Bubba Pollard did not simply join JR Motorsports for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 overnight.
It wasn’t consummated the weekend of Pollard first meeting Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the 51 Super Select in Indianapolis two weeks ago either, although it was finalized before the green flag that night.
No, Pollard joining Josh Berry at the Earnhardt team for the annual Late Model Stock Car race at Martinsville Speedway was a long-time coming.
Pollard, who is the most successful Super Late Model driver of this generation, had started to kick around the idea of starting his own Late Model Stock Car program in recent years. He made his debut at Martinsville last October in a joint effort with Jamie Yelton’s Fathead Racing and nearly won it.
Pollard had started to race more CARS Tour races in the Carolinas over the past two years, striking up a friendship with Berry built upon mutual respect.
That’s where this partnership began.
“It’s pretty cool to be able to drive for an organization like JR Motorsports and to be able to work with a program like the one Josh has put together,” Pollard told Short Track Scene on Monday. “They’ve been really successful. It’s a great team that I have a lot of respect for and the pressure is on me to get the job done and perform.
“I’ve talked to him on the phone a couple of times but that was the first time we had met in person. We had started to talk about what it would take to get me in their car for Martinsville and I was really honored that he would ask…
“I thought it was cool that he made time to come watch the race, and his support of short track racing in general.”
Pollard is aware that there is a lot of excitement about his joining Earnhardt for any collaboration. Earnhardt is the most popular NASCAR driver of his generation and Pollard is arguably the most well-known pavement short tracker in North America.
But he doesn’t get lost in the hysteria.
“It’s been fun to watch how people have responded, the texts and tweets,” Pollard said. “But I’m just a race car driver. I put my firesuit on the same way as everyone else. Here’s honestly how I look at it: I’m never going to be a NASCAR driver. That ship has probably sailed. And I’m not even sure if I want to be. I really enjoy what I’m doing right now.
“But to drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Martinsville, that’s the big time to me. That’s a big step for me to drive for someone as iconic as Dale.”
Pollard did not discount the possibility that the agreement could extend into other marquee events this year, like the Myrtle Beach 400 and the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National, but he is just taking it one race at a time.
He will be in attendance on Thursday for the open test with his newly-minted No. 98 entry.
Pollard says his main takeaway from last year’s race at Martinsville was the smaller brake package for Late Model Stocks, especially for a track like the Virginia paperclip, which requires what he called “a lot of stop and go.” It required a considerable amount of finesse, which was reflected in his underwhelming practice and qualifying efforts that weekend.
“The biggest thing is that I have confidence that their cars and their team is going to be prepared,” Pollard said. “The track changed a lot as it took on rubber. Josh is prepared for all the possible track conditions and how you have to respond. I know I’m going to be sitting in the best equipment out there.
“That goes a long way but there is a lot of pressure that comes with that. I learned a lot last year but I’m still going to have to lean on Josh for information. I’ve driven a lot of different cars, but I think the main thing is, I need to have a certain feel for my cars. And for the most part, that feel is pretty much the same for Dirt Late Models, Supers, Pros, Late Model Stocks, whatever. So hopefully I can get that feel early so I can lend them my experience and make them better too.”
The race weekend is scheduled for October 4-5 with the main event taking place on that Saturday under the lights. C.E. Falk III is the defending race winner. The race will feature a record purse in 2019, with the winner taking home $32,000 with an overall field purse of $110,000. The race will air live on FansChoice.TV and the Motor Racing Network.