Six months ago, in early October 2021 on a cool evening at Talladega Superspeedway, Brandon Brown won his first career NASCAR race with his small family-owned team.
It was one of the biggest underdog wins of the year for the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and it was the biggest story to come out of that weekend.
For about 10 minutes.
After climbing out of his car, Brown celebrated on the superspeedway’s start/finish line, relishing in victory and remembering everything he had sacrificed in order to finally achieve his dream. He had endured missing key life events so he could race, went through five years with no wins, struggled for sponsorship week in and week out and also through a sudden cancer diagnosis of his father a little over a year earlier. It had all been worth it.
Off to the side, however, fans in the adjacent grandstands were chanting a politically charged cry that was then misphrased by NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast on live broadcast. A new political rally cry was sparked from the mistake, and suddenly Brown’s first name was known nationally for reasons that had nothing to do with racing. Brown was now the face of one group as his name was being chanted by millions across the country as a political statement, whether he liked it or not.
As a result, even after winning, Brown’s team Brandonbilt Motorsports was finding trouble securing any form of sponsorship, even after publishing his own article explaining his motivations in Newsweek.
Brown did what he could. In January 2022, right before the beginning of the NASCAR season, he partnered with LGBCoin, a meme-based cryptocurrency named off the political chant. The new sponsor had claimed to fund his full NASCAR racing endeavor. Brown, a college-educated business degree recipient, had secured a full-time sponsor, even if it was controversial.
But it was too controversial. NASCAR didn’t allow the new partner to be on the No. 68 car because of its new policy on politically based sponsorships. The small team would mostly have to go back to square one, while the value of the coin fell dramatically.
Since then, the No. 68 Chevrolet had been mostly blank, save for some leftover paint designs. That was until Atlanta Motor Speedway, where it went from LGB to ZFG.
At Atlanta, the single-car team finally was able to wrap the car with the colors of Zero FG Energy Drink, and they finished 18th, their fourth top-20 result out of five races at that point.
On Tuesday, March 29, the team announced another sponsor, Jabs Construction, will be returning to the team when they race at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, April 2.
At Atlanta, Brown sat down with Frontstretch less than 100 feet from his newly wrapped car and reflected about his past six months.
Dalton Hopkins, Frontstretch: Tell me about Talladega last year. The win, the highest of highs and then the ride that has occurred since then.
Brown: I mean riding the high from Talladega was incredible. The only thing I look back on, and for whatever reason stuck in my memory, was always like, ‘Man, Talladaga needs better cell service,’ because all I wanted to do was call and FaceTime [girlfriend] Morgan [Stone] and celebrate with her and call and FaceTime mom and everybody that wasn’t able to be at the track. David Clarke, because he’s one of our owners, and he wasn’t able to be at the track. I just remember like, ‘Man, I wish the cell service here was better.’
But no, it was such an incredible emotional feeling for me. Because everybody looks at it as like, ‘Oh, a NASCAR driver got a win,’ or, ‘It’s great. First-time winner.’ But I don’t think people truly understand the first-time winner. If you dial back on their life, you’ll see that. Growing up since the age of nine years old, I was on the road, just racing, missing birthday parties, sleepovers, slumber parties, proms, homecomings, sports events. I missed weddings. I missed everything. Everybody’s events. Life events. Things that you normally go to if you’re the average person that gets up every day and goes to school events, home events, family events, funerals, weddings. Everything like that. I missed every single one of those growing up because we were always out racing.
I missed holidays because we were out racing. Christmas. We either celebrated it early or late because we were down in Daytona. Doing all that, and then trying to build a team in NASCAR touring series in which there’s such a high barrier to entry because of all the other owners and their economic status. It makes it really hard to get into, so when you finally break that wall and you break through that mental barrier of like, ‘Do I deserve to be here? Because I haven’t won yet,’ and, ‘Am I ever going to get that win?’ That mental block of like, ‘Am I going to be able to actually race for the win?’
And to finally break that barrier, in an unusual way, but broke it. That was the high for me. That was the satisfaction. The, ‘Finally. We did it.’ It was like lifting a million pounds off your chest. Because everything that you missed growing up and everything that you weren’t able to be a part of as a normal child or as a young adult, it was all worth it in that moment.
Hopkins: And then afterward, of course …
Brown: Yeah, it’s kind of weird. Because 10 years ago, what happened would have never happened, right? Even if the fans were chanting whatever they were chanting, it still would have never taken life like it did, and all of it took life through social media. In 100% transparency, I just thought, ‘That was weird. Let’s go to victory lane.’ My mindset was completely set on victory lane. … I want to go stand on the car, shake the Gatorade, drink the Larry’s [Hard Lemonade], wave the checkered flag, take the picture. So when all that happened, I was so focused on everything else and celebrating my moment. We landed back in Mooresville or Statesville, finally had service, finally got back home and got to see Morgan and celebrate a little bit. It was like the moment that I was living for. There were a couple times on Twitter where I put out, ‘To all the other Brandons, you’re welcome,’ because it was just lighthearted joking. I never, ever in my life expected it to take the life that it did. It got hard.
Hopkins: Something that came out of that was a partnership with LGB coin. Tell me about what has happened since then.
Brown: Yeah, so LGB coin now, as we all see, is worth less than zero. So it was just kind of a bummer in the way that things happened. I think that the way the crypto market works is that the value is based off of how many investors there are and how popular it is. The balancing act to keep it popular kind of went out of whack of sorts. When it was denied in sponsorship and the value of it dropped, I think it scared a lot of investors out. And because of that, the value of the coin started going down enough to where they decided that they needed to just do a complete restructure. Like basically pause people where they’re at because of how much the value is dropping.
