Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: BJ McLeod Takes Live Fast Into Next Gen Era

Live Fast Motorsports quietly continues to build its repertoire in the organization’s second season, even as some of its contemporaries that started in the NASCAR Cup Series the same year begin to visit victory lane for the first time (see: Trackhouse Racing Team, 23XI Racing).

The team has no shortage of experienced owners of its own, with BJ and Jessica McLeod and former driver Matt Tifft overseeing the operations of LFM. Lacking the resources of their newer peers like Trackhouse, 23XI and Kaulig Racing, LFM continues to make its own path in a different way. Last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, BJ McLeod finished 19th to give the team its first top 20 in the Next Gen era.

McLeod spoke with Frontstretch last week to discuss the Atlanta result, plus its new style of racing, as well as the transition and vision for LFM with the Next Gen car. 

Luken Glover, Frontstretch: How much of a boost was it to get that top-20 finish at Atlanta?

BJ McLeod: It’s really cool to go to Atlanta and finish [on the] lead lap. It’s crazy, right, for a racer to say that. Like, I’m a guy that won everything I did before I came to NASCAR and now have had little to no success as far as one top 10 over 12 years. It’s been a hard road. Top 20 on the lead lap at Atlanta is so hard to pull off, and the new racing obviously is the reason that it was possible with the way that the track is laid out. It was still intense to try and stay on the lead lap, stay in the pack for four hours long or something and not get caught up in those wrecks.

I was right in the middle of the wreck and saw (Chase) Briscoe spin in front of me, and you’re going so fast that there is nowhere to go. We got through it all with no trouble … I laid back there on the last restart. I wish now that I hadn’t, because we maybe could have gotten a top 15. It just didn’t play out the way we thought, but regardless, getting a lead-lap finish at Atlanta was what we were hoping the new car would do for us. 

Some of the things that NASCAR is doing is definitely leveling out the field as far as your winners are always going to be your winners. Maybe we catch up. Ross (Chastain) is about to win a race, there is no doubt [editor’s note: Chastain indeed won that weekend at Circuit of the Americas]. Tyler Reddick is going to win a race, there’s no doubt in my mind. There’s people that couldn’t win last year that are going to win this year. That’s what the goal was for this, 36 to 40 cars on the track that are all capable of staying together and being competitive all day.

We were off really bad at Phoenix [Raceway]. I think I finished 33rd or something. Other than that, we had that lead-lap finish at [Auto Club Speedway], 28th at Las Vegas [Motor Speedway], two laps down. If you looked at California two or three years ago, I drove for Rick Ware [Racing] and I think we were nine laps down. At Vegas, I know we were eight or nine laps down last year in September. Obviously at Atlanta, we were always eight to 10 laps down. It was just so much different with the Gen 6 car vs. the Next Gen car, and that’s what has been so good for us to get to see that there is definitely more parity across the field.

We were always multiple laps down as a small team trying to grow it, planning on being here for a decade, two decades, three decades, who knows how long, right? It has definitely helped speed us up and get closer. 

Glover: What improvements has LFM has made over the past year as you continue to grow? 

McLeod: Really, I don’t feel like we’ve made near enough. Matt and I and Jessica want to be way better than we are. Starting out with a new car this year, in a way, wiped out everything we accomplished last year. I kind of feel like we were back to square one when we got the week past Phoenix last year other than we knew that we were going to be more competitive with the limited amount of stuff you’re allowed to do with this car. It definitely set us back as far as what we learned last year, but this is the reason we got into the Cup Series.

The Next Gen deal is definitely what made us all excited and made us think we had a shot to go over here and be competitive one day. We’ve got a lot of work to do, man. We don’t have enough people, we don’t have enough infrastructure, there’s a lot of things we’re trying to make better. It’s just a long road. 

See also
A Matured Noah Gragson Leads NASCAR Xfinity Points While Gaining Cup Experience

Glover: Looking back, you went to the Gen 6 car when you came in last year, and now you’re transitioning to the Next Gen car. I know there’s been shortage concerns in the sport, parts concerns, so what has that transition looked like going from one car to the next?

McLeod: We’ve been OK parts-wise. It’s definitely a concern because we only have three cars. We only had two complete when we went down to Daytona [International Speedway], and we’ve got our third now. That’s definitely in the back of your head.

My Xfinity teams to start this year had no less than eight cars and as much as 11 per team. Now we’ve wrecked every race, if not one, multiple. We’ve had a horrible start.

If you had told me we would be in the Cup Series with three cars, I would have looked at you like you had three heads, there’s no way I’d be confident in that. But the way they’ve designed this car, once the parts shortages get worked out, it’s completely right. You can run the series on definitely four and be comfortable. Realistically, you could run on two. It’s awesome that we’re headed in this direction. It’s been difficult being worried that if we tore up too much stuff we’d be in the back, but there’s so many positives. 

Glover: Has having practice and qualifying back this year helped at all? Just in some ways getting familiar with and getting the car dialed in, how big is that to have this season? 

