Not everyone is meant to be a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver.
And based on the recent financial troubles of BK Racing and Go FAS Racing, there are some Cup Series organizations that appear incapable of fielding teams, too.
And that’s okay.
The problem, in recent years, is that it has been considered a failure if teams or drivers are unable to compete at the highest level. It’s either ‘make it as a millionaire superstar’ or ‘stop racing and do something else’ with motorsports suffering as a result.
There are exceptions, of course. Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter have made it as ‘Truck Series lifers’ with Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier sticking around as ‘Xfinity Series lifers’ too.
So what exactly is the shame in becoming a short track lifer? The Dirt Late Model community has countless veteran stars with the asphalt Super Late Model side only producing a scant number like Bubba Pollard, Steven Wallace, Casey Roderick and Donnie Wilson.
There are others, but the current perception is that asphalt short track racing is NASCAR’s minor league and that’s a damning connotation. To be fair, there’s a higher concentration of veterans in Late Model Stock racing and they have a unique opportunity this season to create a major league for their own discipline.
Enter the CARS Tour.
The fourth-year division has taken steps to elevate itself as a destination for professional short trackers who just couldn’t find the millions of dollars needed to compete against the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
It has done so through the Touring 12, a group of drivers who have committed to enter the entire schedule in exchange for financial benefits and a marketing platform. That group includes defending champion Josh Berry, the JR Motorsports veteran who has made seven Xfinity Series starts, but just couldn’t crash through the glass ceiling to become an Xfinity full-timer.
In a perfect world, he would be racing on FOX and NBC, but in a less perfect world, Berry knows he can become the face of the CARS Tour and make the series a healthy home for the best short trackers in the country.
A big deal and a major league.
“I’m going to do whatever the series asks me to do to help this grow,” Berry told Short Track Scene on Media Day. “This has the potential to be really special.
“Look at the race tracks we go to. Hickory. Tri County. South Boston. Myrtle Beach. Bristol. Those are great race tracks. We have a live streaming deal so you can watch all the races. Reporters cover our races and tweet about it.”
For the first time ever, CARS Tour signed a title sponsor over the last week, becoming the CARS Response Energy Tour. The West Virginia based energy drink wants to follow in the footsteps of Hooters and power this generations Hooters Pro Cup Series.
It’s also worth noting that the CARS Tour is actually the successor to the Pro Cup, with owner Jack McNelly creating this series out of its remains.
With tracks like Myrtle Beach, Hickory and South Boston, there’s also a little bit of the old NASCAR Busch Series represented in this series. Four-time and reigning NASCAR All-American Series champion Lee Pulliam knows a thing or two about the NASCAR spotlight.
He’s going to run at least the first two races at Tri-County and the Beach and says he was attracted by what McNelly is attempting to build.
“It’s a really professional organization,” Pulliam said. “I’ve done the NASCAR thing and really enjoyed it. But look at this field? There’s a lot of big names here. As a driver you want to beat the best. They are doing things professional. The right way.”
Pulliam is yet another example of a guy that wants to race on Sunday but just ran out of funding. He attempted to run the 2014 K&N Pro Series for Hattori Racing Enterprises but several crashes left the team without the funding to continue.
Pulliam has since then won two other NASCAR weekly championships and his second Martinsville 300, becoming the face of Late Model Stock racing.
Semora, North Carolina’s Justin Johnson sees the writing on the wall. At 31-years-old, he probably isn’t destined to become a NASCAR superstar. But he wants to race. He wants to race for decent purses against the top competition and maybe become a short track superstar like Berry and Pulliam.
He believes the CARS Tour can be that platform.
“The way NASCAR has gone with their touring series, you’re losing a lot of talent that doesn’t have the funds to get there because you can have a whole lot of talent and have no money backing you and you’re not going anywhere,” Johnson said. “You can have a little bit of talent and a lot of money behind you and you can be in the Cup series.”
But those in the CARS Tour don’t have that kind of money, even if they have double the natural talent.
At least for the Tri-County season-opener on Saturday afternoon, nearly all of the biggest names in Late Model Stock racing will be gathered in one place. Many of them will come back for 11 other races at Hickory, Myrtle Beach, Wake County, Bristol, South Boston, Concord and Orange County.
It’s not NASCAR, but maybe in time, it will be something just as cool — a major league for asphalt late model short trackers.
Read more Short Track Scene:
- Massive CARS Tour Tri County entry list
- CARS Tour reveals first-ever title sponsor
- Why the time was right for Lee Pulliam to make his CARS Tour debut