I found out I was going to be competing full-time with the World of Outlaws right around the Performance Racing Industry show last year. We knew in August when we started having our meetings with Hercules Tires that the potential to do it was there, but it was going to be up to us to make it a reality. Hercules has been awesome to work with. We’re trying to grow and learn together but it took a little while to get to the point where we were both like “Okay, let’s do this.”
Ever since that day my world got really, really busy. We knew we were going to have to get a little different truck and trailer. I had figured I’d be running with the All Stars and would be running around home. I was in the process of buying my car owner out and I needed something I could afford so I had bought a smaller trailer.
The first big thing we faced was getting rid of the truck and trailer because I needed the finances from that to put myself in a position to buy something bigger. We next needed to locate another one and making all of that happen was pretty big for us.
We really didn’t change our race program a whole bunch. We tried to get our motors prepared. We had three motors and we really worked at making them nice and we were fortunate enough to already have a couple of new cars sitting in the shop already. We built one more new car and then we had the car we had been running so we had four cars ready in total. Really having the equipment wasn’t the big part, it was lining up the truck and trailer that was a massive undertaking.
I’m glad that we were able to do this how I kind of had it planned in my head. I was basically going to go out on a limb at the beginning of the year to try and get another motor, but I’m glad we didn’t because one thing that we’ve been figuring out is that we need to have some different things in our trailer when it comes to motors, cars, tires, wheels or whatever it may be to make us better when we go out to different places like California.
The cool part about our partnership with Hercules is that we knew the capability for us and them to expand was there if we did our job of representing them well. Hercules has never done anything in motorsports and I think it’s pretty cool because everything that you see them doing now, be it Winged Nation or other things that they’ve become involved in started with our team. We’ve tried to do the right things to keep Hercules interested in motorsports and some of that was in our approach.
We did not go to Hercules and ask for the money to go run a World of Outlaws schedule. We went into this with that attitude that we were going to try to build this relationship, learn and work together. We do a lot of extra things outside of just racing and if you actually stand back and just look you’ll see that Hercules really works with us in terms of it all being scheduled for our convenience. Hercules approaches us and gives us say 10 options for appearances and then tells us to pick the easiest options for us to work into our existing schedule.
I’ve also been fortunate to align myself with some other great partners like Ohio Logistics, DNC Hydraulics and Gear Alloy Wheels have all been with me for a long time. I also can’t thank my former car owner Verl Warnimont and his business; All Star Plumbing and Heating enough. Verl was very important in terms of positioning me where I am today and giving me the ability to own my own team. We’ve tried to grow with all of these businesses, network and try to turn it back into business for them. One thing we’ve really emphasized is trying to find opportunities for our partners to work together and find opportunities that benefit each other. I don’t think some racers actually understand this aspect of racing. The days of walking into a place with your hand out, getting a check and putting their name on the side of your race car is gone. Businesses don’t want that anymore, they want to know what the return on their investment is or will be.
The Master Plan
Our team does have a plan, it’s our first year of the plan and we knew we were going to struggle a little bit out here. Hercules knew we were going to struggle out here a bit. We were very honest with them and I think it’s helped make this relationship successful.
To be completely honest I don’t think I can really tell you what it takes to go from being a team with the All Star Circuit of Champions to a World of Outlaws team because we are still learning each and every day.
I’ve got to be honest, I do miss racing with the All Stars in some ways. The World of Outlaws have been great and I really have no complaints. The whole crew that Tony Stewart has in place now with Donnie (Grabey) and Eric and Ross (Paulson) is great to work with. The All Stars have just gotten back to where racing should be. Everywhere we went they were doing a great job of promoting the series.
I do think last year with the All Stars prepared us better for this year because the organization was doing the things in terms of marketing that we’re having to do this year. It’s just a great organization, they have great people in place and it taught me a lot because the competition level is just as tough as the Outlaws.
In all honesty, I feel like they have the best format in the whole country right now. If you time bad you can really push yourself in the heat race and make up some spots. The format also still rewards qualifying and heat race wins so it’s just a really nice balance that forces you to be on top of your game and really prepares you for when you come out here.
