Racing today is far different than it was in the hay day of the ’70s to the early ’90s. Back then, if a driver dreamt of racing at the national level in open wheel or fendered cars, they knew they could catch an owner’s eye by winning at the local level. Owners took the responsibility to find sponsorship to fund the ride, knowing they wanted the driver’s talent behind the wheel.
Somewhere in the mid-’90s, that all changed. The onus then began falling on the driver to find the sponsorship and bring the funding for the ride.
Fortunately, if recent events are an indication, that may very well be changing back to the old way.
Josh Berry has shown for years that he had the talent to compete at the national level. But no owner stepped up to put him behind the wheel of their car without Berry bringing sponsorship for the venture. He stayed near the spotlight by basically running the late model program for JR Motorsports — building and preparing cars for drivers who showed up with sponsorship dollars, ultimately getting to run races thanks to his efforts.
He had the occasional start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2014 through 2017. He then focused on the late model program, garnering the championship of the prestigious CARS Tour before snagging the premier title for local racers, the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts National Championship. The resulting attention landed him some opportunities which, eventually, saw Berry take the trophy at Martinsville Speedway in the Xfinity Series. That success, with other race finishes in the series this year, has set Berry up for a full-time run at the Xfinity title in 2022.
Berry isn’t the only local racer who has received a shot based on success in a brief stint in the Xfinity Series. Ryan Preece, a champion in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, took two different tacks while attempting to be noticed. He ran a full season in sub par equipment but never contended for a win. He then ran a limited schedule in top-of-the-line equipment with Joe Gibbs Racing. That resulted in a win and a longer schedule. A second victory led to the option to be a full-time Cup racer with JTG Daugherty Racing.
Jeb Burton and Jeffrey Earnhardt are additional examples of drivers who have attempted some races but didn’t have money to do a large commitment in exceptional equipment. They raced in whatever they could to get a shot in front of owners. Burton’s efforts turned into a ride at Kaulig Racing, while Earnhardt continues to chase the dream the old fashioned way.
Will things ever get back to the go-go ’80s way of doing it? Not likely. They won’t admit it, but owners have grown lazy with the fat checks coming in without any effort on their part. There will always be daddies’ rich boys who get into the seat because their father buys it for them.
Fortunately, the recent success of Berry, Preece and other drivers, at least some glimmer of hope has been reignited by the flame of desire. You still can get a ride the old fashioned way: you can earn it.
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