At a time when NASCAR is looking for new team owners, that’s exactly what Jerry Hattaway of JP Motorsports did in 2018. His goal was to make an impression on the sport, compete for a championship and earn the respect of his peers in the industry.
One year later, those goals and perhaps the survival of the team are in question. Crew members and vendors are claiming missed payments and a physical altercation with a crew member remains a sore spot. Dependable sponsorship and employees have proved elusive. It’s yet another example of the challenges of becoming a NASCAR owner from scratch.
After being a longtime fan of the sport, Hattaway and his wife, Phyllis, started a NASCAR Xfinity Series team. The original goal was to give younger drivers an opportunity in NASCAR — the likes of Josh Bilicki, Brandon Hightower and Bayley Currey, among others.
The long-term goal: To be a mainstay and compete with the elite Xfinity Series teams, possibly jumping up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series one day. Hattaway mentioned those future plans in an interview with Frontstretch in September at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But some of the smaller things have been challenging for JPM.
“The biggest challenge was honestly getting cars to the track week-in and week-out,” Hattaway tells Frontstretch. “With the time frame NASCAR has, we were getting used to their program. With the guys we had here, some fit in and some didn’t, it’s just part of the challenge. You don’t always have the best that you need, but you kind of do with what you’ve got.”
Outside of posting just a trio of top-20 finishes during the 33-race schedule, there were other internal problems within the team. Hattaway and then-employee Mike Hayden had a physical altercation at Dover International Speedway in early May. That resulted in Hayden being removed from the track and getting suspended by NASCAR for over a month.
Meanwhile, other team members reportedly felt threatened by Hattaway while others reportedly claim they didn’t get paid. Regardless, it’s expected that the team will be fielding a car for the 2019 season opener at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16.
Rewind to a year ago. Hattaway, a new owner, needed to buy the correct parts and pieces for his team to do well, and he didn’t have a problem paying it right off the bat.
But as the 2018 season progressed, Hattaway began having trouble paying for some of that equipment, including engines. Sources have told Frontstretch he owes one of the team’s main engine suppliers north of $100,000. That engine supplier provides motors to some of the smaller race teams in NASCAR and has done so for decades.
Hattaway also purchased three racecars from TriStar Motorsports, which fielded an Xfinity team for eight years (2010 to 2017). Bryan Smith, owner of TriStar, leased Hattaway the team’s hauler for 2018. However, sources mentioned there were payment issues between the two.
Smith took over Pro Motor Engines after his father Mark Smith passed away in July 2017. PME is another company that fielded engines for JPM.
“I don’t have anything good to say, so I’m not going to say anything at all,” Frankie Good, head engine tuner at PME, tells Frontstretch. “I have nothing good to say about him.”
According to Good, Hattaway keeps saying he’s going to pay PME for its services, but JPM apparently has yet to do so.
When asked if PME has done business with someone like Hattaway before, Good is blunt: “No, everyone pays.”
Then there are the smaller pieces that add up to make a racecar go around the track — brake components, brake pads, brake brackets, suspension slugs, wheel spacers, etc. Through the opening few months of the 2018 campaign, JPM went through Malone Racing Service for those parts.
That came to a halt in April.
JP Malone, owner of Malone Racing Service, has a customer base of over 1,000 teams throughout the world. Currently, Hattaway owes Malone $3,053, though Malone doesn’t believe he will receive the money, noting he’s on the lower end of people to whom the team owes money.
“I sold them parts at the beginning of the year and tried to work out payment plans,” Malone says. “He has paid some, but he has the same history no matter where he goes or what he does and no matter what kind of business he does. … I wouldn’t even really call him a customer because he doesn’t pay.”
Malone received his first NASCAR crew license 31 years ago and has gone through the court system to get money owed to him in the past from other teams. He says he isn’t afraid to do it again.
“The parts that I gave to him that he was supposed to purchase, I might as well have called it a sponsorship without putting my name on the car,” he says. “He purchased and ordered parts that he approved, never paid for them, and I might as well write it off as sponsorship that I never put on the car.”
