Perspective by Thomas Martins

Success is situational in racing.

Ask Jordan Anderson how he felt about his 18th place finish at Dover this year after missing two races earlier in the season. Ask Matt DiBenedetto how he felt about his top-10 at Bristol with BK Racing when he wasn’t sure he’d even have a NASCAR ride coming into this year. Ask Travis Kvapil, a past NASCAR Truck Series Champion, how he felt about his 12th place run this past weekend at Gateway for MAKE Motorsports. All of those runs held significance not because of the finish, but because of all of the bad circumstances that led up to them.

We finished 18th at Gateway. Sometimes, an 18th place finish can hold deeper meaning.

When you race a car (or a truck) that is underfunded, success is often unrecognizable to people outside of the team. In 2014, we were fastest in final practice at Talladega in the Xfinity Series. We were in a draft with 4 or 5 other cars, and managed to get the fastest time by a couple hundredths or something. Complete luck. Only 20 or so cars went out in the session. Practice didn’t really matter at Talladega anyway.

It mattered to us.

People had to say my name. They had to talk about our team. The #76 car (bleh, I always hated that number) was on the top of the speed charts & everyone had to look at it. All of the hard work and suffering that we had put our guys through – the start and parking, the late nights, the cross country road trips in the cab of an 18-wheeler – all of it was worth it for a few hours that Friday afternoon. Sure, it had no significance to how the race would play out, but it meant the world to us.

Claire B. Lang read the results on NASCAR radio & it sounded more like a question than an announcement. NBC Sports wrote an article about it that said I’d, “have a story to tell my children someday.” Nobody knew who I was, but all of a sudden I was relevant. Even if it was just for one afternoon. We were relevant. And that’s all a small team can hope for.

When you sign up for this deal, to work or drive for an underfunded team, you know you’ll never win a race. Heck, top tens will probably be out of reach. But, you don't want to be irrelevant. You don’t want to have broadcasters mispronouncing your name because they don’t even know or care who you are. You don’t want people asking if you even deserve to be in NASCAR or questioning your credentials just because you drive for a team that's finishing in the back. If the team shuts down in the middle of the year, you want people to at least notice that you’re gone.

It’s pitiful how many people make it to the top levels of motorsports as a mechanic or driver and wind up leaving with the impression that nobody gave a shit. You shouldn't have to be remarkable to get respect. It's hard to be remarkable in racing without the equipment necessary to make it happen. Not everyone gets that chance. All anyone wants is to believe they're part of something important. That all their hard work meant something to someone.

When I ran my first race in 2014 in Phoenix, Allen Bestwick (one of my broadcasting idols) came over to our trailer in the garage to meet me.


A guy he had never heard of, driving a car that would go on to finish in the top-20 one time all year. He asked me where I was from, where the team was from, what I had raced before. He asked what our goals were as a team, how many guys we had working for us, whether we had any sponsors. We spoke for a minute about my journalism degree at Ole Miss. I told him I went to college to take his job. He laughed and rolled his eyes (justifiably).

Those few minutes didn’t mean anything to Allen Bestwick. He was just doing his job, checking in on a new driver in the series that he was paid to cover - due diligence. Later in the year, we got spotlighted during our race at Talladega. We had been running in the top ten for most of the event, and ESPN had a bumper cam staring back at our car. Allen Bestwick spoke about how much the run meant to our small team, based out of Tennessee, with a well spoken, Ole Miss journalism major for a driver.

Didn’t mean anything to him. Meant everything to me. Meant everything to all of my family & friends watching the race. Meant everything to the families and friends of the guys on my crew for that race. For a minute, on ESPN, in front of the whole racing world, we mattered.

To most of the people covering or watching the race at Gateway, a truck finishing in 18th place doesn’t hold a lot of significance. There were a lot of crashes. There was a [bad – but, entertaining] fight. A young, talented driver won his first race of the year, the third win in a row for a championship team. There were plenty of other things to talk about besides a small team finishing 18th. But, for us, 18th felt like a top-5. It felt like we had finally reached the top of a mountain that had been growing in height since our crash at Daytona the first week of the year. For a few minutes after our race, our guys finally got to breathe a sigh of relief.

