The biggest story in the Busch Series recently has been the domination of Cup affiliated teams and Cup drivers. Those are the teams with the biggest share of the sponsor money and the biggest budgets. But what’s life like for a team and a driver on the other end of the spectrum? Frontstretch talked with Kertus Davis, a young driver with a family owned team who is entering his second season driving the No. 0 Race Girl Chevrolet in the Busch Series, simply trying to survive in a Buschwhacker dominated environment.
Frontstretch: First I’d like to start off with some background information so our readers can get to know you a little bit.
Kertus Davis: At the age of seven I started racing go-karts. I had numerous wins on the local go-kart tracks and even at the national level. South Carolina state champion in 1997 and third in the WKA nationals that year also. In 1998 I started running late-model stocks at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, Florence Speedway, Myrtle Beach Speedway and I just kind of bounced around here and there for about two years running about 20 races a year between "˜98 and "˜99 in late-model stocks. At the end of the year in 1999, I started running in the USAR Pro Cup Series and ran three events. From 2000 to 2003 I ran USAR Hooter’s Pro Cup off and on for a couple of years with a few Busch starts. In 2001, I made my first Busch Series start at Nazareth, Pennsylvania. In 2002 I believe I ran five Busch Series events with my father and a family-owned team. In 2003 I ran the full Hooter’s Pro-Cup Series and finished third in the point standings. For 2004, I ran probably about six Pro Cup races and about five or six Busch Grand National events, and in 2005, I ran the full NASCAR Busch Series circuit.
FS: You ran for Rookie of the Year when you ran the full Busch Series circuit last year. Can you give me an overall assessment of your rookie season. What kind of goals did you set, and did you accomplish those goals?
Davis: Really, we’re probably the lowest budgeted Busch Series team on the circuit. To even go, and I think I made every single event but five, that was pretty outstanding for us. Our main goal was really to get plenty of seat time and experience and hopefully get picked up by a team with good financial backing, but that didn’t happen. I got a lot of recognition by the commentators and cars throughout the garage, but unfortunately this business is all about marketing, and I couldn’t really come up with a great sponsor to go to a team I needed to be with to compete on a first class level. For 2006, my father and I are just kind of going race to race to see how it goes, but time is running out on me. I turned 25 years old yesterday, and we’re just basically going race to race.
FS: I know you have a family-owned team. Is this the same type of deal some other drivers like Ashton Lewis Jr. have done, with the idea of just getting noticed in order to move up to a more established team?
Davis: Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s the main goal, to hopefully move on to someone like Childress or Ganassi or even DEI or any team that’s got a good sponsor, to be able to compete at a top-notch level and run up front week in and week out and really get recognized.
FS: You mentioned being the lowest budgeted Busch team in the garage. How do you go out there and compete with all those Cup teams coming over?
Davis: It’s really tough. We went to Daytona with high expectations. We qualified 29th out of 50 cars and went home. With all the new rules NASCAR has, we’re outside the top 30 in points, so we got sent home even though we qualified extremely well and knew that we would race extremely well. It’s unfortunate, but with the rules the way they are, we got sent home. At California Speedway, we qualified 35th I believe out of 47 cars, ran all but the last 35 laps of the event, and had a bunch of belts come off the motor so we just decided to park it.
FS: Last year you ran one race with FitzBradshaw Racing. They’re somewhere in the middle between the top budgeted Cup teams and your team. Tell me about the difference between running with your regular team and that team.
Davis: It was a great experience for me mediawise and all. The performance level wasn’t there because we had a couple problems with the car. But I think it really helped me as far as the media by getting me in out in front of the camera and in front of the public more. I was hoping to have a good run, but we had transmission problems, and then some tires got switched around. All in all, it wasn’t a bad experience, but it wasn’t the performance that I was looking for. It was a great opportunity that FitzBradshaw gave me at Texas Speedway last year.
FS: You mentioned sponsorship before. Do you have any sponsors on the car for this year?
Davis: Well, Race Girl is still with us. You can check them out at goracegirl.com.
FS: What kind of resources do you have to work with as opposed to what the other teams have?
Davis: Well, your average Busch team has anywhere from 14 to 20 full-time employees. I have two, including myself. I work on the car, and my dad drives the transporter each week to the track. The average Busch team has anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 per event to spend, and I have between $5000 to $10,000 per event from sponsorship.
FS: What do you do for a pit crew? Do you have people that volunteer?
Davis: We have some volunteer people all across the United States, and my dad normally buys their license. Usually, when we’re in the area they’ll fly out or come to the event and pit my car. If it’s a companion event with the Cup Series, some of those guys really like me over there, maybe first started in racing through me and with my dad through our years running different series so sometimes they come over and give me a hand because they know my situation.
FS: This week the Busch Series is going to Mexico. That has to be an expense.
Davis: It is a big expense. I don’t have any road course experience, so we opted to use Randy Lajoie. He didn’t have a ride, so he’s going to drive my car at Mexico and try to get us some points so we can get in the Top 30.
FS: Most teams build specific cars for road courses, although building a car for two races is another expense. Are you using a purpose-built road course car?
