Nationwide Series driver Blake Koch is in the middle of his rookie season in the No. 81 Daystar Dodge for MacDonald Motorsports. Recently, our own Phil Allaway had a chance to sit down with Koch and talk about his season, his relationship with Daystar, and other issues.
Recently, NASCAR.com’s David Caraviello wrote an article that was designed to take some time to go through the Nationwide Series entry list for Nashville and talk about a number of drivers that don’t necessarily get much airtime on television, or much space in print—the “other side,” if you will. A number of drivers for lower-midfield teams, or even start-and-park teams got mentioned, like Mark Green, Derrike Cope, Charles Lewandoski and Marc Davis.
However, one full-time driver that does not start-and-park couldn’t even garner a cursory mention in the column—Blake Koch, Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year contender and driver of the No. 81 Dodge for MacDonald Motorsports.
A quick Google search of Koch’s name brings up the typical information you might find on someone today. A Twitter page, a Facebook page, a link to Daystar Racing’s website and so on. There are a couple of articles on Christian websites where Koch had done interviews with writers and features had resulted from them. Continuing on, you find a YouTube clip from Koch’s ARCA debut at Palm Beach Motorsports Park last year for Eddie Sharp Racing, and a couple of links to Koch’s stats.
Koch is a formerly Florida-based racer (in between the time that I interviewed him for this feature and now, he has relocated to North Carolina from West Palm Beach, Florida) that progressed up the ranks via a somewhat rare method, but not completely unheard of. Admittedly, its fairly similar to how Ricky Rudd started his career off.
Koch started off his racing career at age 9 in motocross in his native Florida. He describes the motocross scene as a close knit group.
“Its a family sport. You kind of load up your trailer, motor home, or whatever you got to go that weekend. You go as a family, camp out, you’re on a tight budget. You might have to share a tent or a hotel room.”
“You learn a lot of things about life, and a lot of things that can transfer into other sports. Earning your respect, patience, determination, hard work. Prayer is a big thing as well. I did that through motocross and transferred that to life in general.”
As many of you know, Motocross is quite possibly the most physical of all forms of racing. Even the best Motocross racers have to deal with multiple injuries and are often forced to leave the sport earlier than they would like to in order to protect themselves. Koch is no different.
“When I was 17 or 18 years old, I started getting hurt a little more. I had two ACL replacements, and I have a rod in my collarbone. I’ve also had four pretty bad concussions.”
That’s just a list of the worst injuries that Koch suffered around that time. There’s also what Koch described as “minor injuries.” These included wrist injuries, arm injuries, and foot injuries or, as Koch described it, “I broke a lot of bones.” However, there was a sentinel event that eventually resulted in him leaving Motocross for good.
“One rider in particular that I knew got paralyzed on his bike. It was kind of an eye opener for me. It was like ‘Wow, this is serious, this is real. I’m blessed that these injuries are minor compared to what could happen.”
That was enough for Koch to step back from Motocross in order to protect himself from catastrophic injury. However, hi step-dad Tim Kirkland simply got bored sitting around at home on weekends instead of racing bikes. Eventually, he called Koch one day in 2006, said he was going to buy a race car and asked if Koch would like to drive it. Koch agreed, and that was the beginning of his short track career.
Once he and family acquired the proper equipment, Koch raced at Punta Gorda Speedway in Port Charlotte, Orlando Speedworld, New Smyrna Beach Speedway and DeSoto Superspeedway in late models.
At the end of 2008, Koch made the step up to the K&N Pro Series West with sponsorship from GodSpeaks.com, a company best known for renting space on billboards and posting uplifting spiritual quotes from God (Note: This company also sponsored CJM Racing’s No. 11 Toyota and driver Denny Hamlin in the 2009 Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway). After a taste of racing at All-American Speedway, Koch was brought on for the full 2009 season.
With GodSpeaks.com, Koch traveled around to talk about the company and their objectives. Those trips to talk about GodSpeaks.com fostered Koch’s current sponsor with Daystar.
“Through [GodSpeaks.com], I got invited to go on Celebration, which is an original show on [the] Daystar Television Network. I was talking to Marcus and Joni [Lamb] on [the show] and their marketing director came up to me after the interview and told me ‘Man, this is awesome. How do we get on this race car?’”
A few weeks later, Daystar signed on to serve as an associate sponsor on Koch’s No. 21 in the K&N Pro Series West. The relationship continued to grow through 2009 to the point that Daystar took over as primary sponsor on Koch’s car for the 2010 season.
