Bobby Dotter is probably primarily known in NASCAR for his co-ownership of SS Greenlight Racing, which fields the Nos. 07 and 08 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and spent some time as a Camping World Truck Series team as well.
He currently fields cars in NXS for Joe Graf Jr. and David Starr. But thanks to a recent alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing, Dotter has SHR drivers Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe slated to race for his team this season.
After nearly three decades in operation, the stable finally got its first victory in late February at Auto Club Speedway, where NASCAR Cup Series driver Custer got behind the wheel of the No. 07 Chevrolet and led 80 laps en route to the win.
Dotter also spent nearly 20 years as a driver in NASCAR’s two lower series, primarily racing for himself but for other owners like Ray DeWitt and Ed Reizen as well. He scored one then-Busch Series win, which came in 1992 at New River Valley Speedway (now Motor Mile Speedway) in Dublin, Va., while driving Reizen’s No. 08.
Fronstretch caught up with Dotter a few days after the team’s huge win in Fontana, Calif., to discuss its impact with the team and Dotter’s history as an owner. This first aired as a radio interview on 910 The Fan in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 28. 2022. You can check out the full audio of the interview here.
Adam Cheek, Frontstretch: What was getting that first victory like with Cole Custer?
Bobby Dotter: It was just unbelievable. Been doing this a long time on the owner side, and we’ve always brought a lot of rookie drivers and up-and-coming drivers like Joe Graf Jr. along. You show up, more times than not, not thinking that you stand a chance to even run for the win, that you’re just looking for a good solid top-10 finish.
So to go get a few races this year with a driver like Cole and then later in the year with Briscoe, that we’re going with the idea of “let’s try to contend,” and for it to all come together on the first one like that was just unbelievable for SS Greenlight Racing with Jeff Lefcourt. I mean, just a lot of people have pitched in this year to get us up to the level where we can make something like this happen.
Cheek: You raced in Xfinity and the Truck Series for a long time. What did it mean to break through with this win and get a win yourself back in the ’90s?
Dotter: Well, for the most part, the owner side of it in all honesty is not nearly as much fun as the driving side of it. So now that I got a taste of victory on the owner side of it is actually making me feel a little bit better about it. I mean, when I was driving, that’s something that I’ll never replicate again, but this is real close to it.
For it to come through this early in the season with a few more opportunities, and again, the whole process is to make our team better for Joe Graf. I mean, this whole thing is because of the Graf family and Jeff Lefcourt, a friend of the family who jumped in this year. And we’re just trying to get our equipment, our team, everything up to the level that hopefully, by the end of the season, Joe’s able to go out there and kind of do the same thing and contend for top 10s and top fives.
Cheek: You made the transition to owner-driver in the ’90s. How did you balance that and eventually fully transition into the owner role?
Dotter: Well, it unfortunately became a necessity when I just got to be in my 40s and was having no luck whatsoever finding any sponsorship.
We just kept running further back and further back and just finally got to the point that I said I’d rather put someone else in that can bring some funding with them than I would be out there puttering around the back, so we started doing that. And I’ve just been very lucky and successful […] I’m not a rich guy and never try to tell people I am, so this team has to operate on what comes in the door from the sponsors and drivers. [We’ve] been very fortunate to be able to keep it alive this long and get to where we’re at.
Cheek: How did your partnerships with these Stewart-Haas Racing drivers [Custer and Briscoe] come about?
Dotter: Well, it’s been a process for sure. About five years ago, Joe Custer [Cole’s father, president of SHR] approached me and [said] he was looking for a smaller team that was interested in flying to and from the track, possibly with them. They only had X number of seats, and we fit that spot. So we developed a relationship where we fly to all the races with them.
A couple years later, he came to me and said, “What are you doing for pit crews? We might have some pit crews, they’re our development stuff. We’re trying to bring them along.” So we started getting pit crews from them. And then last fall, when we talked about what we’re going to do to become a better team this year, he threw out the idea of an alliance and building us some new cars and giving us some technology. After we kind of got the ball rolling on all that, it just came up about […] we can go ahead and put Cole in for a few races and Briscoe in for a race and just kind of get a benchmark for where the equipment is and what we’re doing and try to make the team just a stronger team.
I owe a lot to Joe Custer on that. He really has brought us along, Stewart-Haas Racing has done so much for us, and like I said, it’s all for the ultimate goal of Joe Graf and trying to make him a better driver and get him running better.
Dotter: That does, as the owner side of it where I told you it’s not quite as enjoyable as the driver side. But that part is. I mean, see what Ross has went on to do. You know, he was one of the first ones to come congratulate me after the race in person. Last year, we were kind of having some trouble at the road course, it was raining. Joe [Graf] had never run in the rain. We were in a situation that he wasn’t feeling great.
