Mike Neff · Wednesday June 13, 2012
Brandon McReynolds is the son of former Cup crew chief and broadcaster Larry McReynolds. While that might seem to be a positive relationship, it can be a negative as well. It is often misconstrued that the younger McReynolds has unlimited resources to go racing just because his father is so entrenched in racing. Nothing could be further from the truth and the constant battle to try and secure sponsorship has kept the talented young driver from showcasing his talents on a national stage more than a few times. The Frontstretch’s Mike Neff had a discussion with Brandon about growing up in the sport, racing go-karts with friends and what he’d rather drive.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch.com: You started racing at 8 years old. Was your dad done with his crew chief duties or was he still working for Cup teams at that point in time?
Brandon McReynolds: He was still working on cars. I think he was crew chiefing for Dale and then obviously switched over to Skinner. About the time I moved on, I was already moved on to Allison Legacy cars when he took over the Fox deal.
Neff: Was it hard getting to the track with him when he was committed to the NASCAR stuff? Did anyone else help you out?
McReynolds: That’s a good question. A guy named Sean Treadway, he used to work for Jake Crum, everyone knows Jake the Snake, Sean came over and started working for us when I was running Bandoleros. He basically took me to the race track, week in and week out, and Dad would try and get there as much as he could. Obviously it was easier for him to get out to the Tuesday night races at the Summer Shootout. When I moved up the ladder to the Legacy cars and the Late Models, Sean really looked over everything. And then in ’09 we had a switch of crew chiefs with Nick Hutchens. So Dad always provided me with that one full-time guy to babysit me and make sure I wasn’t getting in trouble and make sure we ran good.
Neff: With your dad being in the NASCAR side of things, and Hutchens for that matter, did any of the NASCAR innovation leak down into your Bandolero and Legacy racing?
McReynolds: At the end of the day, when you’re growing up racing, whether it is go-karts, Bandoleros, Legacy car or Late Model, at the end of the day it is all about basics. Make sure all four wheels are straight, the motor works, the brakes work, clutch works, gas pedal doesn’t hang, it is all of those little things that allowed us to focus on our setups a little more because we already had the basics down. My dad’s guidance always taught me that safety is a big part of this sport. Make sure all of your stuff is safe and then after that we can focus on trying to engineer things. For the most part, I didn’t have as many resources as people think. I can remember being 8 years-old, Dad got me the Bandolero and, up until I was 13 or 14, we just worked out of our garage. It was just me and Dad. Sean Treadway, like I mentioned, did come over and help us out a lot. I think I took my Late Model to the pull down rig one time. I know of guys who take theirs to the pull-down rig all of the time and there are (K&N Pro Series) East teams who take their cars to the pull-down rig all of the time. There really hasn’t been any huge advantage to Dad being a former crew chief in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. The biggest thing has just been having the relationships with people. That is where it has really paid off, just being able to go into the garage area and bounce ideas off of Bootie Barker or have Dad go ask Chad Knaus a question. That is where it has really paid off.
Neff: You grew up around racing. We’ve seen the pictures of you in Victory Lane in 1992 with your dad holding you. You’re buddies with Corey LaJoie. Are there any other guys around your age now that you grew up with running around at the track?
McReynolds: I’ve been working over here with Jeff Burton, building a race car with his guys for his son, Harrison Burton, who is an up-and-coming driver. It has been really cool because Jeb Burton, Ward’s son, is Jeff’s nephew. We actually tested yesterday up at Ace Speedway with Harrison and got to spend a lot of time with Jeb. We got to reminisce about old times with me and Jeb and Kyle Grissom and LaJoie and Coleman Pressley and we were talking about testing an ARCA car up at Michigan a few weeks ago. I remember shooting water balloons out at the fans with a slingshot that Ward had bought me and Jeb and getting in trouble with the security guards. That was when we were way young. We try and stay out of trouble now. It is cool to see that same strand of guys coming up through the sport. As aggravating as the sport can be, as far as making it, whether it is talent or trying to find that sponsorship or trying to find money. It is just neat to see all of your buddies having the same interest as you and I think that is why we all have such a tight bond.
Neff: On the racing side of things, you’ve run a Late Model, not sure if you’ve run a Super Late Model. Do you think running the Late Model better prepares you to step up to ARCA, Nationwide and Cup than a Super does because they’re a perimeter car vs. a straight rail car.