Well, if I pause everybody’s assets and kind of go, ‘OK, we’re going to restructure this coin to something completely different and then try and raise popularity that way,’ then people started at that level and kind of go back up, which is what they’re currently doing. But because of that, we separated ourselves from the coin and decided it’s time to move forward. As a race team, we all know blank hoods don’t pay the bills. So we needed to start working on our partnership efforts, and I’ve been able to see Brandonbilt Motorsports really jump in and take over. Our whole sales team really jumped in and started hitting it hard to find new partners to be on the car. My hat’s off to the whole marketing team now because it’s definitely a tough task. For what we’re getting ready to do, it’s exciting. Because not only are we on the hunt for new sponsors, but we’re also bringing back partners from the past years, which I think everybody is going to love. Because we’re still our family team, and everybody that’s helped us get where we are, we still respect them more than anything. We want to keep them as part of our team.
Hopkins: When that LGB coin partnership occurred, a lot of people put a label on you. What do you say to everyone that thinks that you had taken a political stance?
Brown: I’ve never wanted to take a political stance. I’ve never wanted to put views out there and tell people to view everything the way that I do. That’s not who I am. I mean the only thing I’m trying to do is put money in the team’s account, keep our building open, keep everybody employed and for us to improve our racing program. The whole thing is just me wanting to improve the No. 68. Make it better, faster, stronger, so that every time I strap in it makes my job that much easier to run up front. Go run in the top 10, top five and go for wins.
Hopkins: Is there anything that you would have done differently in the last six months?
Brown: I mean hindsight is always 20/20. If I knew how everything was going to go, I probably would have just gone completely sponsor hunting, just completely trying to find anything and everything I can to put on a car. But you never know how the crypto stuff works. I mean the crypto area was new to me. I was under the impression that it was an untapped market.
When you look at other sponsorships in NASCAR, a lot of them are very saturated markets and it’s hard to differentiate. Well, ‘Why the Xfinity Series instead of Cup?’ and, ‘If I’m doing the Xfinity Series, why Brandon Brown instead of Joe Gibbs, JR Motorsports or somewhere where I can get tied in with someone like that?’
It’s always been kind of a battle with partners that have been in NASCAR before or with their arena. So we tried to do something different, be different. That’s the whole thing. If it works out, you look like a genius. If it doesn’t, well, you all saw.
Hopkins: Let’s talk about Zero FG. Talk a little bit about how it has been getting that partnership.
Brandon Brown: Yeah, so [Zero FG] starting out this weekend [for Atlanta] is exciting because I feel that this is the beginning of a lot more of seeing them in the NASCAR garage and with our camp. We haven’t officially struck up any deals, but I think we’re going to get them the results that they want. And because of that, they’ll definitely have some interest in coming back, which is great for us because it’s going to show that Brandonbilt Motorsports, Brandon Brown, the No. 68 and this whole team and organization is marketable. We’re not the black sheep in the garage.
Hopkins: Speaking of the black sheep, being a small team in NASCAR, what is it like struggling to get those sponsorships?
Brown: Well, it puts you in a corner. As a smaller team, it’s a much more intimate group. You only have 15 full-time employees, so everybody knows everybody, and because of that, everybody-knows-everybody struggles. I know the struggles that the competition side has with needing and wanting new parts, and they know my struggles of needing and wanting new sponsors. Because of that, it kind of helps us all work together and helps kind of create that cohesiveness of our team.
But at the same time, because you know so much about those people and you know so much about those families, it puts a lot more pressure on you to secure sponsorship. Because if you don’t, then the sheriff comes up and puts chains around your doors.
Hopkins: Is there any kind of sponsorships that you’ve been looking at or any plans for the future right now?
Brown: Yeah, I mean right now it’s completely gung-ho on trying to make Zero FG happy where we want to make sure that we’re fulfilling everything that they need to be successful. Because they’ve entered the NASCAR market to bring the product to life. They took a big risk doing that and doing that with us, so we need to really make sure that we’re on our game with getting their product out there in front of everybody and then working with all the partners from years past that are coming back this year to make sure that they’re finding success. I think our successful marketing is going to be what sells the next few sponsors.
Hopkins: There has been a lot of talk about whether the teams should be getting a bigger percentage of TV money. What do you think should be done to help out the smaller teams like Brandonbilt?
Brown: I would try and steer the sport to where it’s not so heavily sponsor-dependent for teams. If you want talent, money doesn’t bring talent. Talent brings talent. If you want talent in the field, then you basically need to have the court ready to go and cars ready to go. … More money from TV, from NASCAR’s partners itself, from whoever, however you got to do that so that it’s not such a high barrier to entry, then I think you’ll get a little better product.
Hopkins: It was around a year ago you came out with the ‘For Sale’ video on your car and the events that have happened since then. How has everything changed for you and the team since then? Do you feel like you’re better or worse from it?
Brown: In that moment, the team was pretty close to calling it quits. That video was a last-ditch effort and that was me just jumping out and doing everything that I could at leaving my comfort zone, so to speak. Because it was that moment in time where they had said, ‘Look, the [COVID-19] pandemic had hurt a lot of partners from before, so they didn’t quite have the marketing spend.’ Without that marketing spend, there’s no dollars coming into the race team to keep it alive. So we had to really cut back, and we were worried about trying to get through that whole season. So from being there, to putting out that video, to having sponsors knocking down the door was amazing. I’ve never felt that ever. It was great to have. I think that’s what really elevated our program up to where it became something that won Talladega.
— Dalton Hopkins (@PitLaneLT) March 19, 2022
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after writing for IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
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