I completely understand the Outlaws position with their format. I just think that right now it hurts the mid-level teams and local teams because really right now the qualifying situation definitely favors the bigger teams. We’re just going to have to get better at qualifying and that will hopefully make things less of an issue.
Life on the Road
I’ve raced for a long time but never have I been in a situation where you’re gone for so long and where you’re seeing so many different and new tracks. We just did Lincoln, Williams Grove, Weedsport and those are just three completely different places. We are seeing different things all of the time.
One thing I do see is that we need to think more outside the box. Before when we were racing the All Stars deal it was a lot of places that you see every year or places that are similar to what you see and you generally get used to Midwest types of race tracks. When we raced with the Outlaws before we could pick and choose the tracks that we thought we could succeed at and compete at a high level. Now you don’t have that choice, you’re being thrown to the wolves at certain places.
Tracks out West in California for example are so much different than what I’ve learned to race and have been raised on. On top of that you’re so far from home so you can’t really get back to your shop and make some adjustments that you need to make to adapt to those types of places. To make a big change out on the road is expensive and we’re not really positioned to do that yet but we are growing towards it.
Out here you have to be adaptable. I have kind of gotten into a comfort zone with set up, our engine package and even my driving style. You’ve got to be willing to stop what you’re doing and change all four torsion bars, you need to have an engine in the cabinet that may make more torque than what you run at Eldora. You have just got to be prepared to deal with whatever is thrown at you.
Honestly, we knew that we needed to be very prepared going into this season, but we weren’t sure what we actually had to do until we went out and did it and now we are making some of those changes that we need to make. We have the guys at Kistler working on some motor stuff, we’ve changed some stuff around with our cars, we’re trying some different shock combinations and we are just trying anything to get better.
The way the format is right now you’ve got to qualify and that is something that I was just mediocre at in the past. We never put a big emphasis on it because we always felt like as long as we could get into the race we were going to be okay but the reality is that out here you can’t start 15th-20th night in, night out. You have to start these races inside of the top 10 and that is killing us right now.
Another challenge of racing with the Outlaws that I alluded to earlier is that we’ve never really raced anywhere where we didn’t get home a lot. There is nowhere you can race before racing with the Outlaws that prepares you for these long stretches on the road. If there is one thing we are really learning as a team is that logistically, being out on the road, planning where you’re going to stay, planning ways to save a little money here and there is a struggle.
We do a lot of events and appearances so we have to have tents and tables with us at all times. Something as simple as having fuel is something I’ve never had to worry about before. We carried enough methanol with us that we never had to buy any at a race track. That’s the kind of stuff that I’ve never had to worry about before and now we do. We try to find places to stock up and get enough for two-three races. There is just nothing that prepares you for the travel that you do with the World of Outlaws.
I feel like as a team right now we are kind middle of the road. As a result of the help we’ve gotten from our partners we’ve grown our budget and things like that and we’ve learned to eliminate some expenses in other ways.
It’s just tough. There’s times throughout the year when I’ve just thought that more money would fix everything but that is not necessarily the truth. The truth is this whole thing is an experience and you try to learn from the experiences each night to make your team better. I think trying to compete as a mid-level team is a work in progress.
I think you see teams like Bobby Allen and Shark Racing and they’re getting better and it’s because they’re getting more and more experience. When I walk over and look at their operation I see that they do spend the money and the help they get on the areas that matter and I think that’s a key for all teams but it’s REALLY important for teams that are on a tighter budget. Instead of maybe bolting new wings on your car every 10 races so it looks nice you spend that extra money on tires or motors which are the things that really matter at the end of the day.
I’m excited because we are starting to get our stuff freshened up a little and when we get our newest engine together it’s going to help out our whole program (The team won Charlotte two weeks later).
Living the Dream
All in all though, I’m having a blast. Racing out here is all I’ve ever wanted to do and honestly, I really like the way that we are doing it. When I was younger I was always wanting one of those top rides but as I’ve gotten older I’ve also learned that if you don’t plan for your future a little bit as a race car driver you’ll end up with nothing in the end.
