No regrets. Just love.
Barney Visser started from the bottom and now he’s here. OK, maybe he started on the top since the Rocky Mountains are pretty high up.
But the Furniture Row Racing owner literally started from the bottom. He didn’t have a single outside primary sponsor from 2005 until Kurt Busch played the role of Ricky Bobby at Talladega Superspeedway in 2013. That’s eight years of Visser digging into his bank account to field a team at NASCAR’s premier level.
When looking back, Furniture Row Racing did the unthinkable. The team never fielded a start-and-park effort during a recession. Instead, they ran a handful of races with veterans Kenny Wallace, Joe Nemechek and Jimmy Spencer, slowly growing and barely making it to the track. But they did, and eventually, the No. 78 team succeeded.
Furniture Row Racing might be the last successful NASCAR team we will ever see on the west coast, and Visser’s vision is one that needs to be praised. His dedication to building this team, expanding it to join forces with Richard Childress Racing and, eventually, Joe Gibbs Racing, made it a force to be reckoned with. It’s a legacy that can’t be forgotten, but one that makes one wonder what could have been.
But now, the journey is coming to an emotional end as Martin Truex Jr. fights for the team’s second straight title. For the last time, the No. 78 team’s hauler drove off in the middle of the night sky as the crew waved goodbye.
The unlikeliest of champions actually have a shot at repeating the sport’s ultimate prize in the unlikeliest of scenarios.
Sights and sounds from last night's 78 team send-off in Denver. 🚚
BIG #shoutout to our hauler drivers for getting us to the track and back every week and to every single person at our shop for building the best race cars in the business. #WeAreFurnitureRow pic.twitter.com/tzYjOkEr5l
— Furniture Row Racing (@FRRacingTeam) November 14, 2018
“To get this kind of group of guys pulled together is pretty special,” Visser said in a team Q&A before the championship finale. “I feel it’s once-in-a-lifetime happening. It’s so rare to get a group of people you like being with and who accomplish things that other people can’t seem to do.”
Furniture Row Racing did the unthinkable so many times on the track, starting with the simple fact they never start-and-parked like so many other teams did in the mid-2000s. It didn’t matter that FRR had only five lead-lap finishes in its first 40 races. All that mattered was that a team from Denver made it to the track.
Of course, there was Nemechek’s famous 2008 pole at Talladega Superspeedway, when the No. 78 team shocked NASCAR nation by taking the top spot. It was a time when go or go-homers used special oil for qualifying to lock themselves in the field, and Nemechek had just the right combination to edge out Tony Stewart to sit on top of the pylon.
Then, Regan Smith came along and won the 2011 Southern 500 in a stunning way.
But the biggest step of all came in 2012.
“I think the real serious turning point was when (crew chief) Todd Berrier came to Denver to join our team,” Visser said. “He raised the quality of our race cars and operation. He just brought a lot of things to us, and because of him, we started attracting more good people.
“We heard that Kurt [Busch] wanted to work with Todd, so we brought in Kurt. Todd and Cole [Pearn] came as a team. So with Todd, Kurt and Cole, we had a strong nucleus and knew we were headed in the right direction.”
Furniture Row Racing made the playoffs the next year, even without winning a race. Busch and Berrier were a great combination, one that propelled this little Colorado team to the top.
If it weren’t for Berrier, one of Richard Childress Racing’s best crew chiefs, FRR wouldn’t have been as successful as it was. Berrier brought a wealth of knowledge to the team, and trusted Visser. He didn’t have to, especially with a limited track record to look at, but he did.
Why? Because Berrier believed in Visser. And he believe in team president Joe Garone, too.
Garone is the behind-the-scenes mastermind of Furniture Row. Without him, the team couldn’t succeed. Who else would convince crew members and drivers to uproot their lives and move to Denver of all places? The guy worked as Bill Elliott’s crew chief in 1998, too, and was Rick Carelli’s first Truck Series crew chief.
Garone knew a thing or two before taking on the ultimate task of building FRR from the ground-up.
When Truex came along, the magic was gone. His career could have ended there. But Visser’s determination and vision teamed his driver with Pearn. The combination went on to win 17 races from 2015 until now.
But there is one more win that needs to occur in order for Visser to ride off into the sunset. His team’s success is due to so many circumstances and alliances falling into play at the perfect times.
The alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing made FRR a winner. But it is also the source of the team’s demise.
Without that alliance, FRR wouldn’t have won so many races. No other team could provide such a powerful alliance at the time FRR needed it. The price, though, exceeded anything Visser could pay out of pocket. When 5-Hour Energy announced it wouldn’t return to NASCAR, that was it. FRR couldn’t pay JGR’s increase for the alliance, and Visser had no choice when he knew sponsorship dollars wouldn’t come in.
It came down to economics — profit versus investment. After 13 years of doing this and climbing to the top, Visser didn’t want to go back to fielding a flat black No. 78 car.
“Once things got far enough along, there was no turning back,” Visser said. “Only way that could have not happened if a sponsor brought us a big check. We hit the wall and had no choice.”
Sure, Visser could have found a cheaper alliance with other teams, but would it be worth it? Could he keep Truex and compete for wins? What if Truex left for JGR even if FRR stayed afloat? How much criticism and stress could he handle without the team winning as much? These were all questions Visser, and only Visser, could answer.
While the hit in the wall might have shut the team down, it made the crew members more valuable than ever before. Truex said during a Thursday press conference that some members will follow him to JGR’s No. 19 car next year, while others are moving back to Charlotte to find other jobs in NASCAR. Some are even staying in Denver to find work there.
So at the end of the day, Visser can at least sleep at night knowing his team made individuals more talented and successful than they could have imagined.
FRR’s legacy is certainly one of the best stories in modern-day NASCAR. It might not be the grassroots story you would expect, but he had a vision.
He wanted to be the next Rick Hendrick or Joe Gibbs. He accomplished more in just over a decade of racing than most have or ever will, and he did so without being in NASCAR’s hub.
Visser might not be a Hall of Fame owner, and that’s fine. But what’s more important is that he helped create potential Hall of Famers.
No matter what happens in Miami this weekend, Pearn and Truex’s next stop will be at Joe Gibbs Racing. There, they can continue the success they created at FRR. For years to follow, the two, along with the rest of the crew, will be asked about their time at FRR.
That’s how you know it is indeed a job well done for Mr. Visser.