Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Talkin’ Trucks with David Pepper: A Key Player at ThorSport Racing

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David Pepper celebrates Johnny Sauter's win in the Ford 200 at Homestead
with Sauter and team owner Duke Thorson.
ThorSport Racing is the longest tenured team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series presently. Owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson have built a successful operation based in Sandusky, Ohio, which is well out of the realm of NASCAR country (Charlotte, NC).

Having the extreme pleasure and honor of speaking to all the ThorSport drivers in the 2011 season, I wanted to learn more about behind the scenes operations. Thanks to David Pepper, simply known as "Pepper," I now have that added insight and I think I've found the secret to the success of ThorSport.

Pepper’s start into NASCAR began like many, working his way up the ladder. Initially starting with short track cars at his local racetrack (growing up near Owensboro, Ky.), he also would volunteer at races. Driving to tracks and sleeping in his car or in tents, Pepper did whatever it took to get the work done. While doing this, Pepper also held down part-time jobs and was working his way through college. As a double major, triple minor student at Western Kentucky University, it took luck to get his break into NASCAR.

“I just happened to be standing at the right pit wall at the right time. I got approached by Clarence Brewer who owned Brewco Motorsports and he was just getting started at that time. I went to work there and worked my way up through the company.”

After working with Bobby Hamilton Sr., Pepper found his way to ThorSport, where he has been for the past nine years. During his time with the team, it started out as a one-truck operation and now has three full-time teams in NCWTS and one ARCA car starting next season as well. As Pepper explained his long and expansive history to me, he said, “That is your 10-minute version of my 17 years in racing.” Honestly I could have went on and on with the personal history aspect of Pepper’s story!

Pepper is a well-rounded man who has done everything from drive a show truck, went over the wall as a tire changer, served as a spotter and now presently is a competition director and team manager. “Just about every position, I have done. That way when you have guys coming in the office telling you what needs to be done and how to do things - you have already done them, so you have a pretty good idea.”

What exactly does the competition director and team manager do you may ask – well in short form, just about everything team related! “Mostly day to day operations which include anything from making sure the lights get turned on to making sure we have every piece and part in the shop and every person has what they need to build and maintain the race cars. Make sure all the bills are paid, all the travel arrangements are made and making sure our trucks as well as equipment gets there each week.” It is hard to imagine that one man has so many responsibilities.

ThorSport Racing, under the watchful eye of Pepper, has gone through much growth this past season, while the opposite can be said for many of its competitors. He attributes this all to a good business plan: “I think a lot of this is having a really good business plan, really good owners and working that plan. I think because we are not in the Charlotte area we do things differently as far as knowing what it costs to do this and logistics. You can’t have ten things sitting on a shelf because you may not need them, we do not have the luxury. If we need a spindle, it takes driving down the street and getting it. We have to be more efficient and that is across the board. Not only parts, people and actually getting the work done,” explained Pepper of the winning ways of ThorSport.

The credit lies with the people of ThorSport – whom are all hand-picked for their positions with the team. “We put a lot of thought into every single body that is in here - from crew chiefs to drivers, right down to the guy who is sweeping the floor. They all fit the mold; we are looking for certain people that buy into the multi-team aspect and all working under one garage. We are not here to do this for one year - we are here to do this for many years down the road and we need a person who buys into that.”

It was recently announced (Pursues 2012 Series Championships with Toyota and TRD) that the team would be making a change from Chevrolet to Toyota, much to the surprise of fans. I asked Pepper to explain this and if there was one thing that has pushed the change along. “I do not think you can blame it on one aspect,” he replied. "For 16 years, nine of which I have been here, we have had a great relationship with Chevrolet. But looking towards next year and 10 years down the road, it became evident for us that to continue on with our growth and the best move was to partner with Toyota."

Fans have not taken this news in stride, many threatening to pledge their alliance elsewhere while others teeter on the fence awaiting the outcome. As Pepper said, “winning will pacify the fans. If we go and win Daytona, everyone will be happy we switched.”  Pepper recounted something he was once told by a fellow racer, “Whether they are cheering you or booing you, at least they have some reaction” which he felt fit this situation well. Although loyal fans may not be happy with the change, Pepper says “The move is strictly based on giving our guys the opportunity to have the best pieces and parts to go win races.” Pepper added, “I hope we go out and win so many races next season that they (the fans) get sick of us.”


According to Pepper in regards to heading into the new season, ThorSport has “some new bullets to shoot” with the additions of Dakoda Armstrong racing full-time in the No. 98 Truck and Frank Kimmel launching ThorSport’s first-time venture into the ARCA Series.

With all these new additions the team is actively seeking job applicants, and in this tough time when so many shops are downsizing and closing that is welcome news. Sandusky is far from the NASCAR Hub, but if you fit the “mold” of what ThorSport is looking for – go for it. “We need people who understand the multi-team aspect, everyone have one goal and working towards it. It’s a life change since most of the teams are based in North Carolina and most of us had a home there but when you make the move to Northern Ohio one of the things we offer is stability. A normal race teams longevity is 2-3 years but here lately about every year guys are looking for jobs. If you come here and are talented, work hard and come in every day to get your job done – there is no reason that you cannot work here 10 years plus. We try to make it a home here.”

Pepper explained to me that you are not just a number at ThorSport – he can tell you the names, wives, children, etc. of every team member. He truly thinks of his team as a family, which is the key to a successful business!
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Amanda Ebersole brings you Talkin' Trucks as part of her expansive coverage with Skirts and Scuffs. Talkin' Trucks will focus on the names and faces behind the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. To read other interviews in the Talkin' Truck Series click here. Feel free to contact Amanda via Twitter or e-mail.

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