CARS Tour Makes Big Statement, Sets Stage for Continued Growth

Ron Lemasters | 11/29/2023

News

CARS Tour laid down its plan for growth in 2024 with three announcements, and the star-studded ownership group had plenty to say about the future.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 29, 2023) -- On Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the CARS Tour laid down its plan for growth in 2024 with three announcements, and the star-studded ownership group had plenty to say about the future.

The addition of zMAX Microlubricants as the series' entitlement sponsor was the first item of business, followed by the news that Flo Racing had been extended as the series' streaming partner. The final element was the 2024 series schedule, expanded from 16 in 2023 to a whopping 20 events for 2024.

The schedule includes a pair of events at North Wilkesboro Speedway, during the NASCAR All-Star weekend in May and the season finale on Oct. 18-19.

For a regional touring series, that's a huge step up.­

Inside the media center's auditorium, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Justin Marks and Jeff Burton talked for more than 35 minutes (between the program and extended breakouts) on the plan for 2024 with the additional benefits of sponsorship, a dedicated streaming platform and a solid schedule to an audience more fitting of a race weekend at CMS than the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Earnhardt Jr., who has fielded at least one JR Motorsports entry in the CARS Tour since its inception and won the last two LMSC championships with iRacing and Bass Pro Shops cars driven by Carson Kvapil, seized upon the opportunities presented by the schedule, focusing on the dual trips to North Wilkesboro as part of the plan to allow more CARS Tour drivers the opportunity to advance up to the top of the ladder.

"For our drivers and teams to be able to race there, in and around the NASCAR industry…all of the drivers in both the Pro and Late Model Stock Car categories dream of making it to the big time," Earnhardt Jr. said. "The closer we can align with those ideals, the better, and when we race at North Wilkesboro it really gets them in front of some influential people in the industry to be able to showcase what they can do.

"Having been a part of the CARS Tour for the past decade, there are a lot of drivers who came through the Tour and went on to have successful careers at the Truck, Xfinity and Cup level, and I feel like we're only increasing that opportunity to create those possibilities. I think it's going to be exciting to see us end the season at NWS and being back there during the All-Star weekend is a big deal for us."  

Some of the drivers who have come through JRM's Late Model program have already lived that dream, including William Byron, Josh Berry and Sam Mayer, and Kvapil is rising quickly to that level.

The announcements generated much positive reaction among both ­­the media and will serve to energize an already-growing fan base, but it resonated solidly with stakeholders like Lee Pulliam, owner of Lee Pulliam Performance and one of the top car owners in the Late Model Stock Car division in addition to being a championship driver. His driver, Brenden Queen, who finished second behind Kvapil in the LMSC championship in 2023, was also on hand.

"I think it sheds more light and more validity to what we're trying to do," Pulliam said after the event. "When I raced Late Model Stock Cars, I had a very successful career, but there wasn't any kind of spotlight on us. With a successful company like zMAX coming on board and the ownership group that we have, I think it puts that big spotlight on the series, and it gives the drivers, team owners and sponsors a huge platform where they can shine."

Marks, owner of Trackhouse Racing and one of the brightest minds in the sport, said the addition of zMAX, the FLO Racing extension and a beefed-up schedule was the key to growth for the CARS Tour and for Late Model Stock Car racing in general.

"The definition of success is bigger and bigger brands that see the value in it, see how great the racing is and how loyal the fan base is and how interesting the guys that race these cars are," Marks said.
"We have to walk the balance between trying to create a really valuable sports property that is economically successful and can grow while staying true to the fans they have, the competitors and teams that we have, because they are the show and the ones who pay to watch the show."

As to what form that success will take, Marks said growth is the key.

"The definition of success is to just grow the series through our distribution partners and our sponsor partners to get as many eyeballs on as possible so the teams have an easier time selling sponsorship. When these guys win the world knows about it, so they have opportunity beyond the CARS Tour."

Marcus Smith, the president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports (of which zMAX is a part), said that supporting the grassroots aspect of motorsports is key to the success of the sport as a whole, and a product like zMAX will resonate with the fan base now and in the future.

"For our company, Speedway Motorsports, it's really important to support the foundations of motorsports," he said. "When you think about the investments we've made in U.S. Legend Car and Bandolero racing in this country and around the world, the logical next step is Late Model racing. The zMAX CARS Tour is the best in the world at Late Model Stock Car racing, and having friends like Jeff and Dale and Justin and Kevin coming together to lend their influence in support of grassroots racing is really huge.

"zMAX is a perfect fit for them and for the CARS Tour audience. From the garage to the grandstands, all the fans support the sponsors that help their sport."

Jack McNelly, the founder of the CARS Tour, was pleased with the announcements by the ownership group and what it would mean for the Tour going forward.

"I think the ownership group has done a fantastic job, considering that they've never had any experience at the ownership level," he said. "They rely upon me and (Executive Director) Kip Childress, we talk it over and come up with a plan. They're smart fellows, they know the answers, but not necessarily from the ownership side. With their years of experience, that's invaluable."

Monday's announcement made waves throughout the motorsports world, and each of the many groups which make up the grassroots - team owners, track operators, drivers, crew personnel and fans - will benefit from the progression. The overall health of the sport depends upon the next generation, and thanks to Monday's announcement, the outlook got much brighter.

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