Meanwhile, Koch was able to make his Nationwide Series debut at Memphis Motorsports Park in the MacDonald Motorsports No. 81 towards the end of 2009. Despite being a near complete unknown in the Nationwide garage, Koch acclimated himself well, finishing on the lead lap in 17th. He made an additional start in the No. 81 at Homestead, but finished 34th following issues in the race.
However, after a good 2010 season in the Daystar Chevrolet, Koch’s career was at a crossroads.
“From last August to Phoenix [in February], I didn’t do much racing at all. I was at home working, and had kind of written off racing in general. [Through MacDonald Motorsports], I had the opportunity to get back in a race car [at Phoenix]. I was a little bit rusty, so I was pretty happy with the 27th, or whatever it was, and not get in any wrecks.”
The original plan for the season was for Koch to run ten races with backing from Daystar. That eventually became 20 races, regardless of whether Daystar was backing it or not. Then, part way through their ten race slate, Daystar decided to come on full-time for the rest of the 2010 season.
Through 20 races, Koch has started 18 of them and earned his best finish of the season, 14th, at Road America. The season has been a tough road, but Koch is seeing some good signs.
“We’re running pretty well for the budget that we have, I believe. As the season has continued on, we’ve started improving our qualifying runs and race runs every week, as long as we minimize those little problems like running out of fuel, or some pit stop mistakes on my part.”
MacDonald Motorsports is a very small operation that, as of Daytona a few weeks ago, only had three rolling chassis that can realistically go to a race. For example, Koch finished 14th at Road America with an intermediate car that he had raced earlier in the season at Texas and Charlotte.
A fourth chassis was back at the team’s shop, but it was disassembled and unable to be used at the time. In addition, almost all of the team’s employees travel to the races each week. A scant couple of employees stay behind at the shop to work on the one or two rolling chassis left behind, or the uncompleted chassis if there’s time. As a result, a premium is placed on finishing races and staying out of trouble.
“We’re trying to finish races and not wreck, which is a big priority because there aren’t that many guys on the team, nor is there time to fix the cars since we’re racing every week now. The guys work sometimes until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning getting ready for the race the next weekend.”
Mind you, that’s if Koch has a decent weekend and keeps out of trouble. If Koch gets caught up in a wreck, the workload is just that much more for the team.
Also, Note that I said one or two chassis earlier. Back in Daytona, I reported that the team did not have a backup car to go to in the event of a crash. This is true. There was “nothing up there” above the work area and lounge in the transporter. As a result, there was a real fear that Koch’s weekend could have come to an end before he even managed to get up to speed. When Koch was coming up to speed on the apron, Steve Wallace mistimed his bump draft and spun out his teammate Michael Annett. Brian Scott also spun as well right in front of Koch. The incident can be seen in this clip. I should warn you ahead of time that the clip is horribly out of sync, but it still shows how close Koch was to writing off his Challenger. Koch described the incident thusly.
“I was coming up to speed on the apron when the No. 11 car shot down right in front of me. We don’t have a back-up car here, so we didn’t want to go out there, get turned, wreck and not be able to race this weekend because we are locked in. We were definitely blessed to stay out of that mess.”
Religion plays a huge role in Koch’s life. For example, when describing his time in Motocross, Koch mentioned that he doesn’t do anything without praying first. Before races, he holds a bible study/prayer meeting in the lounge inside of the MacDonald Motorsports transporter. A few drivers attend this session along with him. Koch admits that he doesn’t publicize it or advertise. Word of mouth alone helps to boost the group’s numbers.
Away from the track, when he isn’t on the water boating or fishing, Koch is involved in outreach programs to help spread the word of Jesus Christ. To that end, he often travels to churches and schools and talks to students. Koch talks about many of the virtues that he learned during his time in Motocross to help out children. This clip shows Koch talking to a group of Dallas-area students.
Videos of Koch and the No. 81 are periodically posted to Daystar’s YouTube Channel and on daystarracing.com. Those high-quality videos can and do run on Celebration as well.
Koch and Daystar are in the Nationwide Series to stay with news of the network signing a multi-year deal to sponsor Koch and continue to use NASCAR in order to spread the word of Jesus Christ. Koch believes that given more seat time, he can continue to improve behind the wheel and help fulfill both the team’s objectives on track, while also fulfilling Daystar’s objectives off-track.
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