Bryan Davis Keith · Wednesday June 1, 2011
Journeyman Kevin Lepage has seen just about everything the Nationwide Series can throw at a racecar driver. The two-time winner has seen the glory days of the ’90s, when the word Busch on the series name meant business was booming and he’s been on the ugly side of those words no one wants to hear: start-and-park. So where does the 49-year-old veteran fit now on the food chain? Frontstretch caught up with the new driver of the No. 52 Means Racing Chevrolet at Charlotte to ask him how competitive his team can be, how the current state of the sport can be improved and so much more in this special Beyond The Cockpit.
Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch.com: You’ve had to race your way into the field almost weekly for the past few seasons now. Is go-or-go home still a nervewracking experience?
Kevin Lepage: It doesn’t bother me. I mean, it’s a job. I wish I was in a position where I didn’t have to do it, but you know, whether it was with Team Rensi earlier this year or Jimmy Means this week or Derrike Cope Racing a few seasons ago, it’s a job. We have to race our way in. It’s gratifying for me, especially a day like today at Charlotte. We had a 30th-place start with only two laps on the track. It just shows the effort that I put in, that the team puts in, and we work together. I’ve done this with Jimmy before, we work on the car to my feel, the team believes in me and they trust me. They make the car better, and it shows. Being a part of the go-or-go-home group, it’s part of it. That’s all it is.
Keith: Means Racing has been one of those teams that has stubbornly survived through everything, including the wreck at Daytona to start the year. With the resources that you’re working with, how hard has it been both adjusting to and developing this new race car?
Lepage: Well, I was part of the Cup Series when their new car came in, so I understand the car. I spent over 200 races on the Cup side with a longer wheelbase. I understand what the car wants. Where Jimmy and his group struggles is that this is the only car they’ve got. They’ve got another brand new one at the shop, but they don’t have the means to put it together. That’s one thing the [Nationwide] Series is struggling with right now, helping the small teams get a sponsor. One thing Tim [Viens] and RaceDaySponsor.com have been able to do is get a little bit of money to race with, but it’s a little bit of money with the most expensive car in years. It doesn’t go far. I don’t know who, how, why, but someone needs to start helping the teams from here on back to support the series. If Jimmy hurts a race car, I mean…we hurt this car at Dover a couple weeks ago and it took us two weeks to get it ready. It’s not 100% here bodywise. If we had some more money, he could finish that other car, hire some more people, and not have to worry about rushing to fix this car.
Keith: Talking about RaceDaySponsor, they’re something new that has just come onto the scene. They’re coming up with some money, albeit not enough to put you in the top 10 every weekend. But you’re at the track and making laps. Talk about your experiences with the site and trying to market yourself these days.
Lepage: Tim called me last year and wanted to come up with a program to try to help me. When I came down here in 1994, it was about talent. Now, it’s about money. If I had a million dollars right now, cash in my pocket, I could find any ride I want, even probably a top 15 ride. That’s how desperate car owners are right now. So when Tim came to me last year and asked me what I thought some of these teams needed, a team like Jimmy Means, if he had $10,000, $15,000 a weekend, it’d be like $100,000 to a Cup team. It’d be huge money. Tim’s struggling to get that because RaceDaySponsor’s a small company, you’ve still got to get out there and sell it, and a lot of companies don’t like one-off deals. The guys we get supporting us are Kevin Lepage fans that just want to help and see me race every week. They’ll go out and write a check from their paycheck for $500, $1,000 up to $5,000. That’s the type of business it is, and that kind of money helps a team like Jimmy’s buy a few sets of tires or put windshield tearoffs on the car. That costs money. It’s one of those things that’s satisfying to me as a driver, having a windshield I can see through instead of something that’s terrible. It costs him some money, but at the end of the weekend Jimmy can walk away smiling because he sees his car running mid-pack, which for whatever reason I’ve been able to do with every team I’ve ever been at. I’ve been able to take it up a level or two, and it makes him feel good to see that.
