truck tires. But for the guys that don’t have anything on their quarterpanels, all I would say is don’t race if you don’t have at least enough money to cover what it costs, because it’s going to hurt you. We don’t go out and buy all new stuff all the time. There’s enough of these Cup teams out here for sale, you can buy anything from them. I remember I bought 40 something wheels from one of these Cup teams for 10 cents on the dollar, and they’d only run six races. That’s how to survive.

Keith: Your mentality is when we have money, we’re going to race. What challenges do a part-time schedule pose to you as you try to build a team?

Beaver: It’s tough. We personally try to go to the race track even if the team’s not there to keep up with what’s going on. As far as our race team, even when we’re not racing the guys are at the shop working. We’ve only got 2 guys that work in the shop full-time, so they’re working all the time. Our Charlotte truck, we haven’t run it since Darlington. We’ve had two months to get the truck ready. We should be pretty good when we get here. The biggest challenge is not keeping up with technology. That’s the single biggest challenge we face. It changes every week. You wouldn’t think so, but it changes every week. It’s unreal. At Darlington, you come back and go ‘the entire front end package has changed.’ For teams like us, we only get on a pull-down rig two or three times a year. These guys are on it every week. You better be friends with somebody here. Otherwise, you’re screwed.

Keith: You’ve got a driver in TJ Bell that’s raced just about everything. He’s floated around, part-time rides left and right. You specifically have said he is your driver. What challenges have you faced bringing him up to speed and what does he bring to your race team?

Beaver: He’s brought a level of stability to our team. At the track he’s our driver, a few weeks ago at the lake we were there cooking out. He’s our buddy. I called up Wayne Auton before the Charlotte race, told him we needed a driver. He said let me make a phone call. He said you ever heard of TJ Bell? I said I didn’t think so. But he called TJ, told him to give these guys a call. We talked for a while, I talked to Tracy, I said let’s look this guy up, we don’t know anything about him. I called him back after we looked him up. We needed someone that could drive and and we said what the hell, if Wayne’s going to recommend him we’ll go with it. So I called him up and asked him if he wanted to drive our truck. He said, yeah I’ll drive it. I said there’s only one problem. We can’t pay you for that race. We didn’t have a sponsor, that was the one race that I ran without sponsorship. He said I don’t care. Came over, it was literally our third race, we qualified decent and 12 laps to go, we’re running 10th, 11th. TJ’s on the radio talking about the fun he’s having, then the motor expires. After that, he’s just been here. And we’re not looking for another one, and he’s not looking for another ride. He’s driving a Cup car too, and it’s so funny, because before he took that Cup ride, he came to us and said Mark this is what I’m thinking about doing. He said, what do you think? I said TJ, it’s going to get you seat time, you’d be crazy not to. He said Mark I already told them if this messes with my Truck deal I’m not going to do it. That’s the kind of guy he is. That’s what he brings to our team. You can’t get any better people. If he tells you he’s going to do something, he’ll do it. He’s not a good qualifier, but he races good.

Keith: How nerve-wracking is being a go-or-go-homer every week?

Beaver: It is, but it’s not. And I’ll tell you why. I’ve got enough confidence in our equipment, TJ and our guys that I don’t worry about qualifying. I know we can make it. If we can go to Daytona, make the Daytona race and run in the top 10 like we did, I’m not worried about it. These guys are pretty bad. This might sound kind of goofy, but if we come here and we’re worried about making the show, we really ain’t got no business being here. It’s true. If you’re worried about just making the show, you’ve got no business being here with a sponsor. If I was an independent guy fielding it out of pocket, making the show would be a huge deal. But with a sponsor doing for us what they are, and we’re showing up just to make the shows then I’m not real happy.

Keith: What’s next?

Beaver: We’ve got some things we’re maybe working on for July. Our next race with Liberty in Trucks will be August at Bristol. We’re looking at Atlanta, Chicago, Vegas, Texas and Talladega. The team done told me if we don’t run any other race we’re going to Talladega for revenge for Daytona.

Keith: What’s a good night beyond the finishing chart?

Beaver: We need to have a good top-15 finish and bring home a whole truck. I told the sponsor…they asked me what it would take to win. 2 or 3 years of experience, yall sticking behind us and a lot of money. I mean, people look at these trucks and say these trucks must be expensive. The truck is literally the cheapest part of the whole deal, the actual rolling truck. This is what’s expensive (gestures to backup engine), tires are expensive, people are expensive. A top 15 with a whole truck, we’d be tickled to death. That’d give people something to write about.

We’ve had a real good run with this deal. We’ve torn up some trucks, but Liberty has stuck by us. Last year at Darlington, we rolled in there and qualified 17th. 50 laps in, we’re running seventh or eighth, then run over a brake rotor and hammer the fender in the turn 3 wall. We’ve had some good runs. This truck tonight we call Babe, it’s chassis #2 for us, it ran at Darlington this year. This isn’t the same Truck we ran last year, we’re saving that one for Atlanta.

The name of the team is after our kids…its Mikey, Amanda, Katelin and Emily. That’s how we named the team.

Keith: It’s a family sport.

Beaver: And that’s how we’re doing it. What isn’t blood family here have been friends here for 10 years. That woman standing outside there, I went to high school with her. Her and her dad own a trucking company, and she actually talked me out of buying a tractor for this rig, saying no, we’ll haul it for you. I said they just want to come to the race. Everyone’s just kind of buddies here. That’s why we have fun coming out here and trying to beat up on the big guys a little bit.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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