Trust me, they needed a relief.

They had to spend an entire week trying to prepare a truck for a track it wasn’t designed to race at, in a shop 500 miles away from home, without half the things they needed to be able to set it up properly. To try to save money in travel costs, our guys spent the last couple weeks working out of a small tractor shop in Somerville, TN, just outside of Memphis. Our biggest supporters (practically team members themselves at this point), Rodney & Lynn Riessen, let the guys stay in their house.

Our short track truck was still wadded up from the Iowa crash. The team spent a couple days swapping parts over to our intermediate truck – brakes, suspension, whatever wasn’t damaged from the crash. They couldn’t get the front-end geometry exactly how they needed it for Gateway, but they did the best they could. We had to get valve springs overnighted from Charlotte because the motor we had in our intermediate truck wasn’t supposed to be run again until Kentucky. The impact at Iowa left our short track motor potentially damaged so we didn’t want to run it again until we could get it checked out. Kevin Eagle & the guys spent most of Thursday night changing the valve springs & checking out our intermediate motor, which at the time, had 900 miles of racing on it. They finished up at 2 am. They had to be at the track at Gateway at 10 am – 5 hours away.

It was scorching hot during tech day on Friday. They spent all afternoon finishing up the truck and pushing it through the tech line. They didn’t get back to their hotel until 9 pm. To make matters worse, they had even more responsibility than usual. Because our normal pit crew was in Sonoma, our guys had to suit up and go over the wall shorthanded. Our four-man crew had to make 8 separate pit stops for either tires or fuel – twice as many as normal because we could only do either tires or gas during one stop without going a lap down. They had to be back at the racetrack at 7 am. They wouldn’t leave the track Saturday until 11 pm.

I can’t express how proud I am to drive for a group of guys that can give that kind of effort. They’re unreal & I’m so blessed to have them.

As for the race day itself, it went as well as we could’ve possibly hoped. We finished first practice 27th fastest. I wasn’t too worried about it. The truck felt okay - a little tight, but okay. We wound up 25th in final practice. Still a little tight, but basically ran the same times as the practice before on older tires, so I thought we had made some decent gains.

Qualifying got rained out, which bummed me out a bit because I knew we were faster than a 27th place starting position and we wouldn’t get the chance to improve on it. Regardless, I was looking forward to the race.

We made a big decision as a team to actually run the race. As I mentioned in my last post, we had every reason possible to start and park our truck. It took a lot of guts & faith for my dad to make that decision, and he did. In fact, he didn't really waste a lot of time thinking about it. We went to Gateway to race, and that’s what we did.

My dad also spotted for me at Gateway. Toby Whealdon, our normal spotter, was out in Sonoma calling the race for David Regan. It was his second time my dad spotted for me this year – his previous race was at Texas. He hates it. He thinks he’s terrible at it. Sure, he’s missed a couple calls, but I think he stresses about it too much. He’s a good spotter. At Texas he battled radio problems the whole race; the thing kept cutting out for a few minutes at a time. One time, we nearly door slammed Daniel Hemric because of it. I think my dad is so worried about messing something up that at times he hesitates. I know he’s nervous every time he gets up in that spotters stand. He called a good race at Gateway, and I’m proud of him for it.

We never made an adjustment to our truck the entire night. That’s an amazing accomplishment given everything the guys had to go through to get the truck ready. It felt really solid all night long. We moved up around the top-20 early in the race, and for the first time all year, we stayed on the lead lap during two full caution clock runs. It’s hard to describe what a milestone that is for our team. And for it to happen this week, of all weeks, with these circumstances – wow. I mentioned it to the guys on the radio and Kevin got emotional about it. It was huge.

As for our finish – 18th – we deserved it. That’s all I can say. I know that a lot of trucks got torn up Saturday night. Several of the accidents happened right in front of us and we were able to navigate our way through them. All in all, we were able to keep ourselves on the lead lap, contending and passing trucks for the entire race.

