Throughout the early days of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, many NASCAR fans learned the name Timmy Hill after he showed off his skills in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.
This year, he wasn’t invited.
When the entry list for the season-opening Pro Invitational race at the virtual dirt Bristol Motor Speedway was announced, Hill’s name was not among the 38 participants. The loss is huge for Hill and his MBM Motorsports team, as they were banking on both exposure and TV time from these events to help sell sponsorships for their real racecar.
“We try to package our real life racing to the Pro Invitational,” Hill told Frontstretch. “We kind of really leveraged [that to sponsors], because we try to really package it all together.”
As a full-time driver for the underfunded MBM team in the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series, Hill usually doesn’t have an opportunity to display his true driving talents. That all changed when NASCAR and FOX Sports started up the Pro Invitational last spring.
In a time when no other sports had anything going on due to the COVID-19 shutdown, Hill stole the show when the Cup stars took to iRacing. In the seven events, Hill finished inside the top three in six of them. His biggest moment came when he did the bump and run to pass William Byron for the win at virtual Texas Motor Speedway.
“It was a nice morale booster, because I grind it out in real life,” Hill said. “I’m up against so many different odds that people aren’t even aware of. And when I finally got an opportunity where things are a little more level [of a] playing field, then I could really shine and show some talent.
“It kind of allowed people to understand that some of the guys like Garrett Smithley, different ones who would run up front consistently [in the Pro Invitational] that people don’t typically see and they consider them backmarkers or guys who just can’t quite get it done on a normal weekend. But in reality, some of the probably better drivers drive some of the cars that just can’t quite get up on speed for obvious reasons. And I think fans started to see some of that.”
The popularity and exposure Hill received from season 1 of the Pro Invitational helped the team on the sponsor front. But now, that boost has come to a screeching halt.
“Really, we had a lot of people who had interest in [sponsorship],” Hill said. “We kind of had to put it on hold, because we told them that we’ve really been left out of the loop on this deal, nobody [from NASCAR] will respond to us.
“I guess the reason is because they knew all along that they didn’t either want us in the series or knew that they weren’t gonna have us. Communication was really not there. It seems to be a common theme that we just kind of get left out.”
As a result, MBM, who has attempted every Cup race so far this season, will likely have to severely cut back its Cup schedule. In fact, one of the main reasons MBM was previously attempting the full schedule is because they believed it would get Hill into the Pro Invitational.
“When they first announced [the Pro Invitational] they said, ‘All full-time drivers and teams will be invited and actually are required to participate in it,'” Hill said. “We had success with the Pro Invitational last year that we actually kind of game planned around that event. For the Cup season, we actually purposely ran all the races this year just so we could meet all the criteria that we thought we had to make to be part of this.”
But the criteria was reportedly what left Hill on the outside looking in. 35 of the 36 chartered Cup teams were entered, with Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski choosing not to run. Austin Cindric, who has raced a non-chartered fourth Team Penske car in two races this season, will take Keselowski’s place in the No. 2. The three additional entries are going to be Ryan Preece, who has attempted every race but doesn’t have a charter, as well as TV personalities Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer. Preece is apparently using Harvick’s charter.
Other 4 spots are open for FOX to fill as a promoters choice. #NASCAR
— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) March 23, 2021
Apparently Preece (a KHI driver) is in the spot of the SHR 4 charter car since Harvick isn't participating. So it appears as the 36 charter teams had their choice of drivers and it appears no other full-time drivers were selected for this event w/provisionals to Bowyer and DaleJr https://t.co/fxcpKvwczU
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) March 23, 2021
“As this day kind of inched closer, we tried to get [in contact with] people who are in charge of this, and nobody would really respond,” Hill said.
“It really is par for the course.”
The Port Tobacco, Md., driver didn’t find out he wasn’t in the series until this week. Hill noted it was just another instance of NASCAR stacking the deck against his team, whose owner Carl Long was once barred from Cup for eight years because he was unable to pay a $200,000 fine for having an oversized engine.
At the start of this season, NASCAR cut back on the percentage of the race purse that was going to non-chartered teams, which was already less than what chartered teams receive.
“We were running Cup races this year, despite NASCAR cutting their prize money back on us, purposely so we would make the Pro Invitational,” Hill said. “So now with all these odds stacked against us, not being invited to the Pro Invitational with NASCAR also cutting the prize money back, there’s no incentive for us to run a Cup race. So we’ll probably end up cutting the Cup schedule back now.”
Still, Hill won’t give up on his dreams of being a star in NASCAR. He will remain a competitor in Xfinity for MBM and own a truck in the Camping World Truck Series, splitting driving duties between himself and his brother, Tyler. This week at Bristol, he has dirt ringer Mike Marlar in that truck on a one-race deal.
Hill still believes he has what it takes to beat the best, something that last year’s Pro Invitational gave him a brief glimpse of.
“The motivation is I know I’m better than all these guys out there,” Hill said. “I know that I’m capable of winning all these races, and that’s in real life and in iRacing. And I know, given the opportunity, the correct opportunity, that I could show that off on any given weekend.
“So the motivation is knowing that I’m better than all these guys and that one day, I can show them that.”
NASCAR declined comment for this story. However, sources indicated to Frontstretch that FOX had the ability to choose up to four participants beyond the 36 chartered cars.
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