The son of legendary crew chief Larry McReynolds, it’s not hard to understand why Brandon McReynolds is pursuing a career as a driver, making his way up the stock car ladder. McReynolds, who made his ARCA debut earlier this season at Salem Speedway, last competed at Pocono, posting a top-five qualifying effort and a career best 10th place finish. Currently among the myriad of drivers seeking sponsorship to run more races and stay on the track, McReynolds sat down with Frontstretch to discuss both his future and that of the sport.
Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch: You’re coming up in the sport in about the most challenging sponsorship market anyone has ever seen. What can a driver like yourself do to sell yourself to a company?
Brandon McReynolds: It’s still a hard question of how much money are you willing to spend on me to go race, to put your name on the side of the car? But it’s also about building your portfolio, and trying to figure out ways to help companies sell their product. I think we’ve done a real nice job of that. It’s been a real tough sell, but with my dad being who he is in the sport, I think that name McReynolds carries a lot of equity, and fortunately he’s been willing to help me out and do whatever he has to do to make a sponsor happy. It’s definitely made it easier, but it’s still a challenge every single day.
Keith: Your dad’s very accomplished in the sport, but he’s playing a different role today as a commentator. Besides the name McReynolds, what other help is he able to provide to you?
McReynolds: I think he can relate to this type of racing in the ARCA Racing Series. He’s worked on these bigger cars and at these bigger racetracks, so it’s easier for him to relate to. He’s always been one to give me a pointer when we go to a track he’s worked at like Pocono or Talladega, or when we tested with Eddie Sharp at Texas earlier this year. At the same time, he tries to let me learn on my own. Fortunately, I’ve also got a lot of good friends around that try to help me out. I talk to Elliott Sadler a lot, he helps me out with a lot of driving stuff. So does Joey Logano. It’s good to be able to bounce ideas off guys like that.
I actually talked to Elliott the night he won the Truck race and after the ARCA race. He just told me that I did a real nice job, and he did a great job getting KHI another win in the Truck Series. It was good to see him do well.
Keith: You’re running a limited schedule. When you’re not in the car, what are you doing to stay involved around the sport?
McReynolds: Like I said, I’m really good friends with Joey Logano, and he’s let me spot for him during the Nationwide Series practice [at Watkins Glen], just to see the sport from a different angle. And obviously, if you can’t be in the car, the spotters’ stand is a really good place to learn different lanes and lift points, the way guys are running the racetracks. I’ve been on the spotters’ stand a lot, learning from Mike Calinoff, who spots for Matt Kenseth. I’ve just been grabbing a radio, trying to listen to guys’ feedback because at the end of the day, feedback is very important, and the better I can give feedback, the better racecar driver I’m going to be.
Keith: Talking about feedback, the ARCA Series has always been the closest thing you can find to big-time NASCAR without actually racing big-time NASCAR. Talk about the transition from late models to this level. What’s been the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make giving feedback in these cars and on bigger racetracks?
McReynolds: The tires are the biggest thing I notice. On the late model side we run bias-ply tires, and on the ARCA side we run radials. The tires are a lot different; a radial tire is really edgy, you can never be sure if the car’s going to be loose or tight, or if you’re going to wreck the car. It’s a completely different feel. And the ARCA car, their cars are a lot heavier than a late model, so you’ve got to let them free roll through the center of the corner. It’s been an adjustment, but fortunately in the UARA Series I ran with our late model, those are stock cars too, they’ve got a pretty good amount of power.
Keith: It’s getting harder and harder to break the ice and make the next level. You do have a name on your side, but looking at the economic climate the sport is facing, the decline of fans tuning in, do NASCAR’s current struggles ever enter your mind as you look to move up?
McReynolds: It absolutely does. Fortunately I’ve still got the youth on my side, so the biggest question for me is what are fans looking for? They seem to be looking for really good racecar drivers that are willing to put everything on the line. Whatever I can do to brand myself to what fans are looking for, while still being myself and making a sponsor happy, that’ll pay off in the long run.
Keith: You’re right. The impression of what a racecar driver needs to be seems to be in flux this year. Is there anything you’ve had to do recently to change the way you act and sell yourself as a driver?
McReynolds: The biggest thing from an image standpoint has been staying clean cut and being able to communicate with a sponsor well. But you’ve also got to be down to earth. Some fans find racecar drivers to be really stuck up, that they make lots of money and don’t care what anyone else thinks. But that’s a false image; there’s a lot of really good guys out there that race. To me, the biggest thing is staying grounded, and that goes the longest way.
Keith: Looking forward, you’ve got previous history with a UARA win at the Rock. Any chance we’ll see you in an ARCA car there or anywhere else?
McReynolds: Luckily, Globetrack Wireless helped us out at Pocono, so hopefully they’re willing to come back and help us with a few more ARCA races. We’re looking at Chicagoland and some of the bigger races, including Rockingham. As far as the late model stuff goes, we’re going to run the big late model race at Martinsville at the end of October, and we’re shooting to run the UARA race at Rockingham again. As of right now, that’s pretty much it. We’re hoping to put together a four-race deal with Eddie Sharp in the No. 6 car, but we need funding to make that happen.
Keith: We’ll leave you with a big-picture question. You’ve raced at the ARCA level. You’ve got big-time connections to big-time NASCAR. With perspective on both series, is there anything where you can see a difference between sanctioning bodies as to how to handle the current challenges facing stock car racing? What needs to be done to fill the stands again?
McReynolds: I’m not sure… it’s a really good question. I’d say NASCAR probably needs to keep doing what they’re doing in trying to change the sport to go back to the way things used to be. I think people like the old-school mentality, racing hard and letting the drivers make the rules out on the racetrack. I think that’s important, because even though NASCAR has made the sport a lot safer, at the end of the day it’s still a risk. And I think that excites the fans. It’s hard to come out and say, ‘let’s make the sport dangerous,’ but fans want to see hard racing. And I think you can do that without getting hurt.