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In the wake of Turner Scott Motorsports “breaking up” their Truck Series team, both owners pointing fingers toward the other the organization has been in turmoil for a few weeks now. From the rumors that swirled to layoffs, lawsuits, then the official closure of the No. 30 team, TSM continues to be in the news for all the wrong reasons, failing to stop the bleeding that led to public media scrutiny. And as the dominoes keep falling, almost daily the questions for one of NASCAR’s powerhouse Truck teams only get even more confusing… and complex.
The latest twist in the saga came in the form of comments from Rheem Motorsports Managing Director Ed Raniszeski on SiriusXM Speedway. Apparently, Raniszeski was as surprised about the financial problems as those team members who walked right into pink slips. He claimed that Hornaday’s sponsorship backing was never an issue and that Rheem was happy to pay to keep the four-time champion on track, calling “someone who has given so much to racing and to others throughout his life [that] deserved an opportunity to finish his spectacular, Hall Of Fame-worthy career as a champion, one last time.”
“I learned about it through the media,” said Raniszeski of TSM’s closure. “I was dumbfounded, since I had told Turner Scott Motorsports that we would sponsor any of Ron’s races that they were unable to find backing for.
“Prior to the start of the 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, Rheem had no plans to participate in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as a sponsor. We had a deal in place with James Buescher Motorsports to back him with RAB Racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but that’s it. We did have a longstanding relationship with Ron Hornaday, however, and a few weeks prior to the start of the season, we were informed that Ron was in jeopardy of being left without a ride. After some deliberation, Rheem agreed to sponsor Ron for the first four events, giving Turner Scott Motorsports additional time to find full sponsorship for the team.”
Say what? Now just two short weeks ago, I had multiple sources, high up at TSM tell me that the No. 30 team was funded out of Steve Turner’s pocket, explaining why it was Hornaday, not other drivers sidelined while the Nos. 31 and 32 for TSM headed off to Canada. Then came the news about the “official” closure of the No. 30 team last Tuesday, a move that didn’t really come as a surprise at the time considering the team’s reported financial shortfall. Now, we’re suddenly supposed to believe there was money coming in after all? Clearly, there’s a major communication breakdown going on right now between the organization and its partners.
But let’s just consider Raniszeski’s comments for a moment and assume that the No. 30 team was, in fact, meant to continue with backing from Rheem. If that truly was the case, then why shut it down? After all, if a truck is funded – and especially one sitting fourth in points, in championship contention like Hornaday’s – why wouldn’t you continue to take it to the track and try to win the championship?
The only other full-time driver in TSM’s stable right now is rookie Ben Kennedy, and while he’s run decently in his first season, the nephew of NASCAR CEO Brian France sits ninth in points, 83 markers back from championship leader Johnny Sauter. While it’s realistic to say he’s got a shot at moving into the top 5 before the end of this year, it would take a meltdown of epic proportions to see Kennedy climbing up into title contention. Though performing well for a rookie, his results were clearly one step below Hornaday’s – yet he’s the one who remains employed, with limited sponsorship moving forward.
Of course, Kennedy now has his own distractions too. Crew chief Michael Shelton, who helped James Buescher win the 2012 Truck Series championship and has certainly been beneficial to Kennedy’s development, left the No. 31 team after Canada and the resulting public TSM divorce. Doug George, leading a trimmed-down crew will now sit atop the pit box for what is expected to be the remainder of the year. Those changes, disrupting stability make it likely Kennedy will run for the hills when it comes time to solidify any 2015 plans.
Who could blame him? Kennedy’s just another young driver trying to make his name in NASCAR, and he certainly doesn’t need the distraction or the uncertainty that has come the last few weeks. Should he be expected to continue with the way things are going and risk fading into obscurity like so many other talented drivers have? Absolutely not.
Moving forward, I’m sure very few questions will be answered as the TSM crisis crosses over to the courtroom. With both owners having lawsuits outstanding, neither party will be willing to talk on the issue, leaving speculation and rumors to fill the silence. Somewhere in between will be the truth, forever unspoken and replaced by damaging uncertainty.
I also can’t help but continue to think about the health of a dwindling Truck Series. Unless Steve Turner and Harry Scott, Jr. can come to some sort of an agreement to keep the team going, I’d almost be willing to bet the split would mean the end of an organization that had shown itself as one of the more reliable ones in the series. TSM has been developing young drivers on the K&N side of the track and moving them into positions within the organization to continue their growth. The loss of TSM is something that could be a near-fatal blow to a series already on life support.
Consider that this season, there have been a grand total of just five full fields of 36 trucks; instead, the majority of the grids have ranged from 28 to 32 entries. And the tracks that have had the healthiest entry lists? Daytona, Martinsville, Iowa, Bristol and Eldora. Daytona isn’t surprising, given the prestige of winning at the superspeedway, and for that matter, the other four aren’t either. They’re all short tracks where competitors who otherwise couldn’t afford to compete full-time can take a chance on single events.
Additionally, there’s an influx of drivers under the age of 18 that are ready to compete in the Truck Series as soon as they hit that magic number. But with the way things are going, with major teams like TSM unraveling in the heat of the summer I’m beginning to wonder if there will even be a series for them to race within the next few seasons.
About the author
Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 15-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.
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