Why we race: the owners

In Part II of a three-part series, race team owners help explain why they're involved

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Editor’s note: this is the second in a three-part series focusing on why people take part in auto racing. Part I was on drivers and Part III is on the tracks, officials and fans.

Say you have a successful business, or made several successful investments.

Now say you’re super competitive. So competitive you’re willing to shell out truckloads of money to beat everyone around you.

A race team seems like the way to go, right?

“I wanted to race really bad, and didn’t have any money. It motivated me and my wife to start our company, Richard Realty and Auction 35 years ago,” said owner of the 15R Late Model driven by Brian Harris, Lynn Richard. “And that company has been very successful. And part of that success has enabled us to race.”

On the surface, being only an owner doesn’t appear to have the same appeal as being a driver. You’re spending the money and taking the risk while sitting on the sideline.

But if you dig deeper, it makes more sense.

Like every level of racing, ownership most often involves or was initiated by family. Richard wanted to go racing, so he and his dad built a go-kart and it spawned from there. He and his wife worked together at their business, which was later bought by Steffes Corporation, so they could keep their race team going over the course of four decades.

Cosgrove’s Andy Eckrich, an owner-driver, learned what it was like from his dad, Larry, who was simply an owner for years. Larry’s Late Model teams won national championships and scores of races, and he will be inducted into the National Late Model Hall of Fame for his accomplishments on Aug. 9.

Andy and his brothers Dave, Denny and Doug all saw the commitment and drive to own a race team — both in good times and bad. Through all the stress and jubilation, why stick with it? Why step into his father’s shoes and help take over their family business, Precision Performance, which funds the racing, when success is often so fleeting?

“Addiction,” Andy Eckrich said through a laugh. “My wife will ask me, ‘Why are you doing this? It looks like it’s just tearing you apart.’ But it’s the competitive edge. It’s a lot of fun, but everyone wants to win. It’s strictly about being able to compete. Some people play slow-pitch softball on Tuesdays. We go race racecars.

“The funny thing is when Dad got into it, he talked about supporting his family like that. And obviously he did.”

Competitiveness is all fine and good, but a competitive spirit doesn’t pay the bills.

Bottom line is racing costs money. A lot of money. There’s a saying that goes, “Racing costs money. How fast do you wanna go?”

Eckrich said to start a dirt Late Model team from scratch with a brand-new car, it’s going to cost around $100,000 to race for the year. He said, generally, it costs 50 cents per mile of travel to go racing between racecar, hauler, fuel, accommodations and any hired help, like a crew chief. Obviously, that number goes up or down with the quality and number of parts and pieces a team has.

And any owner will tell you doing things in-house saves a ton on expenses. Building whatever parts and pieces you can on your own, as opposed to buying everything often allows teams to stretch their dollars farther.

Cedar Rapids native Griffin McGrath competed at the ARCA Midwest Tour level full time while attending the University of Iowa, and, like Eckrich, saw what it took to be successful. McGrath said at the his level, teams spend anywhere from $100,000 (those really watching their budgets) to $450,000 (“that’s on the high end,” and not typical, McGrath said).

He laughed when asked if teams on the Midwest Tour can be profitable at those numbers, reiterating that it’s still just a hobby — albeit large-scale — for people who truly love the sport. Even a team that wins all the time can operate at a loss depending on where and how often they race.

Racing requires tremendous commitment no matter what form, and owners have to set aside a lot to make things work.

“There’s maybe two or three teams in the country that would be making money at this (level). I can’t see it being feasible,” McGrath said. “It’s kind of a different hobby. It’s not something you can just pick up and put back down and not commit that much time to. It builds camaraderie. Taking that and being able to compete with it all around the country is really cool. That’s what makes the sport appealing to me.”

If it’s risky to own a race team at the semi- or non-professional level, NASCAR is a different ballgame.

Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski appeared on the Marty & McGee Podcast on ESPN in the wake of the Race Team Alliance announcement and said his Camping World Truck teams lose around $1 million per team each year. He invests because he loves the sport and wants to see it grow.

It’s been widely guessed at that the RTA serves to ensure a NASCAR owner’s future, considering more often than not an owner leaves the sport with nothing after investing millions.

Harry Scott, who co-owns Turner-Scott Motorsports in the NASCAR K&N, Camping World Trucks and Nationwide Series, as well as HScott Motorsports in the Sprint Cup Series, sees that on a first hand basis. Like so many others, he entered the sport as a fan who wanted to be a part of it, and has found some success.

He said he’s in the process of becoming a part of the RTA, and like those involved already, hopes it will help curb logistical costs of owning a race team, so owners will have a more long-term shot at succeeding. But unlike many in NASCAR’s history, Scott has worked hard to be fiscally responsible. And though he said the goal is to break even, he added if he left the sport today it would be without debt.

So how does an owner get something out of racing, especially if they aren’t a driver? What makes the risk worthwhile?

“It’s the challenge and the competition, and trying to build something,” Scott said. “I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. And the thing about racing that appeals to me is the immense challenge in being the best you can be.

“How can we make ourselves better? How can we make our equipment better? How can we recruit the best drivers and the best crew? To me, it’s rewarding.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@sourcemedia.net

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