When it came time for the final restart, I thought we could pass a few trucks and end up with a top fifteen. I made a move to get by the #00 of Cole Custer and he raced me pretty hard into turn three, I got a little loose and had to back out of it. Cole got by the #07 of Shane Lee going into turn one on the last lap, and I was able to get a run on him coming out of turn two. As we raced down the backstretch, I saw in my mirror that the #9 of William Byron got a big run on us. At the time, I thought he was a lap down because of an incident earlier in the race. He made a move to the inside, putting us three wide going into turn three. I was furious. I was also sideways as we went into the corner. All three of us were able to gather it up, and came across the line three wide. I dropped my window net and started waving at William down the backstretch on the cool down lap. As we got to pit road, someone told me on the radio he was a lead lap truck. I hopped out, and immediately went over to apologize. It was an aggressive move, but it was the last lap, and it was for position. It was a good pass from a good driver. I just wish I had thrown a block down the backstretch and we could’ve finished 16th.

I’m greedy.

18th place was my career best truck series finish. I don't like that. Sure, we just had a little success, but I want more. Our team isn’t satisfied with an 18th place finish. I'm not satisfied with an 18th place finish. Don’t get me wrong, we’re enjoying it. It’s the first taste of success we’ve been able to have all season. But, we’d like to get finishes like that every week. We think we’re capable of more. Staying on the lead lap during a caution clock run was a goal, and we got it. Getting a top twenty finish was a goal, and we got it – it took us a while, but we got it.

Now it’s time to set another.

Wrecked by Thomas Martins

We got wrecked in Iowa.

I got really, really mad. As mad as I’ve ever been in my entire life. I made an ass out of myself on twitter. I was mad for a lot of reasons, not just because Derek Scott, Jr. ran into us. I was mad because we had the worst possible weekend our team could’ve ever had.

When we unloaded, we were slow. It was one of the weirder things I’ve ever experienced. The truck felt pretty solid. I felt like it took me about 20 laps to get up to speed & comfortable with the racing line, and by then, our only set of practice tires obviously wouldn’t be good enough to get us near the top of the board, so we focused on race runs. We were 28th fastest. Not good. We made a shock adjustment. We kept looking at the times and they were showing us a full second off of 15th place race run times. We went back out in second practice and things just got worse – P30. The truck still felt fine. I told Eagle I wasn’t sure what to change with it. We were resigned to the fact we were going to struggle with speed all weekend.

Qualifying certainly didn’t change our minds. I felt like I ran a solid lap and we were over a second off of the leaders pace. We wound up 30th out of 33 trucks - our worst qualifying effort of the year. I was frustrated. I went and sat alone for about an hour after the session. I didn’t know what to do. The truck felt fine but it wasn’t going anywhere. My dad and I talked about start and parking, something we never thought we would ever do again. I mean, what was the point of risking a wreck when we were a 30th place truck? There was nothing to gain.

The ghosts of our failed 2014 Xfinity effort constantly haunt us. We were so bad that year Mike Harmon & Carl Long knocked us out of races (love both those guys, but they know their stuff isn’t very good). We swore we would never be that bad as a NASCAR team ever again. We’d never be a team that missed races. We’d never be a team that struggled to simply qualify or be competitive every week. If we were going to be that bad, we might as well shut the team down and save the money & embarrassment.

Despite what many people in the industry say, I’ve never thought driving a bad truck or bad car hurts you as a driver. Sure, it might make you question your own abilities (take a look at my post from last week). Sure, it might effect the casual fan’s perception of you as a driver (take another look at my post from last week). And sure, it might affect your ability to get a sponsor (don’t think I touched on that, but obviously a sponsor doesn’t want to support a guy finishing 30th every weekend). But the people that know, the people in the garage area, the members of the media that are there every weekend, the dedicated race fans, the people that see what’s actually going on…they get it. They don’t think I’m a bad driver. They understand the dynamics of the sport.

I was awful at Dover. I even wrote a post saying how badly I got my butt kicked. Our truck was all over the place. We nearly wrecked 5 times. We were in the way. I did everything I could do to just hold onto the thing for 200 laps. I remember how relieved I was when I saw checkered flag because it meant I didn’t have to drive that evil thing anymore.

My dad spoke with Mike Beem, the competition director of GMS a couple weeks ago. He told my dad what an unreal job I had done at Dover. My dad laughed. “We were awful,” he told him. But, Mike complimented me on my patience, my car control, & my professionalism. “Most guys would’ve either wrecked or just pulled it in. He stuck it out. We were all paying attention,” he said.  I was shocked & humbled by the recognition.

