_Until the ‘Big One’ wiped out just about every truck that made the trip to Florida last month, Chris Fontaine was mixing it up with the Truck Series big boys on the high banks of Daytona. Using a family-run and backed team to learn big-time NASCAR racing at his own pace, Fontaine spoke to Frontstretch at Darlington about his team, his development and just how the No. 84 operation handles itself amongst NASCAR’s best._
Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch.com: *You’ve had some great runs on the plate races to get your team out there, but there’s not all that much known. Can you describe a little about the team and the resources that you’re running on?*
Chris Fontaine: We’re all family backed, and our resources allow us to run about 10 races a year. We don’t have a sponsor at all, so we just come out here and try to do the best we can for what we’ve got. I’m just trying to learn and get better every time I come out.
Keith: *The last two times you’ve run plate races you’ve run extremely well until something goes wrong late. How close is this team to doing something big?*
Fontaine: I think we’ve just got to get a little bit more experience and understand everything that’s going on. We just need more laps, more time on the track. Practices, you only get two hours and you only get to do a few runs in that because you’re making adjustments, you spend a lot of time in the pits making it right. We just don’t have a lot of track time. And we’re racing in NASCAR. They’re the best of the best. You can’t expect to just come out and win, you’ve got to come out and learn it at your own rate, be the best you can be.
Keith: *You’ve said you’ve got the resources to run about 10 races a year, yet you need more laps. If testing was available, would you be able to take advantage of that?*
Fontaine: Oh certainly. If it meant not going to a race because it costs money to go testing, we would go test. You get more time, you can be more precise. I really think it would help just getting more laps.
Keith: *Looking at Darlington, why come here?*
Fontaine: We hadn’t come here before. We’re trying to get some experience at all of the tracks. This year we’re going to go to a couple more we haven’t been to, we’re going to go back to a few that we had some more success at. We’ll definitely be back at Talladega. I like the plate races, and we’ll do that for sure. But we just kind of pick them and choose them. Also, our budget comes monthly, so we kind of have to do one a month.
Keith: *You’re coming in with limited resources to a track that’s notorious for tearing up equipment. Do you have to approach this race differently knowing that you can’t destroy the truck learning it?*
Fontaine: Yeah, and that’s part of why we’re struggling a little bit today. I’m making sure that I don’t hurt the truck, don’t back into the wall, trying to creep up on some speed. But we’ve definitely got some more work to do here.
Keith: *What specifically do you have to do at this track to keep from backing it into the wall?*
Fontaine: Here, there’s kind of a dip going into [Turn] One. This is a track that’s unique to itself; there’s no other place like it, running up against the wall all the way around. Some of the drivers have said they’re able to hold it down all the way around. My truck can’t do that yet through 1 and 2. So we’ll have to work on that. If we get in the race, we’ll try to make it better. You just have to try and creep up on it. There’s no point going out there if you think it’s going to spin out, there’s no sense in doing that. If you creep up on it, you get more laps and more experience. We’ll do that today and see what happens.
Keith: *When it comes to funding, does start and park ever enter your mind as a possibility?*
Fontaine: For us, we can’t make ends meet – we couldn’t make any money if we did it. It takes so many people just to get here, to spend the day – I mean it takes so many people just to get here. For us, we can’t even break even. So that really doesn’t come into play for us. And I really don’t want to be known as one of those teams. For us, it’s more cost effective to stay home and save the money, do some more research for the next track we’re going to run.
Keith: *Without testing, what kind of research can you do?*
Fontaine: We try to get to North Carolina and do some of the pulldown rigs, stuff like that. There’s not a lot, but we talk with some other competitors and see what kind of information they will give us, evaluate that as best we can.
Keith: *Looking at this series, there are lots of trucks this year. Why is the Truck Series suddenly the place to be?*
Fontaine: Well, for the last few years, they have had enough to make the show, maybe one or two go home. But there haven’t been a lot of well-funded teams. This year is different. When they come, they’re fast competitors, they’re all very experienced. I think there’s 11 or 12 of us that are go-or-go-home. Just about every one of us are really good and good enough to make the race.
I really think that because there was so much opportunity to run the last few years, it became really popular this year. And the economy has turned around a little bit also. This series, you don’t have as many Cup drivers in it, so its a good series to try and break out in as opposed to the Nationwide Series, where you’ve got 20 Cup drivers at any given time. So this year, I’d expect a competitive series with a lot of trucks.
Keith: *Talking about that, SPEED vs. Nationwide Series on ESPN. Telecasts are handled differently. Is there a difference between the two in marketing to a sponsor?*
Fontaine: I don’t know. When I think of ESPN, I tend to think of football and basketball. When you think of SPEED, you think of racing. I’m not sure how much of a difference that would make to a sponsor or not. I think more than anything, a sponsor needs to utilize their race team in advertising, whether it’s on SPEED or ESPN. If they’re sponsoring a truck but their truck isn’t on all their advertisements, I don’t know what good it’s doing them. I think it has to do with a company and what they’re looking for.
Keith: *How do you market yourself based on the organization that you are right now?*
Fontaine: Our key would be, we’re only running 10 [races], but you can get on our truck for a lot cheaper than you can Kyle Busch’s truck. We may not run quite as well, but you’ll still be out there on the track, and SPEED does a good job to cover everybody no matter where they’re running. We’re trying hard, we’re going to get up there eventually, and it will be fun to have someone on board when it happens.
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