Malone says he believes JPM actually got worse throughout the 2018 season. That’s because JPM was bringing equipment to the track with a lot of wear and tear from constantly using the same pieces.
When Hattaway is asked if he currently owes money to any parts suppliers, engine companies or team owners, he quickly says, “no comment.”
Sprint car driver Hightower joined JPM for seven races last season, beginning at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26. He ran through Kentucky Speedway (mid-July) with the team.
Rather abruptly, he was replaced by a quartet of drivers to drive the No. 55 car in the second half of the season, and there was reportedly a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Hightower camp toward JPM.
Recently, that lawsuit was dropped, but Hightower knew JPM was pinned against the wall during the 2018 season.
“They were learning,” Hightower says. “That’s something that people have to go through. They go through hard times, and that’s something everybody needs to understand because everybody has been through hard times in your life.
“But there does come a time when you have to draw a line on doing something. We had our differences, and we split.”
In order to compete for JPM, Hightower needed to bring sponsorship to the table. And after seven races, he was sick of paying to drive and would rather race sprint cars.
“I’m not paying $40,000 just to drive something,” he says. “Tim McCreadie [veteran dirt car driver] put this in a post one time in an interview, ‘Why would I go pay to drive somebody’s NASCAR when I’m one of the best drivers on dirt? I don’t feel like I should pay somebody to see my talent.’
“It’s a good point and it made perfect sense to me, and it kind of dawned on me [that] you know what, I don’t feel like I should be having to pay somebody to drive their car. I don’t feel like anybody should, really. If you have the experience it takes, you should be there. I don’t feel like you should be selected because you have money. I know I definitely don’t have money.”
Hightower admits that there was a misunderstanding between he and Hattaway as to why the lawsuit was filed. But since then, both parties have moved on.
“I told him that I felt like I was part of the family, and like he was part of my family, too.” Hightower says. “That’s the way I look at racing: do I want to be family with somebody? If I want to be involved with you, I want to be family with you. I don’t want to be treated like I’m some money budget, because I’m by far no money budget. I’m a dirt racer, racing from week to week. If I make it, I make it. If I don’t, I don’t.”
But the issues for JPM went beyond issues of payment.
It’s rare for any business to be successful when the leader of that company is said to be violent. That was, some claim, the case with Hattaway.
Hattaway got into an argument with former team member Hayden at Dover on May 3, 2018. The argument escalated when Hayden quit his job on the spot; soon after, he went to NASCAR’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series garage because he was scheduled to be a pit crew member for all three of the top national touring races that weekend. Hattaway followed him to the garage, where he was “knocked out” by Hayden, who was then arrested.
But Hayden’s frustration stemmed prior to the Dover incident, some of which was over not being paid.
“Like a bunch of other guys, it was pretty terrible,” Hayden says of his time at JPM. “We were always scrambling for parts, never having anything on time, being extremely undermanned, not paid well. A lot of guys there – by the time I got there – there had already been about 20 guys that had been in and out of the door there, and it was only a quarter of the way through the season. We had guys quitting left and right, and it wasn’t a good overall experience. It was chaos, absolute chaos.
“He very rarely paid anyone on time. That was pretty much the typical stuff. He would threaten everybody. Always tried to threaten violence and things like that, and there were three, four, five people showing up weekly trying to get money that he owed them, but he was paying a lot of people under the table in cash. Other people are like, ‘I’ve been here for the first five, six, seven weeks, and he hasn’t paid me for a full month.”
As a result of being arrested in Dover, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel announced on May 23 it amended a penalty assessed on May 9 to Hayden. After hearing Hayden’s testimony, the appeals panel rescinded the indefinite suspension.
Hayden had to pay a $1,000 fine and enroll in NASCAR’s reinstatement program, which costs $2,500 per session to speak with a sports and behavioral counselor. He had four total sessions to move forward in the program.
Since the incident, Hayden mentions he’s been back and forth from Delaware roughly 10 times to meet with his lawyer. At time of print, the case is reportedly close to being dropped.
However, Hattaway is quick to say that he never physically harmed a team member, though he wouldn’t discuss the Dover incident.
“I don’t have a comment on that,” he says. “Threaten them? Never. Who says that?”