Keith: You ran 21st at Darlington, a fantastic finish. Where has that level-up come with this team?
Lepage: Well, this particular car, what it did for the No. 52 team, it allowed it to be competitive. Even though our motors are down on power, the car itself is equal to everyone out there. Before, guys would have a lot of offset in their bodies and stuff. Jimmy didn’t have that; he’d buy a car from somebody that was five years old and try to compete. This car has leveled the playing field for a good portion of the field. On the track, at Darlington, there’s five, 10 guys that drive by you all the time. But they’re driving by the field. The next 10 cars, they’re catching me half the time. The next 10, I’m racing them. Some of the guys at the front crash or blow up, they have a problem, I keep moving forward. This car has allowed me to stay competitive even though our motors are down. One of the things I think helped this team is my ability to bring knowledge of the race tracks, of the feel. I’ve been able to apply that to this race team, and I think that’s why you’ve seen the runs you have.
Keith: With the resources at your disposal, how much more progress can you expect to realistically make with this team?
Lepage: This team will keep growing. What it needs to do is every weekend we get a little bit of money, like this weekend since we’re running for points we’ll get some bonus money, that’s $6500 that comes in. That $6500 to Jimmy is like $45,000 to someone else. That’s money he can put towards the other car, to get it completed sooner. Then we don’t have to worry about going to the track with one horse, we’ve got one on the trailer if something happens. Every time we can get extra money, be it from bonuses or sponsors, whatever we got, this race team will be increasing performance. Jimmy is a racer, he’s not the type of guy who will take $6500 and come next week go buy a boat or go on a motorcycle ride or whatever. He’s going to put every damn penny into his race team. And most race teams in this garage from 20th on back are that way. They’re racers. And that’s one thing I think NASCAR has lost over the years. They’ve forgotten about the racers. They’re looking at the entertainment of it. Well, the racers are what’s going to keep the series alive. The entertainment, you only watch so much, and then you’re going to go someplace else. You look at the grandstands on a week-by-week basis and you see that. The fans aren’t coming anymore. Why? Because there’s no more racing. That’s something that needs to be addressed. I think they’re looking at it, we’ve talked to them, they’ve been talking to us a bit. But that’s something that has to be adjusted moving forward.
Keith: You’re working with a new media sponsor these days. Being an old-school driver, how have you had to adjust marketing yourself in the garage?
Lepage: I think that my ability, what I do behind the wheel of a racecar, speaks for me. It’s like my landscaping business, I don’t advertise. I let my work do my advertising. Same thing when I’m in a racecar. If I take a weekend off or I don’t have a ride anymore, somebody calls me because they know what I can do.
Keith: Being involved with RaceDaySponsor, have you gotten into social media at all?
Lepage: I pretty much leave that to Tim and his guys. Pretty much they go out there and beat the bushes looking for money so we can keep racing. I went to Rensi for a little while, they closed the doors because they didn’t have the money…they needed a little more money than Jimmy Means needed to race. Editor’s note: Team Rensi has not permanently shut down, but have scaled back as they continue their search for sponsorship. And they were not going to be a start-and-park team. We did that at the beginning of the year, found out it’s not what their cup of tea is, and Jimmy Means ended up needing a driver that could take his team to the next level towards getting locked into the points.
Keith: Here at Means, with the limitations you have on cars, do you have to approach racing differently?
Lepage: I’m racing the race track. I’m not racing anybody out there.
Keith: That answers that question. Looking across the garage with this new car limiting so many teams’ stables, do you see that mentality as hurting on-track product in the Nationwide Series?
Lepage: I mean, guys from 15th on back can’t go out and race. There’s not enough of them. And when you wreck them, I’m saying rub the fender off or something, there’s not enough people, resources or time to put it back together for the next week. The old car, you could throw a fender on it and bring it back. This one, there’s so many templates, there’s so many things going on, if you’re a sheet of paper off they’ll throw you out of the inspection line and tell you go fix it. I understand the guidelines, don’t get me wrong. But this new racecar is very difficult for the race teams to develop from scratch.
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