That's Racin Magazine

Talladega win a boost for Front Row

Thursday, May. 09, 2013
Southern 500 What: 367 laps or 501.3 miles Where: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway When: 6:45 p.m. Saturday TV: Fox Radio: Motor Racing Network Last year’s winner: Jimmie Johnson Also this week: VFW 200, Nationwide Series, Darlington Raceway, 7:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN2.

They’re the neighborhood book store competing with Barnes & Noble, the mom-and-pop diner sharing a block with Dunkin Donuts.

When Front Row Motorsports needs a part for one of its Sprint Cup cars, the operation doesn’t just write a check. Often it builds things from scratch to save money. Team owner Bob Jenkins disputed the term “nickel-and-dime” operation used in a question Sunday, but he understood.

“I want us to be known as the team that did the most with the least,” Jenkins said after his drivers, David Ragan and David Gilliland, finished one-two at the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. “We aren’t able to just buy products from other teams, and that’s a challenge.”

Jenkins made his money as a restaurant franchisee. This isn’t Hendrick Motorsports or Roush Fenway Racing. It’s a nine-year-old operation with three drivers, chasing sponsorship money.

Ragan compares Front Row’s one-two finish to a small-market baseball team winning a pennant: Surprising, but not impossible.

Gilliland said the best thing about Sunday was the opportunity for the crew chiefs to get their wish lists on lighter, better car parts. Luxuries aren’t in the budget.

“We don’t have enough tires every week,” Gilliland acknowledged.

The financial limitations mean taking a somewhat surgical approach to the schedule. Gilliland said Front Row tends to emphasize superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega) and road courses (Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Sonoma, Calif.), races some larger operations might de-emphasize to focus on the more commonplace 1 1/2-mile tracks.

Sunday served as a good example: Having the best car isn’t necessarily a huge advantage at Talladega. The keys to winning there are avoiding the chain-reaction wrecks and drafting efficiently late.

Ragan and Gilliland weren’t just teammates in name Sunday. Gilliland pulled up to Ragan’s bumper and created the push on the final restart to all but vault Ragan ahead of Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and points leader Jimmie Johnson.

That’s precisely the camaraderie Jenkins considers essential to making this little-guy operation work.

“We haven’t always had resources. It’s so satisfying that each of the last nine years we’ve gotten better,” he said.

Survival in NASCAR is all about attracting sponsors. Now Front Row has something tangible to market.

“It’s tough to sell sponsorships for teams that finish 15 to 25 on average,” Ragan said. “This shows we’re not telling stories, lying to (sponsors). We’re people who work six days a week, sleeping at the shot, to build these cars.”