McReynolds: That is a really good question, I get asked that quite a bit. I don’t think there is one right way to groom a kid coming up through the sport. Obviously, if you have unlimited funding, you can go out get a straight rail car and haul the mail and learn how to drive the crap out of your race car. At the same time it is really good to go run a series like UARA, which is what I grew up racing and learn finesse and how to take care of your stuff, because if you don’t you’ll burn the right front off because they won’t turn in a 40 acre field as it is. The best way to answer that question is I wouldn’t change anything I did growing up racing. I think Dad did a really nice job, he might have moved me a little too slow, I ran Bandoleros until I was 15 years old and I’m only 21. I haven’t really been out in big cars for that long. At the same time, I don’t take any of that back. Dad did a nice job of understanding those UARA Late Model cars don’t turn very good and we all know a stock car is a stock car and a Truck or a Nationwide or a Cup car isn’t going to turn very good either. Over here at Jeff’s he’s really passionate about building some straight rail cars and Freddie Query has been working on some of that for us. I think it is good to teach a kid how to understand taking care of the rear tires instead of the front tires and I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Neff: Okay, getting away from big time racing a little bit. You and Corey LaJoie and a couple of the other guys have had this Field Fillers thing going for a while. Where did it start? Was it at the Pit up in Mooresville?
McReynolds: No, the main group, long story short, was me, Joey Logano, Coleman Pressley, Corey LaJoie and Kyle Grissom. We entered a 12 hour go-kart race down at Victory Lane Karting in North Charlotte. We had to come up with a name. We asked what the names were and the guy that worked there told us we were the last group to enter so we had some names to choose from or we could come up with our own. Coleman Pressley had the great idea, “since we were the last ones I guess we’re the Field Fillers.” We were like, “Why don’t we use that for our name?” It kind of started from there. You obviously know the story of Randy LaJoie building the go-kart track behind the Joie of Seating, the seat shop over there in Concord. We were just sitting around one day, had nothing going on, I was actually working for Randy and Corey was welding seats and I was helping build seats and I said “Let’s pull some of those karts out of the shed.” It started out with just five of us buddies and now we get 200-250 people just to show up and watch. It has been a really cool journey. It is cool to see kids that will never have the opportunity because of not having money or knowing people, who are really good race car drivers and have run go-karts for a long time, just come out and have a lot of fun.
Neff: I spoke with Corey on a radio show the other day and he said you guys are doing some charity work with a church through the Field Fillers but said you might be expanding to a tie in with a charity. Have you guys made any progress on that?
McReynolds: Myself and Corey and Coleman and all of us out there are really in touch with our faith and we always like to give back. This racing thing, it is so easy to take advantage of all of the benefits of being a race car driver. Obviously none of us are making big paychecks right now but we do have an opportunity, through the Fairgrounds race track, to raise some money and help people out. I’m really passionate about trying to help out my buddy Lonnie Klaus. He’s actually down in Mexico running an orphanage with his whole entire family. He dropped everything he was doing with Motor Racing Outreach, who travels around to all of the Cup series events, and moved down there to Mexico and he’s been helping out a lot down there. You’ve got that, you’ve got Victory Junction Gang Camp, you’ve got our church University City Fellowship that me and Corey go to. There are a lot of different avenues that we’re trying to go through to try and help people out and give back to the community. I’m really excited because Corey has been kind of heading that up and it is really neat to see his passion for that. Hopefully we can get things worked out and get rolling on that because we have a race coming up on July 4th so it will be pretty neat.
Neff: Racers have a tendency to brag a little. LaJoie won at Bowman-Gray, Logano won at Pocono. How much smack talk is going on between the three of you between you at Talladega, LaJoie at Bowman-Gray and Logano at Pocono?
McReynolds: It is funny you ask that. Growing up, as younger kids, we were always really competitive. Now all of us realize how hard it is to make it in this sport, especially me and Corey. Corey and I have become a lot closer over the years. It is just really neat to see him have success. He’s worked really hard. His situation is a little bit different than mine. His dad and his grandfather have helped him out a lot and he’s been able to work on his own race cars. My dad sold all of my stuff, sold all of my Late Models this year. I don’t have the opportunity, I guess you could say, to go out and race week-in and week-out and run my own race cars, which is why I’ve been working over here at Jeff Burton’s. We’re really happy for each other, to answer your question. It is just two different situations so there’s no need for getting jealous or anything like that. It is really cool to see what Corey and Joey have done and I think they’re really happy for me too running for Turner Motorsports and having the opportunities and going down and winning Talladega. It’s been a good year for us so far I just hope we can keep it rolling.
Neff: The Fillers are definitely having a good year. Speaking of your racing, I’ve heard rumblings that there might be a Truck race in your future with Turner after winning at Talladega.