Racers all over America, hear me when I say that sitting on your couch is the worst thing you could ever do for your career. Never be ashamed of driving a car that’s not up to par. Make yourself better. Try to elevate the team. Be Landon Cassill. Be Matt DiBennedetto. Be Ryan Ellis. Have a good attitude about it. People WILL notice.

Eventually, we talked ourselves out of parking our truck. We decided to race. We’re racers. A never give up attitude, stubbornness, the fact that we had already paid for our pit crew – all of these were probably the determining factors. Barring the fact that our truck is wadded up, I still think we made the right call.

The truck wasn’t bad. In fact, it was pretty darn good. We passed the trucks in front of us on the grid pretty easily and had worked our way up to around 23rd or 24th. We gave up track position on a few restarts but, overall, we were a competitive truck. We made some passes, raced with some pretty good trucks, and were only going a lap down deep in the clock – under 5 minutes to go every time, I think. We were pleased with how the race was developing for us. Our guys on pit road were doing a fantastic job, and we were leading about 5 or 6 trucks on the same lap as us.

Of course, we completely overshot our tire budget for the weekend. Normally when we go to a racetrack, we try to keep our tire cost around $5,000-$6,000. This involves buying the mandatory set at full price from Goodyear ($2,200), hopefully bringing a practice set of tires from home ($600-$800, but we’ve only been able to about half the time because Goodyear changes tire codes a lot), and scrounging around on pit road for scuff tires, used up 30-40 lap tires, or if a truck crashes out of the race, buying their leftover sticker tires for half price.

The market was a complete mess at Iowa.

We were running the same tire compound as the Xfinity teams. You would think that would mean there would be more tires available! Instead, the Xfinity teams came and plundered all of the leftover practice tires from our series, and also were on pit road during our race to buy away any extra tires teams had after an accident.

We decided to start the race with only two sets of tires, and see how things went. When we knew we had a shot at a top-20 finish, we made the call that we would run the entire race. I was excited. The truck was a blast to drive, but we couldn’t get ANY cheap tires. Despite our best efforts to make deals, everyone either turned us down or had already made a deal with another truck or Xfinity team. We wound up buying two more full cost sets, and ended up crashed and 30th on the board. Our total cost for the weekend was over $10,000. All that money was wasted. We could’ve finished in the same place with a start & park strategy & spent $10,000 less.

The crash was dumb. Beyond dumb. With 30 something laps to go, I was running 24th, the first truck on my lap. I had opened up a pretty solid gap of 10-15 trucks of the next truck I was racing for position, Derek Scott, Jr. in the #02. The two trucks in front of me, Rico Abreu & Austin Wayne Self, were battling for 16th position. I caught them pretty easily. I made a move to get by the #22 and he raced me pretty hard. No harm, no foul, he was trying to stay up there and fight the #98 for a spot. Eventually after a few laps, he held me off and got clear. Then I got beside the #98. Same thing. Raced me pretty hard and eventually held me off. Then they got side by side. They got so frustrated with each other that they started banging doors down the front & back straightaways. That went on for about 5 laps.

I was caught in a weird spot. I thought I was faster than both of them. I definitely was faster when they were racing side by side. My spotter, Toby Whealdon, kept telling me to give them room. Smart. I agreed. It looked like they were about to wreck each other. I tried to make a move to get by both of them when they ran up the track in turn 3, but the #22 pinched me down a bit and I had to lift. I was getting frustrated. I love Austin, but he drove a wild race. He made contact with the #92 of Parker Kligerman earlier that resulted in a cut tire & Parker in the wall. He got into Caleb Holman late in the race and Caleb wound up wrecked. The problem was that by being patient with Austin & Rico, it allowed the #02 truck to catch back up to us. As soon as he got within a couple truck lengths, he dove into turn 1 and stuffed us into the outside wall. For 24th place. I’m not mad at Austin or Rico. I think they’re both great, aggressive drivers, and I’ll race side by side with either of them all day, any day. Besides, Austin has enough people mad at him this week. But, all that said, neither of them did us any favors late in the race.

