Have you ever wondered how the young guys like Joey Logano, Landon Cassill, and Brad Coleman made it into NASCAR at such a young age? Or how they got in with teams who have great equipment? It's not rocket science to figure it out, but most fans don't see the business aspect of racing unless it's plastered on NASCAR.com or a silly-season website.
That's all it takes these days to get a Nationwide or Cup series start, it seems. Guys who are racing at their local short-tracks in their beat up late-models, making every feature and finishing top three every weekend are overlooked because of the kids with parents who are successful and willing to shell out whatever kind of money it takes to get their child into the spotlight.
Kyle Krisiloff's grandmother is Mari Hulman George--who definitely has some pull in the racing community. For those that don't know who Mari Hulman George is, she is the sole chairman and owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway; the home of the Indy 500 and also the Brickyard 400, two of the biggest races in motor sports.
There was speculation on how Krisiloff's poor performance in the Nationwide series got him a ride with one of NASCAR's most elite teams, Hendrick Motorsports. I'm not hinting that Krisiloff is not talented, but it takes a certain type of talent to race for one of the biggest dynasty's to ever be a part of NASCAR and Krisiloff did not show that talent. Mr. Hendrick had a driver developmental program in which he had signed three drivers to run in the Busch series(what is now the Nationwide series). Blake Feese and Boston Reid were the two other drivers signed to run a part-time schedule. After a season full of poor performance and mangled cars, Rick Hendrick decided to close down the program.
Yet another Hendrick Motorsport prodigy was brought into the stable at an early age and what seemed to be a bright career. Landon Cassill proved himself to be successful in series' below NASCAR, but to what degree? You flip on SPEED and see young men such as Parker Kligerman running without a sponsorship in the ARCA series but finishing second in the championship standings by five points, yes FIVE points! How do guys like Cassill get great equipment, sponsorship, and the support of a solid team and not capitalize--but guys such as Kligerman come into ARCA only planning to run a part-time schedule with limited sponsorship and end up contending for a championship? Yet again, the key word: money.
Earlier this season, Cassill and a few of his crew members went testing & during testing, Cassill apparently thought texting was more important than evaluating his runs and times. A friend of mine was at this test and said that it was a distraction for the team. Why would someone so young with such a fortunate opportunity ruin it with something so petty as texting? Probably because he was handed the opportunity.
Most race fans don't realize that these select drivers have parents putting in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just to keep up with their sons racing "needs." Whether it's paying a certain percentage of money to a team just to be able to test--or paying a fee to the owner to keep the cars in the shop & the mechanics tinkering on them each and every day. These things are kept on the down-low so that the owners and drivers are not being seen under a negative light.
Denny Hamlin is also a noteable mention. No, he did not grow up with a family who had the $750,000 home on a lake with a farm in Virginia. His lucky break came from racing in Dale Earnhardt Jr's infamous DMP. He raced alongside Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in this weekly exclusive invite-only online based series. He succeeded in this series and formed a bond with the two former Busch Series champions. Earnhardt Jr. saw potential in Hamlin and immediately mentioned his name to a few owners. Having the respect and recommendation of Earnhardt Jr, owners immediately took notice of the Virginia native. Hamlin had no money to earn his ride, but he had NASCAR's most popular driver's vote of confidence, which to owners is more than money itself considering Earnhardt Jr. is a brand of his own.
You can argue that good ol' racing talent will get you anywhere as long as you keep working hard--but without the support of Earnhardt Jr, Hamlin would still be running locally with maybe a few peeks at the ARCA Re/Max series.
I recently approached a friend of mine who runs in the ARCA Re/Max series full-time and subtly mentioned the fact that a lot of young drivers are getting their breaks because of wealthy parents or relatives. He agreed but also defended this "group" of people saying that they were only taking advantage of the opportunities they were given. Of course someone who belongs to this "group" would say that. I won't bad-mouth him, seeing as he is a friend, but it is common knowledge that not everyone in this world has the priviledge of having banks in their pockets. But there are plenty of young men and women around the United States who have more talent than some of the winningest drivers in the Cup series.
It's guys that came up through the dirt tracks and asphalt short-tracks on Saturday nights in the '90's and early 2000's that make NASCAR so grass-roots today. Drivers that are money-based usually fizzle out once the money well runs out, or their lack of talent is finally discovered and the team itself is coming up with a loss because of the numerous mangled cars in the shops each week. At the same time, drivers getting their "breaks" doesn't seem to be as common as it was for the Waltrip's, Wallaces', etc. The money-based drivers are swiftly replaced by another money-based driver--a never-ending cycle.
These days it's all about the family you were born into and how devoted to your passion they are. For the guys still busting their chops each and every day in the thousands of garage-turned-race-shop's across America, it's a one in a million chance you'll get your break. I applaud you and support you every Saturday night--but it's more than just your local short track followers that you have to prove your worth to. If this is to change, it's up to the fans to create awareness so that NASCAR will take notice and take action.
The opinions in this article are of the Author and do not reflect upon Skirts and Scuffs or other contributors.
Image courtesy of http://www.chicagolandspeedway.com/