McReynolds: There’s been a lot of talk about different things we can do over at Turner Motorsports. Obviously funding comes first. Steve Turner, I could sit here and talk to you all day about what a stand up guy he is and how thankful I am for him giving me the opportunity. There are hardly any owners out there that go and hand pick one kid, out of the country, and say I believe in this kid and it is not about money and it is not about politics it’s not about who he is. I think he’s a good race car driver and I’m going to give him an opportunity. It was cool to see all of that pay off at Talladega. To answer your question we’ve talked over the last couple of weeks. I think the goal is to maybe try and run a couple more ARCA races or maybe hop in a Truck before the end of the season. I wish I could say when and where. Obviously they are working day-in and day-out over at Turner Motorsports trying to find funding. They’re really working hard for James Buescher, he’s been doing a really good job. It is really up in the air right now but I feel confident that I’ll be part of the company for a long time. That makes me feel good because I don’t want to race anywhere else. Obviously I’m looking for that next opportunity and I hope I land that over at Turner Motorsports.
Neff: Beyond the race track, what do you do for fun?
McReynolds: I work on race cars, that’s really about it. Working over here for Jeff, I really don’t consider it a job. I am really passionate about working on cars and that is really an opportunity for me to learn from a guy like Jeff Burton. He’s gotten the job done off and on the race track. He’s a really good mentor to bounce ideas off of. At the same time it is really cool to see him bringing his son, who is 11 years old, going to Late Models up through the series. The kid is going to be really good. I have a lot of fun over here working. In the meantime, when I’m not over here at the race shop, I’m always either going over to LaJoie’s and working out and hanging out with all of my buddies and we’re going and racing go-karts or blowing up fireworks or doing something crazy. That is really about it. All of our lives center around racing so, whenever I have a little off time I’m going to Cup races, trying to learn as much as I can, so when I do get that opportunity I will take full advantage of it.
Neff: You do do a little hunting don’t you?
McReynolds: Every once in a while. When hunting season comes around I try and go visit my buddies Trey and Jimmy Fowler. They’ve actually been bankers for my dad for many years. I try to go down to South Carolina and see those guys and have a lot of fun going down there. I wish I could go down there more. I am proud to say I killed my first buck last season. It was an eight-pointer which, I know there are a lot of people out there who think that isn’t anything, but it was a really cool experience. There is no other rush like it.
Neff: I saw the pictures of it, I did not realize it was your first one ever. Congratulations.
McReynolds: It is a shame I can’t get down there to go hunting more often. I really enjoy it. When I grew up and first started going hunting I hunted with Donnie Allison’s grandson Justin. I’ve had a lot of fun and learned a lot about it. I’ve become a pretty passionate hunter and we’ve had a lot of fun with it.
Neff: If you could race at just one track, what one track would that be.
McReynolds: That is a really good question, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that. I’d have to say, if I got to choose anywhere, I’d really like to go to a really worn out race track. Somewhere like Rockingham or Atlanta. I don’t know that I could pinpoint just one. Obviously I’ve raced Rockingham so I guess it would be somewhere like Atlanta or Texas. Somewhere you can move around and obviously you aren’t stuck with what you’ve got. You can take care of your tires but at the same time you can search around. That is kind of my driving style. I like places where you can run the top, bottom or middle, wherever you need to go.
Neff: Another theoretical question for you. If you had the chance to run in a winning Truck or a 30th place Cup ride, which would you rather do?
McReynolds: A winning Truck, hands down. I know that would be a lot of guys answer to that question. I think a lot of guys would take that Cup opportunity but, driving for Steve Turner over at Turner Motorsports, he is really big on quality vs. quantity. He’s a racer just like me and my dad, so that works out really well. I think a lot of kids get ahead of themselves and they want to take that next step to Nationwide or Truck or Cup when they haven’t won at the level that they’re at. Taking baby steps is good. To be honest with you, if I had a full-time Truck ride, if that was all I had for the rest of my life, I’d be completely happy. I think Truck and Nationwide racing is great. Obviously the goal is to go win that Cup Championship and win Cup races, but I’m just a racer. I like running up front and if that is as far as I go, you won’t hear any complaints out of me.
Neff: You said your dad sold your Late Model stuff, is there any chance you’re going to get to run at Martinsville this year?
McReynolds: I’d like to hope so. Matt McCall has been helping out over here on these Late Models and me and him have talked back and forth quite a bit. I’d like to get an opportunity to go run for someone else up at Martinsville. I’ve always run really well up there. The place kind of suits my driving style. We’ve had some really good runs up there but we’ve had a lot of bad luck there. Two years ago we had a throttle stick running third. I’ve enjoyed it. I ran second to Jake Crum. That was a bonehead move on my part, I should have moved him. It is just one of those deals. I’d like to get that grandfather clock. I tell a lot of people, running second up there you can hear that thing ticking in your sleep. We’ll see what happens. You may see me pop up running a couple of other races here and there.
