Race Weekend Central

Tearing Apart the Trucks: The Struggles of Trail Motorsports

The Camping World Truck Series hits the track again tonight at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. At Kansas Speedway, the Truck Series saw its first short field. That came as a surprise because I expected it to happen sooner considering that all through the off season, the big news was the economy and the effect it would have on NASCAR.

There are certainly teams across the top-three tiers of NASCAR struggling to make ends meet, but it definitely appears to be hitting the Truck Series the hardest. A few weeks ago, I touched on some teams who were running race to race in hopes of scoring a sponsor before the money ran out. This week I want to take a look at the story of Chase Austin and Trail Motorsports.

In January, Arthur Shelton, along with seasoned NASCAR owner Armando Fitz, announced the birth of Trail Motorsports and their intent to run a CWTS team, a Nationwide Series team and a Camping World East Series team. A source close to the situation was told the team had enough capital to run five full seasons without any sponsorship backing at all.

Austin was signed to a two-race deal to pilot the No. 32 Chevrolet for Trail Motorsports with the intent of signing a multi-year agreement later in the season. The team rented equipment from MRD Motorsports to make the first two starts in hope of getting the team off the ground.

The 19-year-old made his debut in the CWTS in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. He was told by NASCAR to run at the back of the lead pack until the final 20 laps, and Austin was able to work his way up to an impressive 13th-place finish. Austin and Trail Motorsports ran one more race, the second of the season at Auto Club Speedway, where he finished 23rd.

A couple weeks ago at Kansas Speedway, it looked as though Trail Motorsports had turned a corner and scored financial backing to run the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250. But that sponsorship deal fell through, causing Trail Motorsports to withdraw from the entry list and leaving Austin wondering when he might get to run his next CWTS race. The 19-year-old remains optimistic despite multiple disappointments this season.

“I don’t have a clue what Trail plans to do moving forward. I don’t have a contract at this point. I’m really more disappointed for the team than for myself. I really want to race, but the guys in the shop have families to feed and they need steady work and a steady paycheck,” Austin said. “I’ll just keep praying, keep digging and make the most out of any seat time I can get until the right opportunity comes. And I definitely still believe it will come.”

Again this week, the Eudora, Kan. native and Trail Motorsports remain missing from the entry list. But the talented young driver is certainly no stranger to disappointments in NASCAR. He originally signed a contract with Hendrick Motorsports at the age of 14, but he ended up getting dropped after the driver development program was dissolved. Then he ran one race with Rusty Wallace Incorporated in the Nationwide Series before parting ways with the team in 2008.

Trail Motorsports remains committed to running at least a few races if they can get the financial backing and get the rest of their financial problems taken care of.

“We got behind with funding and encountered several unplanned situations,” Patrick Shelton said. “The team plans to participate this year but has no intention of using other teams’ equipment or personnel to compete. I’d rather do a full, partial or limited season the right way than one race the wrong way.”

I find it rather interesting that Shelton is so intent on not using another team’s equipment to compete considering a lawsuit filed in the North Carolina Superior Court in Cabarrus County claims MRD Motorsports is still owed more than $60,000 for the use of their equipment in the second race of the season at ACS in California.

One of the biggest mistakes that Trail Motorsports made was the rental of a shop previously used by Robert Yates Racing and Petty Enterprises. With little to no equipment to put in there, the team ended up in more of a financial bind with a large shop and nothing to put into it. Gathering at least a small collection of trucks to be able to field in the Truck Series should have been higher up on the priority list than renting a shop.

In addition to their struggles in fielding a truck for Austin to drive, thenascarinsiders.com reported a couple weeks ago that employees at Trail Motorsports hadn’t been paid in over a month. In a statement in late April, team managing director Patrick Shelton reiterated the team’s intent to settle all of its outstanding debts before attempting to hit the track again.

“We are also aggressively addressing any outstanding debts the team has, including MRD,” he said. “It would be disingenuous to compete when those responsibilities have not been tended to.”

How can we have a team with so much potential and so much to look forward to in the series fail so horribly in getting started? For one thing, they started off on the wrong foot, beginning the season deep in a hole after being forced to rent equipment and employees from MRD Motorsports just to start the first two races of the season.

The better thing for the team to do would have been to take the time to become fully organized and funded before attempting to race. I know it’s a real dream to be an owner in any of the top-three series in NASCAR, but it’s a very expensive dream. Sadly, you can’t go in with the good intentions and fan-oriented mindset that Trail Motorsports has and expect to survive on that alone. There has got to be real financial backing to make that team last.

This is really a heart wrenching story when you think about Chase Austin. He has done nothing but remain committed to a team who, in all honesty, probably will never make it at all, let alone be able to field a full-time ride in the CWTS.

My big concern when I see teams struggling like Trail Motorsports is the future of the series. There are really only a handful of solid team owners in the Truck Series currently, and if other teams are unable to start up and help contribute to the health of the series, disaster could be in the future of the series.

We have seen at least a few owners head over to the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series in an attempt to move their team along, but there haven’t really been any great owners coming into the Truck Series as new teams to replace the ones that have left. I guess the real question is what NASCAR is willing to do to help funnel owners into the struggling series before it disappears altogether.

Did You Know?

  • Today is NASCAR Day? Show your loyalty to NASCAR by wearing your favorite gear wherever you go today.
  • Brian Ickler will pilot the No. 15 Toyota Tundra for Billy Ballew Motorsports this weekend? Ickler finished fifth a couple weeks ago at Kansas Speedway in his series debut.
  • There are 40 trucks listed on the current entry list for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200? Barring a major disaster, tonight’s race will be the fifth full field in six races this season.
  • Kyle Busch will be returning to the series this weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway? Busch has two wins and one finish outside the top 10 (11th, 2007) in four starts at the 1.5-mile track.
  • Ryan Newman will make his second Truck Series start this weekend? Newman, who scored a win in his first and only start in the series last fall at Atlanta Motor Speedway, will pilot the No. 4 Chevrolet normally driven by rookie Ricky Carmichael.
  • Johnny Benson, who sits fifth in the points standings, was in the same spot at this point last season? Last season, Benson was 109 points out of first – this year he’s 116 points behind the leader.
  • There are only three full-time Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates this year? Tayler Malsam currently leads James Buescher by just one point; Johnny Sauter is in third, three points behind.
  • Premier Racing will mark its one year anniversary in the CWTS tonight at LMS? They need additional sponsorships to keep the team going, and driver Timothy Peters hopes to bring some positive attention to them tonight.
  • Buescher spent his weekend off racing in the ARCA Re/Max Series last Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway. Buescher started on the pole and scored his second win of the season.
  • Todd Bodine will attempt to race his way into the All-Star Race by participating in the Sprint Showdown Saturday night? Gunselman Motorsports purchased the chassis that Red Bull Racing used to win the Sprint Showdown last year and will field the No. 64 Toyota with Bodine behind the wheel.
  • David Starr will attempt to qualify his way into the Sprint Showdown tomorrow night and the Coca-Cola 600 next weekend? Starr will pilot the No. 06 Boys Will Be Boys Racing Dodge Charger.
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