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To say it’s been a tumultuous 24 hours for anyone connected to Steve Turner and Harry Scott’s NASCAR Truck program is putting it mildly. Early Wednesday afternoon, Motorsport.com’s Lee Spencer reported Turner Scott Motorsports had shut down all three of its Truck Series teams effective immediately. According to Spencer’s report, crew chief Mike Shelton delivered the news around 3 p.m. ET. Around that same time, Troy Turnage, team engineer for the No. 31 truck driven by Ben Kennedy, tweeted, “Boom goes the dynamite!!! On vacation for a little while.” The tweet had been removed by later in the evening, but not before Wendy Venturini quoted it.
Sorry to hear for all of you at TSM
"@TroyTurnage: Boom goes the dynamite!!! On vacation for a little while”
— Wendy Venturini (@WendyVenturini) August 27, 2014
Not long after, Dave Moody picked up on the story and reported that TSM co-owner Harry Scott, Jr. said, “What’s been reported is not true” via text message around 4:40 p.m. ET. Just a half-hour later, Moody added that several team members had confirmed they had been laid off. At 6:10 p.m. ET, Harry Scott, Jr. released the following statement via Tuckahoe Strategies, a communication firm independent from TSM.
Turner Scott Motorsports remains in operation and will compete in this weekend’s NASCAR events. TSM’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race teams represented by the #42 driven by Kyle Larson and the #31 driven by Dylan Kwasniewski will complete this weekend as scheduled at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
My investment company, a co-owner of TSM, will continue to do all that it can to keep the team moving forward with or without our business partner Steve Turner. To all TSM employees, sponsors, partners and fans I pledge we will continue to do what we can to keep the teams racing hard each and every week of the season.
Meanwhile, later Wednesday evening, Ray Dunlap appeared on Race Hub on Fox Sports 1 and reported that Scott and several team members flew to Texas, where Turner is from, to “work out some of the differences.” But according to several reports, as well as sources I’ve talked to the conversations got very heated and not much was accomplished. Fast forward to Wednesday when Dunlap reported the transporter drivers, already en route to Canada, received phone calls telling them to stop where they were and turn around.
Perhaps the most telling part of Scott’s statement is “with or without our business partner Steve Turner.” The last couple of years, rumors around the garage area were that the pair were looking for a reason to split up and go their separate ways, and that line right there indicates that may be happening in the very near future – and in a very public way. Several sources confirmed bad blood has been simmering for a year, dating back to Harry Scott’s purchase of the former Phoenix Racing Cup program. Scott asked Turner to jump on board, financially but Turner refused. since then, both sides have fueled tension as Turner questions money getting fueled to the Cup program over the Nationwide, Truck, and K&N programs both men share.
But another noteworthy item is that Ron Hornaday, Jr.’s No. 30 team was not mentioned in Scott’s statement, meaning the veteran driver who currently sits fourth in the championship standings will likely be sitting on the sidelines for this weekend’s events at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. That’s because Steve Turner, not Scott was actually funding Hornaday’s ride out of his own pocket. According to several sources, Rheem was on the truck only for show, with no additional funding getting injected into the program. One source explicitly stated Rheem’s presence on the No. 30 was a thank you to the company for backing James Buescher, Turner’s son-in-law. Turner is good friends with several within that company and had brokered an opportunity for the CEO’s son, Brandon Jones, who was driving a part-time Truck schedule for TSM. Based on previous conversations with Scott, within his driver diary for Frontstretch it’s likely he has little, if any, involvement with the No. 30 team.
Stretching finances, in that way appears to have stretched at least Turner a little thin. Sources on the team indicated that there have been issues where crew members had either not received their paychecks or had checks delayed multiple days. The delays, when resolved were brushed off by management; you can draw your own conclusions there.
Could that issue be an indication someone funded things out of their pocket a little too much? It’s really not that far off the beaten path when you look at the team’s history of shaky financial backing. In fact, earlier this season, sponsor Arrowhead made a quick exit shortly before the season opener approached, leaving sophomore driver Jeb Burton on the outside looking in. Additionally, Miguel Paludo, who had planned to return to the organization for the 2014 season was left without sponsorship and hasn’t made a start this season.
With that said, those financial problems have been around a lot longer than just this season. Back in late 2011, it looked like then Turner Motorsports was on the verge of collapse. Having purchased Braun Racing’s Nationwide assets at the end of the 2010 season, the team released Reed Sorenson, who reportedly hadn’t been paid at the time, and announced there were plans to cut 33 percent of their workforce. The end result was Brian Vickers behind the wheel, as a short-term sub and sponsor Dollar General on its way out the door. At the time, though, Frontstretch spoke with an unnamed member of the team who indicated the 401K program had been discontinued and employees weren’t being paid properly.
“They have you work 50 hours a week, then 30 hours the next and they’re not paying overtime as it should be,” was what was quoted back then. Luckily, funding from Harry Scott saved the operation and the Nationwide program is more stable now, paired up with money from Chip Ganassi Racing and Chevrolet while running their star Kyle Larson in a limited schedule.
So what does all of this infighting mean for the 2015 season at Turner Scott Motorsports – and for the rest of this year, for that matter?
Simply put, I can’t say with any amount of certainty. Scott’s statement indicated that he’ll do what he can to keep the team going; however, he stopped short of promising anything beyond the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
A couple of sources told me that the Nos. 31 and 32 teams were considered “pay to play” trucks where the drivers would need to bring in financial backing to race. That’s probably true, considering family-owned company Cabinets by Hayley will sponsor K&N driver Cameron Hayley’s series debut this weekend. And since Ben Kennedy is related to the France family, well, it’s not that far off to assume they’ve had a financial hand in his ride — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
That means even if Steve Turner starts his own Truck program again, down the road it looks like Hornaday loses out the most. Once again, you have a series champion and arguably one of the best drivers the series has ever seen who, in a nutshell, has been sidelined by sponsorship problems, much like Johnny Benson was with Red Horse Racing a few years back. Though the deal has been presented as a race-to-race agreement since the season opener at Daytona, the four-time champion is currently in a decent position to add to his title trophy collection. That’s not say he won’t find a way to race the rest of the season, trying his hand at catching ThorSport teammates Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton, but the options are rather limited.
Aside from the impact to the individual team, the series as a whole will likely suffer from this controversy. Let’s assume that TSM can’t work through whatever is going on behind the scenes with the organization. The Truck Series only has around 25 full-time trucks right now anyway, and if you drop those three trucks that TSM fields, that number moves perilously close to 20, well below the 36 that make up a full field. It would certainly be a blow to a series that’s already struggling to remain relevant.
Obviously, this divorce is still developing and many things can change between now and the end of the season. But right now, it’s just not looking pretty. This nasty divorce between Steve Turner and Harry Scott, Jr. seems to have just begun, and sadly, the team members that have been laid off – or could be sometime in the future – are just the children caught in the middle of the bickering.