Neff: You do like some other sports. What is your favorite sports team?
McReynolds: Being from Carolina I’m a huge Carolina Panthers fan. At the same time college football, we’re huge Alabama fans in the McReynolds household obviously with my dad being from Birmingham. We live, sleep, breathe and die by Alabama football. It was really cool, I heard AJ McCarron was at the Mobile race. He’s the quarterback for Alabama. I was really hoping to run that ARCA race. Hoping to go down there to win but also it would have been really cool to sit around and chat with him because they have a really good work ethic and I think it is really cool what they’re doing down there.
Neff: Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are your favorite drivers. Have you ever had a chance to hang out with them?
McReynolds: Yeah, obviously I think that was one of the things, growing up my Bandoleros were sponsored by Lowe’s and Kobalt Tools through Dad. So I obviously have respect for both of those guys. Nowadays I don’t really have a favorite. I just like seeing a good race. I think it would be really cool to see Dale Jr. go to Victory Lane, I think he’s knocking on the door of doing that. I have been around Jimmie a little bit, just from racing with his little brother Jarit Johnson. I’ve been around Dale Jr. at a much younger age, just from being around Dale Sr. Those are both guys that have done a lot in the sport and I just like seeing good racing. My boss, Jeff Burton, always like to see him run good. Those guys are really cool to hang around for sure.
Neff: Knowing you’ve grown up around the sport, and just from talking with you, you obviously have a really good gift with the spoken word. Did growing up around drivers and seeing their interaction with the media help you with your media interactions?
McReynolds: Yes, I’ve always been a huge fan of going back and watching races. At a young age I’d go back and watch what guys were doing on their in-car camera stuff, I’d watch how the races played out, I’d watch how they gave interviews. Obviously being around Dad has been really great with the media because that’s what he does for a living. One thing my dad has always told me, when you get out of the race car, whether you’re angry or happy or whatever your emotions are, you owe it to your fans, whether it is five people or five million, you owe it to your fans to give a good interview, tell them what you’re thinking, show a little emotion and tell them what you are thinking because that is what they want to see. It is not an act that is just who I am. I don’t mind talking. It just one of those things, I’ve learned from a lot of good people who have always given good interviews like my dad, Darrell Waltrip, Richard Petty. A lot of people really looked up to Richard Petty and he was one of those guys who always tried to give back to the fans and I really admired that so I try and model myself after those people.
Neff: You like racing SIM cars. They had a SIM Dream race last week and had like 280 guys entered and had 1,000 people watching. I respect that it is a game but some guys get wrapped up into it like they’re racing real cars. Do you look at it as it is a tool to help your racing or do you get caught up into thinking it is real racing?
McReynolds: I don’t think it is one of those deals where I think if I can run a race on a SIM and win a race at Michigan that I think I can go run a ARCA race at Michigan and win. I think that, when you’re getting ready to run a race on a certain track, especially on road courses or a place like Pocono where you have reference points like the 3,2,1 signs. I think that if you can sit down, like I’ve sat down with Joey Logano before I was going to Pocono and asked what points you were using for lifting. Obviously it is different in a real life, but it is just getting comfortable with the visual side of things. I know there are a lot of guys who put a lot of time and effort into it and I think it is great that they have a passion for something. At the same time I don’t buy into, “I ran really well at New Hampshire on a SIM, I’m going to go run a race at New Hampshire in real life.” I don’t get into it that much. I spend so much time working I don’t have as much time to spend playing on the SIM as I’d like to. I don’t think it is a bad too either.
Neff: We just had the Prelude to the Dream. Have you ever run on dirt and would you like to run on dirt?
McReynolds: I’d love to run on dirt. Funny story, I don’t even know why but I was driving down the road and thinking that, if I ever make it as a Cup driver I’d love to do some dirt. I think it is really cool what Clint Bowyer has done with his team and Mike Dillon has team Dillon Racing where Austin and Ty and Ryan Gifford go run those Late Models on dirt every once in a while. I ran a mini-sprint on dirt one time when I was younger. I think it is really neat. I think it is a great training tool for guys who’re coming up as far as car control and knowing what you’re looking for and realizing how sideways you can be and at the same time taking care of your equipment. That race is always really cool to watch. I think it is great what Tony Stewart does up there in Eldora. I don’t know, I’d really like to one day be involved with dirt racing or at least get some dirt experience down the road.
McReynolds has grown up with racing around him since he was a baby and is still living the dream to this day. The path hasn’t been easy but he’s realized some success and also has himself grounded off of the track. His abilities and personality are what many race fans are looking for in their drivers. Hopefully he’ll be able to turn that total package into a full-time national touring ride some time in the near future.
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