McLeod: I actually prefer it the other way, if you want my personal opinion. I like no practice. I love qualifying, I want to do that. You can’t do qualifying without practice. … I wouldn’t say it is much of a help on our side, but it definitely goes back to the way you learn things where you practice first, qualify and then you race. It gives you a little more confidence going out there and shaking the car down before you have to go out there and run your qualifying lap. 

Glover: What did you think of the racing at Atlanta? Do you like that kind of racing, or do you wish it was like the old Atlanta?

McLeod: I think with our sport it’s important to keep a large variety, especially with the world getting as quick to information as it is. I think we have to have cool stuff to talk about. That was definitely a whole different technique. It’s not the old school Atlanta where you figure out how to make your car the best. … There is still a huge level of talent required in just a different art to drive this weekend. It was four hours of making sure you don’t get caught up in a wreck, driving hard enough to stay in the draft – it takes a ton of talent. 

It wasn’t Talladega [Superspeedway] or Daytona, it was not that. It appeared to be somewhat like that from the screen or the grandstands, but in the car there was a lot of lifting, a lot of steering input. The track being a mile-and-a-half with a Daytona- or Talladega-like scenario with the draft as important as it was, it was wild out there. The talent it took to run this weekend was different than the talent it took on the old Atlanta, but all these racecar drivers do both.

I think for our fans and from an entertainment aspect, it makes for cool storylines and fun things to look forward to that makes this a very cool thing to throw in. We don’t want every mile-and-a-half to be this way, because then we’d be doing it every weekend and it wouldn’t be cool any more. … The excitement of the sport is better than I’ve ever lived. I saw the late ’90s and early 2000s when it was insane. It’s so fun to see and different things to look forward to like Atlanta Motor Speedway now with the way it is configured is part of that excitement. … We can’t let this be the norm. 

Glover: Looking at how this car drives compared to other Cup and Xfinity cars you’ve driven in the past, where would you rank it?

McLeod: I love the challenge of the car. … The Xfinity car is hard to drive because it doesn’t have much downforce, it feels like it’s on top of the track. To me, this car is harder to be fast in than the Xfinity car, and last year I wouldn’t have said that. The Cup car last year — it was easier than the Xfinity car to put it on edge. This year, the Cup car is definitely harder, in my opinion. It has different characteristics to it that I’m still trying to figure out and feel. It reacts differently to bank change and rear-wheel load, steering input, nose height, it’s just a different animal.

That has definitely been harder, but it’s fun and exciting. This thing is a racecar, it feels like a super late model to me. 

See also
Podcast: BJ and Jessica McLeod on Live Fast's Growth, Next Gen Ownership & Incremental Gains

Glover: Between your Xfinity and Cup teams, how hard has it been to go back and forth between those two in the last year with all the workload?

McLeod: We’re fortunate enough now to have really good people to take care of both teams — Jessica, Matt and I as far as Live Fast, and Jessica and I on the Xfinity side. Matt does help out with that too. We’re fixing problems and planning for the future. With the people that we have now and the way we build them up, it’s not that difficult to manage both.

When we started in Xfinity seven years ago, it was extremely difficult. You never knew if I was going to have to work on the car, if I was making business decisions, finding money, you just didn’t know. Now we’ve got the network and infrastructure up enough that I can focus on what I need to focus on, as well as Matt and Jessica. It’s not that difficult to go back and forth between the two, it’s just hard knowing this is a long road. 

I want the Xfinity team winning. I want the Cup team winning, and it’s going to take years on one and possibly decades on the other, you just don’t know. It’s so hard to win at the Cup level.

Glover: When you look at 2022, what is the foundation you want to lay this season? 

McLeod: As far as Cup goes, in the first five races, we’ve already knocked out what we wanted to know. If we can build up our infrastructure, get people to where they’re relaxed, have more time to do the right things, there’s no doubt that we can keep building our partners and contend.

If you’re in the top 20 in the Cup Series, you can win a race. If you’re averaging a top 20, sooner or later something will fall your way, you’re definitely in the top 10. It’s just that competitive. This weekend’s top-20 finish is not that. We need to be averaging that, need to be performing like that at Phoenix, performing like that at Martinsville [Speedway], the whole nine yards.

I know now after running five races with the Next Gen car that our sport is going to keep moving forward, getting bigger. It’s exciting, it’s going to get more exciting. This car was the right move for the sport, and it was the right move for our team also and where we’re headed. I just couldn’t be more excited for the future with everything.

These first five races have proven a lot. That’s what we wanted as an industry. We all hope that the car is right, but there’s always work that goes into things to make them better. … We’re already in a very successful outing with this car, and we’re all working and making it better. That was the goal, figuring out this Next Gen car and knowing where we’re headed.  

About the author

Luken Glover arrived on the Frontstretch scene in 2020. He has been an avid NASCAR fan for the majority of his life, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who used to help former team owner Junie Donlavey in his garage. Glover covers news for the site and took over "The Underdog House" column in 2021. In addition to being a college junior, his hobbies include volunteering at church, playing basketball and tennis, racing go-karts, and helping at his high school alma mater.

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john dawg chapman

Good read, thanks.

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