As soon as our truck came to a stop, I was furious. I screamed on the radio to my crew. I got out of the truck talking to myself. I yelled and carried on inside the ambulance with the medical crew. I’m sorry for that. It wasn’t their fault. I spiked a water bottle on the ground and shattered it next to some fans on the way back through the garage when I saw the remains of the truck. I never thought I would be one of those guys doing that kind of dumb stuff. It’s embarrassing. I wanted to fight Derek. I wanted to fight everyone. I yelled at my dad, something I’ve never done in my whole life. I didn’t even see the video of the crash until I got back to my hotel room later that night. It was even worse than I thought. I’m still fuming about it.

Apparently Derek came by to say something to the crew after the race. I know he didn’t mean to wreck us. There wasn’t any intent there. But, he still made an awful mistake. It’s a mistake that’s going to cost our team about $20,000 that we don’t have. That’s racing.

At least, that’s racing with Martins Motorsports in 2016. Basically the worst thing that could happen has happened to us every single weekend. Daytona, a place where the #49, #50, & #07 all got top-10 finishes? We blew a right front tire, totaled our truck, & finished dead last. Atlanta? Tire failure that put us 3 laps down under green. Martinsville? Qualified eighth and didn’t even get to race because the brakes failed and we knocked the whole rear end off the truck. At Kansas we had a motor failure while running 19th. At Dover we were awful. At Charlotte we were slow. At Texas we were struggled and I got my feet burned off.

We were looking forward to Iowa. Finally, a short track! A place where maybe our little team could having a fighting chance. Then, we stunk again. Our hearts sank. I questioned whether or not we were going to turn into a start and park team. But then we were okay! Only 4 tenths of the leaders pace at the end of the race! We passed lead lap trucks on the final run. We were joking around on the radio before the final restart. I was having a blast driving the truck. Sure, our tire bill was going to be ginormous but who cares? We were going to get a decent run and learn a lot from it.

Nope. Wrecked again. For no reason except a young kid wanted to pass the truck in front of him and drove into the corner too hard.

For the third time this year, we’ve wrecked a truck, and it hasn’t been my fault on any of them. I’m snake bit. This one was the worst impact of all. Hit so hard it bent the rear clip, broke the fuel cell can, & damaged a lot of suspension parts as well. To rub salt in the wound, that truck was the same truck Spencer Gallagher finished 2nd at Gateway with last year. We were hoping to get a chance to see what we could do with it.

So now, Gateway, a race we had circled on the calendar at the beginning of the year, is now a question mark for our race team.

We’ve only got one truck that’s raceable – our intermediate truck. The guys spent all week swapping brakes & all the parts we could in order to get it ready for Gateway, but I’m not sure how good it’s going to be. It wasn’t designed for Gateway. In fact, we’ve been struggling with it on tracks it was designed for like Charlotte & Texas. If we wreck it, all 3 of our trucks will be torn up & we’ll have nothing to race at Kentucky in two weeks.

We’ve got no pit crew. Our normal guys are going to be in Sonoma this weekend to serve as the backup crew on the four Hendrick teams racing out there. When we called Excalibur Pit School, the guys we were using earlier in the year, they said all their crews had already been leased out. Kevin, Steve, & David Power (our newest full time employee) are going to be forced into going over the wall for us this weekend, which still leaves us about 5 guys short of having a crew (including behind the wall pit support).

To top it off, we probably can’t afford the tires. Gateway is a stand-alone race. Trucks only. There won’t be any tires for sale unless you want 30-40 lappers or you manage to buy stickers off of trucks that have accidents in the race. We’re staring down another potential $8,000-$10,000 tire bill for the weekend.

Everything points to us being a start and park truck. But, I’m pretty sure we won’t be. That’s just not us. We’re going to find a way to make it work. I’m optimistic. I’ve been looking forward to racing at this track and I’m not going to let the circumstances of this year affect my outlook for this weekend. I thought we’d be good in St. Louis. I still think we will be. My dad is a great team owner. He’ll figure out a way to get us through the weekend. We’ll persevere. And hopefully, with a little luck for a change, we can get back to being the team we all want to be this season.