Earlier this week, Key Motorsports announced it would expand to a two-car operation for at least five events later this year. At a time when teams in the Nationwide Series are downsizing, losing sponsors and struggling overall, team owner Curtis Key has kept his team not only out of trouble, but moving in the right direction.
After a brief stint in the Nationwide Series in the mid-’90s, Key left the sport, but returned to NASCAR competition in 2004 running two Truck Series races with driver Joey Clanton. The truck wrecked in both outings, but the Virginia businessman was not deterred towards a full-time comeback. After six years of hard work and continually investing in his dream, Key was able to keep his little organization going, and is now in a position where he can expand his team’s current Nationwide program at a time when others are scaling back.
In moving to two cars, Key claims he will not fall victim to the current trend of running an extra car for cash; instead, he vows to race.
“We are in the process of putting a second team together that we plan to run in five to seven races this season,” Key said. “This is not a start-and-park team we are taking to the track – our goal is to be competitive week in and week out.”
While others have made this claim in the past only to park their cars laps into a race, Key is a man of his word. Since his return to NASCAR, he has been focused on growing his self-funded operation.
From 2006-2008, Key Motorsports ran the majority of events in the Truck Series with drivers such as Chad Chaffin, Mike Bliss, Jeff Green and others. While he did occasionally park a second truck, Key’s goals remained growing his team and moving up the ranks.
In 2008, Key was able to return to the Nationwide Series for three events with Green behind the wheel. While the immediate focus was on the Truck program, the seeds were being sown for a return to the second-tier division full-time.
Just one year later, Key announced he was committed to running the full Nationwide Series schedule and would ultimately cut back the Truck program. Since then, Key Motorsports has fought its way into the Top 30 in owner points, earning a guaranteed starting spot every weekend in a field filled with Cup-supported efforts.
In terms of sponsorship dollars, Key has been able to maintain a working relationship with Westerman Companies since his Truck Series days in 2007, all while attracting other investors at the same time. Using a local marketing campaign, Key has found additional funding by connecting with Chevrolet dealerships close to that weekend’s race.
Now, with a fleet of prepared cars and the move to the new body style, he is poised to make the next step in his NASCAR journey.
The new team will run the No. 46, and a driver has yet to be announced. Thus far in 2010, Key Motorsports has primarily had Bliss behind the wheel; however, Green has run three events for the team and may be a potential candidate for the open seat.
One thing Key has shown as an owner, even since his earliest days in the sport, is his commitment to succeeding in NASCAR. While maintaining a successful plumbing business in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, Key has also done what it takes to be successful in racing as well.
By bringing in veteran drivers such as Bliss, Green, Kerry Earnhardt and Scott Wimmer instead of the newest “young gun” of the week, Key’s equipment has improved and so, too, has his performance at the track. As you might expect, those solid finishes have snowballed into an overall boost in momentum, with the work on pit road and behind the scenes at the shop getting better each week.
“We are constantly looking at ways to strengthen our program, and this is a step in that direction,” said Key. “We are focused on the future, and once we have the proper personnel in place, it should be a positive overall for Key Motorsports.”
It has yet to be determined whether or not Key intends to take his operation to the Cup level, but if that is where the path leads, he will be sure to take his time and do it the right way.
Earlier this year, Key’s younger brother, Raymond, attempted to make it in the Sprint Cup Series. Starting his own team – Keyed-Up Motorsports – Raymond Key was able to attract driver Casey Mears and champion crew chief Doug Richert, and give the series a hope at yet another start-up success.
The elder Key brother was a bit more realistic while explaining his brother’s motives to The Roanoke Times in February in Daytona.
“My brother is in it for the money,” Curtis told writer Dustin Long. “I’m in it to race. He hasn’t raced a go-kart. He hasn’t raced a Matchbox car. He sees the big money in the Cup series. He thinks he can go out and get some of it. He thinks he can get a big sponsor. He doesn’t realize that he needed to get into the Nationwide Series or a Truck deal where he can learn the business… work and develop a sponsor and work and develop a driver that he can bring along with him to get there.
“He’s going to be one of those guys that’s here today and gone tomorrow because he won’t listen to nobody because he’s smarter than I am.”
After making only two out of seven races attempted, Keyed-Up Motorsports scaled back its operation and has not been at the track since. Sometimes, family really does know best.
But with such hard work and investment paid into his own program, Curtis Key will not make the same mistakes made by his younger brother. He has taken his time working up through the ranks, learning as much as he can along the way. Now, when others are cutting back, Key is continuing down his path one step at a time.