Tom Bowles is on vacation this week, so Amy Henderson gives you her take on the state of NASCAR’s Second Series, and on how, sometimes, the right things can happen for the right people-in a not-so-Bowles-Eye View.
Sponsorship is always a hot topic in racing and in the current economic environment, many teams, even some top Sprint Cup teams, are worried about sponsor dollars. And in the Nationwide Series, that talk is often doubled.
There has been growing concern over the last decade as more Sprint Cup drivers are entering more Nationwide Series races. Sponsors love to get on the hood of a big star at a reduced rate, and so they flock to those teams like flies to honey and teenage girls to Kasey Kahne. This left many longtime and full time Nationwide teams without sponsorship, and many out of business altogether as the Cup teams have pushed them aside. The trend has turned off many longtime series fans, as well, as they watched their favorite teams and driver fall by the wayside.
Now fans have a chance to change that.
It’s only one team, and only one race, but race fans can have the chance to sponsor a full-time Nationwide team for the upcoming race in Montreal on August 30, and to show support of what has become a dying breed – a full-time Nationwide team with a full-time Nationwide driver.
Jay Robinson Racing runs out of a nice, if modest shop in Monroe, North Carolina. The team has three cars and runs on roughly a quarter of the money that the Cup-owned and driven teams have at their disposal. JRR’s flagship team, the No. 28 U.S. Border Patrol Chevrolets driven by Nationwide and Cup Series veteran Kenny Wallace, makes ends meet well enough for Wallace to be 14th in driver points. Among Nationwide-only drivers without the Cup interlopers, Wallace would be solidly in the top 10.
This team works hard; I have seen this first-hand. Teams with big budgets get the big-name crewmen to go with their big-name drivers, and small-budget teams like JRR work with the less experienced crews, which is the way of the world in today’s NASCAR. And because of that, they have to work twice as hard. Success has been a long, slow road. First, it was a matter of getting and building racecars that the team could adjust to run the way Kenny likes, and they have slowly done that. The cars have competitive setups now, something the team was still searching for a year ago. Next, they have worked on the engine program, working to build equal horsepower for a quarter of the cost – and that’s every bit as hard as it sounds. Trying has cost the team in a string of blown engines as they tried new and different parts, but they keep working, and slowly, what were top-25 cars have become top-15 cars, with a few top-10 cars thrown into the mix.
Mindful of saving tires, this team sacrifices starting position each week by not practicing qualifying setups after they have the race setup perfected. They figure that Wallace can gain those spots on the racetrack and each week Wallace delivers. If it’s frustrating at times, nobody lets on. They work too hard and have come much too far to beat themselves up over what they don’t have. If they’re short a crew member, they find a volunteer among invited guests, and nobody complains. Nothing is handed to this team, and so they take everything they can make gratefully.
The problem is, the U.S. Border Patrol cannot sponsor the car in Montreal, and that leaves the team in a financial bind. One race without a sponsor is probably not much to a team like Roush Fenway Racing or Joe Gibbs Racing, but it would be devastating to the smaller teams who scratch by each week.
Enter Kenny Wallace and a Facebook quandary. The whole thing kind of started when Wallace realized that his Facebook page was nearly maxed out at 5,000 friends (the site does not allow more on a personal page). That was solved easily enough by creating a fan page for Wallace, but the numbers gave Wallace an idea – why not ask those 5,000 friends to each donate $20? That would raise $100,000, which would go a long way toward helping the No. 28 to race at Montreal, and give those fans some bragging rights as well.
And so the fan car was born. Wallace reports that the team is already passed 1/3 of their goal, well before the July 31st deadline. Wallace has said that each fan who donates will get a photo of the car and its driver, autographed, of course. Though photos can’t be of each individual name, each fan will have a small reminder of the racecar they sponsored. Fans who wish to participate can go to www.kennywallace.com for details.
Fans have been enthusiastic, giving reasons for participating in the sponsorship drive that center mainly on the individuals involved. “Kenny’s a good guy and he deserves to be running,” says Michelle Ellington of Canton, Ohio. Pam Johnson of Polkton, North Carolina, echoes this sentiment: “Kenny and (his wife) Kim are just good people.”
Corinne Aylmer adds her support from Hull, United Kingdom, adding, “Kenny is a very upstanding member of the NASCAR community and his work with charities and upcoming drivers, along with his TV work, is incredible. He is, most of all, fun. Kenny knows how to bring a smile to everyone’s face and brighten even the roughest of times. He’s good and open with his fans, and is an all round amazing person. I could say it would be great to have more people like Kenny in the world… but there’s only one Kenny Wallace!”
The sponsorship is not likely to change the Nationwide Series or the current sponsorship issues echoing through all of NASCAR. It’s a drop in the bucket of the whole problem. But for one team with good people who work hard, it’s another chance to race, to improve, to compete. It won’t change the gluttony that has pervaded the series, but it will show that the fans are so important, so cherished by at least one team and that fans can make all the difference for that small group of people.
It’s a chance for the fans who complain about the Cup owners and drivers taking the sponsorship from the smaller teams to put their money where their mouths are and to give sponsorship back to a true Nationwide team. It’s a challenge on many levels, and if fans are up to it, you had better believe that Wallace and Jay Robinson Racing are going to try harder than anyone out there to put their fans in a respectable finishing position, if not in victory lane. If race fans can make this happen, score one for the good guys!