However, Hattaway does want the culture of JPM to shift in a more positive direction, starting from the top down.
“We’re going to be careful of who we do business with,” Hattaway says. “When I first came into this thing, it’s a whole different ballgame than from where I come from. With that said, I’ve got to pick the people that come here very carefully. What I’m going to do this year is concentrate on JP Motorsports moving forward. I hired Tim Silva [former crew chief], and I’m going to step back and let him run it.
“I think patience is the biggest thing for me to step back a little bit and let the guys do – I ran ragged last year, honestly. The help that we had and maybe the inexperience that was there, and they were running to meet all ends. … With racing, I obviously can’t have my hands in on everything. I want to, but I have to rely on the people that I hire. I tried to do that last year, but unfortunately some of the help I got probably wasn’t the best, but it was the best that we could get.
“You don’t always get the cream of the crop. You don’t get the really bad stuff, but a lot of that stuff is kind of in the middle and you don’t know what their intentions are and you want to believe they are steering you in the right direction. You take that for a few races and that doesn’t work, so you have to go in and regroup and see why it isn’t working.”
But according to Hayden, he wasn’t the first crew member with whom Hattaway had issues.
“There were numerous of people – before I even got there – that he got in fights with,” Hayden says. “It was ridiculous because he had three or four assault charges already pending before the situation at Dover happened. It was really awkward because I would never expect an owner of a race team to resort to violence when it came to his employees.
“I played professional football (NFL: Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs; Arena: Bloomington Edge, Chicago Rush and Chicago Knights) — and even in college (Shasta College, two-year community college), no owner would ever resort to violence with any employee no matter how bad they got. They would just get rid of them, fire them, cut them, things like that. They never sorted it with violence by picking up a wrench or a pocketknife and things like that.
“He went around bullying people because it was like, ‘I’m new to this sport, nobody is going to do anything to me. If I act like I don’t know stuff, I can get away with it.’ He got away with it until later on.”
Frontstretch reached out to another former JPM team member that was reportedly threatened, but they declined to comment on the matter.
Hayden has been in the NASCAR realm for the past eight years, starting with Evernham Motorsports. Before moving to JPM in the spring of 2018, he was working with Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing.
Currently, he’s more of an independent contractor. Teams call him, while his pit coach assembles crew members to specific teams, most of which are from backmarker outfits to begin with.
However, he says incidents like the one with JPM don’t happen on bigger race teams.
“I never had experiences like this when I was with bigger teams because everything was very structured, and you had your crew chief, car chief, shop manager, and it was very structured,” he says. “We didn’t know if the doors were going to be locked, if the lights were going to be on because the bill didn’t get paid. We had no clue.
“When I got reinstated back into racing after the whole situation, everybody saw me at the track and they were like, ‘man, I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad.’ Literally, engine companies would come and repossess their motors, chassis and stuff like that.”
Sources reached out to Frontstretch during the first week of the offseason saying the locks had been switched on the doors to the Mooresville, N.C., shop. It was also noted that some of the crew members toolboxes were left there.
When Hayden first moved over the team, he was hesitant to bring his tools over. He says he’s glad he didn’t.
“I was very hesitant and reluctant to bring it in because I didn’t know if the shop was going to be locked because the bill wasn’t paid,” he says. “All of a sudden, I have a $2,000 tool box with all my tools in it and I can’t get to it because things aren’t getting paid.”
But with Daytona less than two weeks away, JP Motorsports is slated to be at the track, attempting to qualify for the NASCAR Racing Experience 300.
This time around, the team is heading into the season with goals, something that it moved away from in its rookie season, just trying to survive.
“The people that we have here, it’s not about the money, it’s about the performance,” Tim Silva, general manager of JPM, says. “We have a short-term goal, an intermediate goal and a long-term goal. What we do as a team is we sit down every Monday morning and we discuss our short-term goal and how we get to it to get to our weekly goal, to get to our monthly goal. That’s how we grow as a team and grow as being competitive.”
The team is expected to announce a driver later this week.
Hattaway says simply of 2019, “We’re prepared to go racing, but you could always use more money. We’re stable.”
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