Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Marcus Lemonis Paying It Forward at Las Vegas

Last November, Grant Enfinger was racing for a Camping World Truck Series championship, and this season, he’s only running a part-time schedule, sharing the No. 98 Toyota with Christian Eckes.

It’s a harsh reminder that money drives NASCAR more than anything else when it comes to putting trucks on the track. Simply put, the reason Enfinger isn’t running full-time for ThorSport Racing is a lack of sponsorship.

“There is so much stuff that is in our control and so much that isn’t,” Enfinger said in media availability earlier this season. “It’s a tough time right now to put all these deals together and go racing.

“As much as this is a competition based sport, it’s also a business. There’s a million different ways to put these deals together and to make them work. This year, it just happens to be part-time. That’s what it ended up being. It’s not that I’m happy about it or anything like that, but it’s still a great opportunity. It’s how it all played out this year.”

Enter Marcus Lemonis, chairman and CEO of series sponsor, Camping World.

When Sheldon Creed finished runner-up at the Daytona International Speedway road course in a plain white truck, Lemonis wasted little time in essentially offering to support the defending champion, who has several races open for sponsorship.

He followed that up a couple days later with a tweet that made it clear he wants teams to be able to find the financial backing required to keep the series healthy.

Fast forward to this week and Enfinger, who wasn’t scheduled to race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is entered in Rhorbaugh Racing’s No. 9 Chevrolet this weekend.

Of course, Twitter blew up with people suggesting different drivers and teams that could benefit from a Camping World sponsorship if Lemonis was just going to offer money. And you know what he did?

The offer saw a flurry of activity among smaller teams to scramble to rewrap their trucks ahead of Friday night’s trip to Las Vegas, and when the Truck Series heads to the mile-and-a-half track, eight trucks in addition to Enfinger’s will bear the Camping World colors.

And even Timmy Hill might join in the fun.

Obviously, Lemonis is no stranger to the Truck Series. After all, Camping World – and for a short stint Gander RV & Outdoors – has served as the title sponsor for the series since 2009 when Craftsman left after 13 years. More importantly, he clearly has a passion for being involved in NASCAR and has shown it in so many ways.

On the surface, all of this looks like Lemonis is just a rich guy throwing money at whoever is willing to follow his rules to get it. But there’s something deeper going on here. Sure, he’s worth a ton of money, and that’s apparent in all of the different endeavors he’s involved in. But researching for this column, I happened upon Lemonis’ adoption story, and one thing, in particular, stood out to me about how he was raised.

“I was also raised in this climate of giving,” Lemonis wrote. “The way I saw it, my parents had saved me from an unknown future and I was just so grateful. I was raised with this whole ethos of paying it forward that has always stayed with me.”

And clearly, Lemonis is using his financial success to pay it forward in a very public way right now.

Most of the public reaction to the whole thing has been fans, teams and even media applauding what Lemonis is doing. And really, it’s a blessing to those in the back of the garage that scrape together every penny just to make it by week after week.

Others have criticized the move, though, claiming it cheapens deals that have already been made and puts teams, in general, in a precarious position when it comes to future sponsorship. It’s a valid concern, though not one that I see as a long-term risk, especially since it’s easy enough to show potential sponsors where the money is going.

Obviously, one race’s worth of $15,000 isn’t going to save an entire season, but that’s not what it’s meant for. I can’t claim to be in Lemonis’ head when it comes to why he chose to offer up the money and when he did it, but those who took him up on the offer will get more than that money out of it all.

The attention alone in having a series sponsor offer up backing for anyone willing to wrap their truck in Camping World will bring more eyeballs to teams that might otherwise just be an afterthought throughout a mile-and-a-half race. But a cryptic tweet Wednesday night hints there could be even more coming in the future.

I’m left wondering exactly what Lemonis means here. On the surface, the assumption is that if a driver performs well enough with Camping World on the truck, there might be a longer-term sponsorship available. But I’m not convinced that’s all. Only time will tell what Lemonis has in mind, but as of right now, it’s hard to see the bad side of all of this. After all, we’ve been talking about this for a few days now and the Vegas race isn’t until Friday (March 5).

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David Russell Edwards

Somehow it seems that if there are that many competitors who don’t have sponsorship to participate something is wrong. Wrong in that there may be a lack of interest, at least on the part of the people who pay the bills.
So what happens after Las Vegas? Will sponsors start lining up to participate?
Just seems to be a very desperate measure. But what do I know I can be wrong.

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