Already this year, the ARCA Menards Series is seeing a positive change.
After a tough season in 2020 in which only one race featured more than 30 competitors and 11 races where less than 20 competed, at least 30 drivers have competed in the first two races of 2021.
Additionally, car counts appear to be on the rise in the main series. GMS Racing increased Jack Wood to a full-time main ARCA slate. Both Greg Van Alst and Andy Jankowiak have announced they will compete in the upcoming race at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24.
Four of the 20 races on the schedule this year are combination races – one with the ARCA Menards Series West and three with the ARCA Menards Series East. A byproduct of that is all full-time East and West drivers will compete in those respective races. Factor in the ARCA Menards Series Sioux Chief Showdown and there is hope ARCA car counts will continue to be on the rise this year. The question though is why?
“Last year was a really tough year for everybody,” ARCA Menards Series Communications Manager Charles Krall told Racing News Now. “While I think there is still a lot of unanswered questions with the economy and the long-term recovery from the pandemic, a lot of our race teams are in a little bit more of a solid position than last year. I hope we’ll see more entries this year than last. Last year it was so tough. For us just to be able to put those races on was such an accomplishment.”
“We have had a positive response from our community, entries have been up, and we’re going to have some exciting races,” Krall continued. “We don’t have 40 cars showing up, but of the cars we do have showing up, 12-14 of them are pretty darn competitive. They’re racing hard, they’re fighting and there is a 10-12 car battle for the win. Do we wish it was deeper? Of course, we do!”
Some of the competitive teams are newcomers to ARCA. Richmond Clubb Motorsports, RSS Racing, and Young’s Motorsports all are fielding ARCA entries for the first time this year. Moreover, mainstay David Gilliland Racing remains committed to ARCA after such a difficult 2020 for the series.
Richmond Clubb Motorsports is a new team this year, but its drivers Tim Richmond and Alex Clubb both have experience in ARCA. Richmond made 31 starts before this year with a career-best finish of ninth place at Toledo Speedway last year. Clubb only has 11 starts, but he will run eight races this year. Richmond will run 13 races, including his two starts already, as both drivers will compete at the race at the Milwaukee Mile.
Richmond previously drove for long-time ARCA owner Wayne Peterson, but he and his father, team owner David Richmond, decided to form their own team this year.
“For this year, we felt we needed for Tim to start creating his own identity,” David Richmond told Frontstretch. “Over the offseason, I purchased four brand new cars, two brand new ones and two new to us. We have two new GMS cars which we feel will raise the level of our performance. Tim and I bought a race shop so we’re creating what I call a sustainable team. Because one of the things Wayne instilled in me is we own everything we have so we’re able to go racing. A little sponsorship money will help us be more competitive, but we will be at all 20 races.”
In addition to competing in ARCA, Tim Richmond is a lineman for ComEd. As a result, his work schedule does not allow him to run full-time. So, the Richmonds partnered with Clubb.
“Clubb … lives down the road from us,” David Richmond said. “Alex brings his group of guys to the table and some knowledge. Alex has one car himself. With our equipment, we believe we can have top-10 finishes consistently. Tim doesn’t tear up equipment. Phoenix [Raceway] was a bit of disappointment. We didn’t get a lot of practice and then no qualifying. At the end of the race, we were running much better than at the beginning of the race.”
While Richmond Clubb Motorsports considers top-10 finishes a win, it is not for a lack of effort; all team members are volunteers. Its smaller budget made purchasing the No. 06 owners’ points from last year advantageous to earn some money from the ABC program, as David Richmond explained.
“If you made all 20 races last year, it gives you a little bit more show-up money the following year,” he said. “They have what they call an ‘A’ plan and a ‘B’ plan. If you make 10 races the year before, then the next 10 races the following year you receive a little bit of show-up money. If you make all 20 races the year before, the next year you get a little bit more show-up money. That financially helps us make it to the races.”
As a team owner, Richmond is not hedging his bet that an increased ARCA car count will continue.