So Ross jumped in the car with no practice and went out there and qualified second for us. So he’s come out to help me when I needed it. And he was a total rookie when he came to drive for me. He got, I think, a third-place finish at Bristol [Motor Speedway], he showed some real potential and Brad Keselowski picked him up and took him to his team. And I always knew that’s what our team has been for years, is a stepping stone. And I love to see when our guys can move up the ladder.
Cheek: What were your nerves like as the race wound down on Auto Club?
Dotter: Well, really, I was doing really good with it, and I just kept feeling good that he just could pull them off the restarts and everything. Well, when that yellow came out, I thought the race was actually over, so I was kind of in my head already celebrating. And then I find out that we didn’t get to the line in time, so they had to go back and red flag it, and we had all that time to think about it.
So through that time, then you’re sitting there saying, “Oh my god, [Anthony] Alfredo, the [No.] 23, he’s got fresher tires than us, he’s kind of come through the pack in a pretty big hurry here. I hope we can hold him off for that last lap.”
But Cole is just unbelievable, and what Cole Custer did in that car, we had some really rough pit stops and gave up spots almost every time, and he wouldn’t get upset. He’d just drive back to the front. And all those restarts, I mean, we’re nervous wrecks in the pits. He’s just going out there, hitting his marks and doing what he needed to every time. I just can’t say enough about Cole Custer. I mean, he is just a cool cucumber out there and really, really did a heck of a job for us.
Cheek: How has driving in Xfinity and Trucks translated into being an owner in both series at different points in time?
Dotter: Well, the drivers, I think, if anywhere. I try not to be one of them guys that’s always like “Well, when I did it, it was this or that,” because everything’s different, I understand that. But sometimes when it’s stuff like a road course, we go with a rookie driver to a road course, I’ll share with them an experience of when I went to Laguna Seca in Winston West.
I went there feeling pretty good because I had run the Busch [now Xfinity] races at Watkins Glen [International], [but] I didn’t know what a real road course was till I showed up there. And there’s 25 cars there, whatever, and here, I qualify like 20th. I’m almost embarrassed. Well, all I did was just stay on the track, ride around all day, not break my stuff. And the yellow comes out near the end, and my crew chief’s like, “Slow down, slow down, the pace car wants to pick you up.” I said, “I’m trying to catch the leader,” and he says, “You are the leader.” And I ended up winning the race.
So it was unbelievable, because we were not the fastest car. That track was very, very tricky for me. And yet, by just trying to stay on the track and not break my stuff, I ended up getting a win out of it. So that’s the kind of advice I give them, not how they can go fast or win races or win bowls. Because I didn’t do a ton of that myself. I’ve always raced on a budget, always had to worry about my equipment. And I just try to help the rookies, especially with some good advice, what might make them a better driver down the road.
Cheek: And I have to ask about the famous video of you during the ARCA Menards Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 1989, where your car caught fire and you ended up jumping out to avoid the flames.
Dotter: Well, you know, things were a lot different back then, and we had a shifter boot that was rubber, that was huge, to cover the shifter hole. And the minute the fire started, it melted that, so the fire was coming through that hole and just going across my face like a chimney kind of out the window. So, honestly, I didn’t think about fire extinguishers, which they were very small back then; all I thought about was getting out because the suspension was broke, I couldn’t steer it; the brake line was broke, I couldn’t brake it.
So I’m unbuckling, I’m halfway jumped out, like you said, and I see I’m still gonna hit the inside wall. So I had to jump back in. And obviously not buckled in when I hit the inside wall. I think that’s when I hurt myself the most, basically. And I wasn’t buckled in then, still going probably 50-70 miles an hour or something. And I do jump out and tumble like a stunt man, and it was an experience.
Everything, I don’t want to say, happens for a reason, but I had one of the best rides of my career lined up starting right after that Daytona race. So when the burn happened and I went in the hospital, they’re like, “Well, you’re gonna be in here for this long.” And I’m like, “There’s a race in 30 days. I’m going to be out of here in 30 days, I gotta go run that race.” And they’re like, “I don’t think you …,” [and] I said, “No, you don’t understand, I am.”
And I did. I worked as hard as I could, didn’t take a lot of the painkillers, so I was eligible for release and I was at Pensacola [Five Flags Speedway] for the first race of the year there. It helped me get through the whole thing to where I never even thought about the burns or any of it, I just went on knowing, “Man, I got to go racing this year. This is my best opportunity. If I’m ever gonna make it to the Busch Series, I got to go have a good year this year,” […] and it all worked out. And I did, and that car owner stuck with me for like five to six years, and we […] got to really contending for stuff.
So it was a good career. I’ve got no regrets.
About the author
Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.