Davis: Yes, we have a purposely built road course car that I built last year. We’ll be using it for Mexico and for Watkins Glen.
FS: I know you’ve mentioned that your goals for 2006 remain to get track time and get noticed in an effort to get with a bigger team.
Davis: Yes, that’s my goal for this year. Hopefully before the year is out, I’ll be with a team as a development driver as a full-time driver for ’07 or maybe in testing for somebody. My father and I really don’t know how many races we can run this year. We’re going to go to the first five definitely, and look at our financial status from there. Then we might have to pick and choose, but if somebody comes on board as a major sponsor, then we can kick off and run the full season again like we did last year.
FS: Do you feel like having all those Cup teams in the series hurts you as far as signing that major sponsor?
Davis: It really has. A lot of the Cup teams are using the Busch Series as their testing ground, and they’re pretty much taking up all the sponsors and it’s taking away from the little teams like my father and myself. It’s hurting us on the business marketing side of the sport.
FS: Do you think they’re hurting the Busch Series overall?
Davis: I think it is. Ten years ago, you only had like two to five Cup drivers that would run some of the companion events. Now you have anywhere from 12 to 20 Cup drivers at these companion events, so it’s really tough on us.
FS: Have you talked to any teams about a development deal?
Davis: I had a lot of things in the works. I had my hopes really high coming into this season about some things I thought were going to happen, but they never did happen. I can’t really name any names because I don’t want to get anybody upset because a lot of that was confidential. All of it was based on sponsorship, and none of those teams got any sponsorship for the ’06 season, so they’re just running limited schedules with Cup drivers and whatnot. I kind of got pushed to the back burner once again.
FS: Now, the Truck Series is a little different, because you don’t really have all of those Cup drivers over there. Do you think that would be a better place to try to come in as a development driver, or is it more valuable to get the experience racing with the Cup guys in Busch?
Davis: Yeah, it’s a great experience racing against the Cup guys. I feel like you learn a lot more. For instance, there’s a couple of places where I was behind Jimmie Johnson or Kasey Kahne, or even Greg Biffle where I could watch their lines during practice. I followed them around, and I learned a lot quicker…I came up to speed a lot quicker. The Busch Series pays quite a bit more than what the Truck Series pays to start. The Truck Series is almost as tough, if not tougher as far as making an event. They only start 36 trucks, and then they have 30 that are automatically locked in, so it’s almost tougher to run the Truck Series than it is the Busch Series.
FS: I know we’ve mentioned the locked in starting spots a couple of times. Right now you are on the outside of that. How do you feel about it, considering that it may be shutting out regular teams in favor of teams using the race as a test session?
Davis: It’s really tough. Again, we qualified 29th at Daytona and ran 181 mph. That was 5 mph faster than some cars that qualified, and yet we went home. I think what NASCAR ought to do, and this is just my opinion so they probably won’t do it, but if they want to have the fastest cars in the field, they ought to take the fastest 43 cars and they’re in no matter where they are in points. That’s the way I look at it.
FS: Is there anything you’d like to add in closing?
Davis: I think for being the lowest budgeted team on the Busch Series circuit, we did an outstanding job making all of the races that we did last year. We really surprised a lot of people, and I’m really surprised that I didn’t end up with a ride with somebody with all of the team owners and team members watching me throughout the garage. I really thought we’d have something coming into this 2006 season.
FS: Not only did you make all of those races, but I thought you did a pretty good job, all things considered, in them. You certainly didn’t seem to be in anyone’s way.
Davis: Some of the races I felt like we were, but when you don’t have the engineers and resources from being affiliated with the Cup teams like the majority of the teams are, then it really makes it tough. It’s like when we were running in the Pro Cup Series. I ran with my father for awhile, and then he ran out of money. Then I went to drive for Premier Motorsports in ’03 and instead of running from fifth to tenth every week, I was running from first to fifth every week and in contention to win. It just goes to show when you’ve got the right opportunity with the right people what you’re capable of doing. There’s a thousand Dale Earnhardts and Jeff Gordons out there, but they’ll never get the opportunity and I just hope that I do.
FS: Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers?
Davis: If they’d like to visit my website, it’s kertusdavis.com. People can go and register. I think they have some Kertus Davis t-shirts on there and I have a message board if people would like to go there and visit.
FS: If we have an interested sponsor out there, can they also go to the website to find out how to contact you?
Davis: Yes, they certainly can.
For anyone interested in a good sponsorship opportunity, this could be the place with the new Owner for a Day program the team plans to debut soon. This is a subject that has come up before here at Frontstretch in our Mirror Driving discussions. It seems sponsors that don’t have multi-million dollar budgets to spend on sponsorships are often willing to settle for a small space where they get lost in the crowd on Cup -ffiliated cars. We often wonder why businesses with smaller sponsorship budgets don’t take the chance on an up and coming team like this. Johnny Davis Motorsports wondered about that, too, and designed this program with these advertisers in mind. Interested businesses can visit kertusdavis.com and click on the sponsor link to find out how to contact the team for more information. With limited resources and time running out, they’re very interested in hearing from you.
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