Our whole goal here is to have an established race team for as long as we can sustain this and for me to still have something left over when it’s all said and done. I’m very blessed to have my family with me and to get to see all of the things across this country that we’ve gotten to see. We try to get out and do a lot like sightseeing or visiting historical places.
The coolest way to explain it is when we went in to talk to our daughter’s teachers and explain what was going on and I was able to say “Hey, my daughter has the opportunity to go see the Grand Canyon or read about it in a book and I’m going to take her and give her this opportunity.”
The teams have also been great to work with. It’s competitive and they’re not going to tell you everything but every single one of these teams at some point through these first few months has helped us in one way or another.
The World of Outlaws organization themselves have really worked with us. We had a deal at Perris with a tire company and I picked up the phone and I called them to ask if we could set up a tent in the pits and they were great about it.
Honestly I’d rate our season so far at about a C. That’s kind of what I expected it to be. You always want to come out and win every race but we knew from watching teams that have gone out there that maybe had bigger budgets or more experience or people etc. that everyone always struggles the first year or two when they come out here. You sit back and think you could do a better job and there are things I do feel we are doing a better job at. We watched, we learned and we take any advice from people who are already out here. We aren’t wasting money or things that could potentially help our team grow.
At the same time, though, there’s a lot of stuff that you think you have all figured out and then you get out here and even though you’re pretty prepared you still need to make changes, you still have to adjust. Our team is adjusting every night, we’ve been good at places that we’ve been to and the schedule is heading more in that direction right now. We’ve even run good at places where we usually struggle. We’ve never been any good at Lincoln and the other night we put it in the show and we were competitive. At Williams Grove we struggled. Unfortunately I think that’s what you’re going to see until we get back to these places a few times and try some different things.
Out here it takes the whole package. You can’t just pinpoint your issues on one thing. There’s nights when I don’t do my job as a driver, there’s nights where we miss it when we unload and we struggle all night long.
I’ll be honest, we’ve been to some places where I still don’t even know what we’ll do when we go back. When you go somewhere and you weren’t good all night long and the changes you made weren’t any good and you’re really not left with too many great notes. We’re going to have to take some pretty big swings when we go back to those places.
We’ve been fortunate in that no matter where we’ve gone we’ve had someone to talk to that’s tried to help us get in the ballpark. Sometimes we’ll walk up to some of these places and go “Oh wow, that doesn’t look like anything we’ve ever raced at before.”
It can be difficult too because when I come in from hot laps I may be over driving a corner or messing up and you have to be careful not to change things that you might have actually had right in the setup but were hidden by your mistakes on the track and a lot of times you end up further away from where you need to be when you actually unloaded fairly close to being good.
I’m fortunate to be really good friends with Dean “Bonzai” Bruns. He’s been really good to have when I need to pick up the phone and lean on someone when I’ve maybe gotten us into left field on setup.
On the plus side my crew guy Zach Holloway is learning this together with me. Up until recently it’s just been us two on the road together and until we added my brother-in-law to the team, because we were just getting flat wore out. I do all of the truck driving and motor maintenance and then we kind of split up the rest of the work. It’s truly a team effort.
When you get on these long road trips and it was just Zach and I with my wife helping to keep things clean it just wasn’t cutting it. You definitely need to have some man power out here. I’d love to at some point bring on an experienced crew chief but if not full-time maybe for a little while just to give us a different outlook on things and to teach Zach some things.
It’s hard to always teach Zach because when it’s just the two of us somebody has to groove tires and change shocks when someone really needs to be paying attention to the track or walking through the pits and seeing what other teams are trying. That’s the difference between Outlaw teams and those that don’t get to race on the road.
I’ve fed a lot off of Chad Kemenah. He did this for a number of years and worked his tail off. We’re fairly close and I respect everything that he’s told me. Whenever he was out here he was also frustrated because he never really could get into a great situation in terms of manpower and he worked his ass off and would be flat wore out by the end of the year.
I’ve tried to learn from that, and I’m trying to bring someone else in, if not just to clean, do gears, pump fuel and mount tires. It all needs to be done and it’s all critical to be successful out here. We’re all rookies on this team including our partners and we’re learning every day and every step of the way.
The Drivers Project is a media collective devoted to North American open-wheel racing.