“The Phoenix race was with the ARCA West. Without the ARCA West or East at some tracks, the field size will be down,” he said. “For some people, the Showdown will be worthwhile to show up. With the pandemic last year, there were a lot of cars just sitting there. Some teams will say ‘let’s get out there, we have not done anything in a long time.’ I hope the car count stays up. But I won’t bet in favor of it.”
David Gilliland Racing also is not overly optimistic the ARCA car counts will stay as high.
“Based off 2020 vs 2021 entries, field sizes are close,” a spokesperson told Frontstretch. “Both New Smyrna [Speedway] and Pensacola [Five Flags Speedway] [ARCA East standalone events] saw a decline in car count, while Daytona [International Speedway] and Phoenix were increased. Sponsorship is the most limiting factor when it comes to the ARCA series. Although ARCA is a stepping stone for many, the series is still very expensive from a cost standpoint. With TV exposure, marketing, and at-track activations that surround the series, it is unfair to give a prediction on the strength of the series as a whole.”
“ARCA is a great tool that we have within DGR for someone with limited experience to learn how to handle the heavier race vehicles and gain valuable track time on the larger tracks (mile + tracks) in which they will compete in the future,” the team stated. “The East/West programs are a stepping stone into the series and we feel gives young drivers experience which they would otherwise not be able to get until they are able to run in NCWTS or NXS [NASCAR Xfinity Series]. With the ARCA series, the drivers gain experience at a reduced cost and obtain a similar learning curve.”
Due to COVID-19 protocols, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has only practiced and qualified for its season opener at Daytona, and only a handful of races will have those two sessions. As a result, ARCA is appealing for DGR, especially for its young drivers who seek to progress up the NASCAR series ladder.
“The ARCA series, for DGR, is a good next step from a late model program or even an ARCA East/West program,” the team spokesperson continued. “The venues in which ARCA competes is a great way to have new drivers experience the larger facilities. With the current practice limits on NCWTS teams, ARCA is a chance to get on the tracks and have, even limited, practice.”
“The Ilmor engine program made it a natural fit because we can use it with both our trucks and ARCA program,” a Young’s Motorsports spokesperson told Frontstretch about the team’s entry into ARCA ownership. “We are excited to have a path for people to go from ARCA into Trucks. Tyler [Young], our owner, has worked with NASCAR and really been a proponent of getting the Ilmor. When it became allowed for ARCA cars, it is really what made us do the deal.”
Breidinger currently is only slated to compete in eight races, but she has the potential to add more, the team confirmed. Ideally, the team hopes to compete in some East races with another driver as well as possibly fielding an entry for its driver Kris Wright in preparation for his Xfinity Series road course events.
Nothing has been set in stone though; the team maintains its focus is on its Truck Series program, but some drivers have received quotes for some ARCA events.
For Young’s Motorsports, its involvement in ARCA is for development.
“It gives those drivers a platform to showcase their talents, sponsorship,” the spokesperson reiterated. “Toni brings a diverse high-caliber sponsorship. She is so unique with her modeling career that it outweighs what we normally would consider. She has really made a platform out of it and the Youngs have supported this development avenue. They really want to be in the long-term with these drivers and foster their development.”
Meanwhile, RSS Racing dipped its toes into ARCA to develop Xfinity Series veteran Ryan Sieg’s younger brother, Kyle Sieg. RSS Racing’s goal with its ARCA program is for Kyle Sieg is to gain experience.
With a bevy of drivers who participate in only a handful of races, the team opted to field its own entry for the same reason as Richmond Clubb Motorsports – it is cost-effective and RSS Racing owns its equipment.
After Sieg notched a career-best fourth-place finish in the series’ most recent race at Phoenix, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold reported the team was considering fielding Sieg full-time this year. However, Sieg’s schedule is still under consideration.
“Right now, it’s still race-by-race,” a team spokesperson told Frontstretch. “We only have two cars in our fleet. It’s hard to race a full season with just two cars and very limited resources.”
While the ARCA car counts are not guaranteed to rise for the rest of this season, three new teams plus a mainstay’s commitment to the series is a promising sign.