Dale Jr. and New CARS Tour Ownership Group Dedicated to Short-Track Success

Ron Lemasters | 1/11/2023

CARS Tour Late Model News

The new ownership group, comprised of some of NASCAR's biggest names, is looking forward to continuing the success CARS Tour has enjoyed thus far.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 12, 2023) -- When news broke that a consortium of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Justin Marks had purchased the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour on Monday, the news reverberated around both the NASCAR and short-track scenes.

The CARS Tour, which grew out of the former Hooters Cup Pro Tour thanks to the foresight of Jack McNelly in 2014, is regarded as a top-tier racing organization serving the Mid-Atlantic region in the Carolinas and Virginia. Many of the up-and-coming stars in the NASCAR world have used the CARS Tour as a jumping-off point toward future stardom, including William Byron, Josh Berry, Ty Gibbs, Anthony Alfredo, Christian Eckes, Corey Heim and many more.

It's a proving ground, a place to learn and a place to hone one's skills for the upper levels, a fact which all four primary investors in the new ownership group pointed out.

Earnhardt Jr.'s team has participated in the CARS Tour since its inception in 2014, with NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 contender Josh Berry at the wheel, and as such has seen the benefit of what McNelly has built.

"Having followed the Series closely for the last decade or more and watching Josh (Berry) grow as a driver and watching the way Jack and Keeley (Dubensky) have managed the Series and the conduct of the drivers…," he said. "My biggest anxiety over the whole thing is to not disturb the momentum they already have and not change the course of the Series or alter anything about the identity of the Series and what it is capable of doing going forward.

"We obviously want to shine as big of a light as we can and I think we can do that going forward," he continued. "As you watch the drivers and the conduct on the race track and how it's managed by Jack, Keeley, and everyone at the CARS Tour. There are some very critical lessons learned by these young drivers when they compete in this Series."

The idea, he said, was to make sure that the CARS Tour continued on that path and to help with securing the future of the sport through all ranks.

"Jack and his team do a great job of helping the drivers understand how to move forward beyond that, how to correct it, and how to change as a driver and change your mentality. That does carry on for them wherever they go – into the Truck Series, Xfinity Series and even the Cup Series. We hope that this series is looked at as a place where you can get that recognition to get those future opportunities. It's already happening and we just want to make that light a little bit brighter."

Burton, who raced in the NASCAR Cup Series for many years and is currently a broadcaster for NBC Sports along with Earnhardt Jr., said that short-track racing is vital to the health and continued well-being of the sport at the upper levels.
"Short-track racing is the heartbeat of motorsports in North America," he said. "It's so important for the success of short tracks and having that energy and that excitement, that makes the entire sport better."

Part of that reason, he said, is having a place for your drivers to learn the do's and don'ts before progressing up the ladder.

"Giving the young drivers a chance to understand how to race with some more experienced drivers is really important – that's part of this process, too," Burton said. "Having some older drivers and even part of this group being able to say to younger drivers, ‘we aren't going to do that here. That's not how we race,' and having a chance to mentor some of those drivers."

Burton has had experience with the CARS Tour first-hand, with his son Harrison, and came away with an appreciation for what the series does and can do in the future.

"I raced in the CARS Tour with my son (Harrison), we ran many races with Jack (McNelly) and that group," he said. "They built this great foundation that we hope to be able to make him proud and improve, where we can, in the areas that he's done such a great job in."

In short, it's necessary to keep the supply lines open from the bottom to the top...letting drivers grow into bigger budgets, bigger races and more experience.

"You have to have organized, stable, great rules, great organization, simple for the drivers, simple for the teams to understand," he said. "That keeps costs down, that keeps competition better and all of that is really important. We are really going to have to lean on Jack and his team to understand the experiences that they've had. Helping short-track racing in general, helping the race teams – it all starts with the race teams and the drivers. We have to have an environment in which a team can come and compete at a high level without having that ridiculously high checkbook. That can't be the determination of success or failure."

In the end, it's about passion, he said.

"People in short-track racing are there because it's their passion, not their job, and we have to give them an opportunity to have a place to do that passion," Burton said. "It's the very beginning of developing drivers, crew members, owners, officials, all that stuff. Having a solid structure only makes that better for everybody."

Harvick, who grew up on the West Coast, echoed that passion. The 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion and Daytona 500 winner pointed out that no driver starts his career at the top level.

"The thing that we all share is, the fact that short-track racing is really the root that feeds everything that we do," Harvick said. "For me, growing up racing Late Models on the West Coast and being a part of my career path to the ladder system is something that I have a passion for. I can sit on the fence or in the stands and watch practice--I do it at the go-kart track as well. I love watching people drive around in race cars. I love the interaction from the competitors.

"What seems so simple to us, because we have been around it our whole lives, is not so simple to the weekly competitor who is struggling to get to the track or has a question about what is right or wrong or what he should or shouldn't do. I want to be in the car, the pits, the grandstands and want to know what these competitors are struggling with and what they need and to make it better. I can't wait to be part of it and I'm looking forward to every minute of it."

Marks, the visionary marketing professional and racing driver who formed Trackhouse Racing, said that the grassroots passion is what hooked him on motorsports to begin with, and that his contribution would be multi-tiered.

"I didn't really come up through short-track racing, but I did start at the grassroots level," Marks, a noted road racer, said. "I understand how important that is and how much it serves as the foundation. It's where the passion for racing really started for me. I was more nervous showing up for my first grassroots race at 16 than I was for my one Daytona 500. It was intimidating, but it was exciting.

"Being able to get in a race car at that level and experience the amazing things that happen at that level is something that's stuck with me for a long time. It's an incredible opportunity and there's a lot of learning to be done. There are so many amazing things happening in short-track racing, and the work that we can do to put the CARS Tour on a stage that creates a valuable series and one where the economics work for all the teams and all the competitors. It's going to be exciting, because it truly is some of the most amazing racing we have in all of North America."

 

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XFINITY Series Standings

After Dead On Tools 250

Martinsville Speedway | 10/29/2022
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Noah Gragson (P)40000
2Ty Gibbs (P)40000
3Josh Berry (P)40000
4Justin Allgaier (P)40000
5AJ Allmendinger (P)2297-1703
6Austin Hill # (P)2245-1755
7Sam Mayer (P)2231-1769