NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 10, 2018
Let's start with you, Steve. We're coming off of a very exciting 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, and just walking through and talking to folks, there seems to be a lot of excitement about what's in store for 2018. Are you sensing that?
STEVE O'DONNELL: I am, and I would say welcome back to our friends in the media, as well. Good to be back and see everybody in Daytona and kick off the 2018 season. I think for us, coming off a really strong season of racing in the Camping World Truck Series, and as we went into the off‑season really bolstering what was a good team to really be a great team, I believe, at NASCAR, to surround the series and really take it to new heights, when you look at the potential for the series with a lot of the young drivers who have come up through the system, racing some established veterans week in and week out, it's really proven to us to be a true proving ground, and it's also one of our total fan favorites.
I'm excited about the season. I'm excited about working with the team and the team that we've gathered today, and it looks good for the 2018 season.
THE MODERATOR: Brad, how exciting is it for you to look through the garage? And talking to your teams, you see a lot of changes going on, new faces, new teams, expanding teams. How exciting is that for you?
BRAD MORAN: No, it's great, and obviously it's good to be here at Daytona. We've got, again, another group of young drivers ready to come up and fill the boots of the ones that move on every year. Todd Gilliland, Myatt Snider running for Rookie of the Year, Justin Fontaine, Dalton Sargeant all running for Rookie of the Year, so there's another group of great young drivers. We've got new teams with the David Gilliland entry. They've got one truck competing here at Daytona, and it's probably going to grow to two trucks, so that's nice to see. Ford's involvement and stepping up with a few more trucks than they've had in the past, exciting news. Yeah, we're excited. A lot of changes.
THE MODERATOR: Ben, you've competed in this series, you've owned your own NASCAR K&N Pro Series team, and now you're the general manager of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. How has that past experience helped you or will it help you going forward into this new role?
BEN KENNEDY: Yeah, I think more than anything, I can kind of bring my own perspective into the series. I think being on both the driver side as well as the team owner side, I see both lenses, kind of on the competition side.
I'm still kind of getting up to speed on everything, but I've got a great team surrounding me with Brad and Steve and Elton and everybody up here. I'm really looking forward to being a part of the Truck Series again and traveling on the road with these guys. We've got a great schedule. It looks like we're going to have a good amount of trucks here in Daytona. A lot of exciting things these guys have been working on over the past couple years, and I'm kind of just jumping in at the right time.
THE MODERATOR: Elton, you've made that transition from driver to manager on the team side and with NASCAR. What kind of advice do you have for Ben as he transitions into this new role?
ELTON SAWYER: Well, first of all, I don't know if I have a great deal of advice, but I'm looking forward to the opportunity to work side by side with Ben and Brad and the team to do everything we can to enhance the Truck Series. As Steve said, I think everyone looks forward to next Friday night and what the trucks will bring to Daytona. It's always an exciting race.
But back to Ben, we're looking forward to having him on the team, working closely with him, and as he said earlier, he's got a brand new perspective. He just came out of the seat. He's owned teams. He's worked on cars. So he has a brand new perspective on some new things that can be brought to the series. Again, looking forward to the 2018 season. Looking forward to working with the team, and excited to have Ben on board.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, you interact with our friends at Camping World on a regular basis. How important has Camping World been to the continued development and future growth of this series?
JEFF WOHLSCHLAEGER: Well, Camping World is in the midst of a seven‑year partnership, and if you count their previous renewal period, 14 years, which equals the longest series entitlement deal that we've had, and I think it's pretty apparent of their want for investment in this sport. Their base is significantly popular with our fan base. Camping, of course, is such a major component of the fan experience at our races, and we look forward to working with them to kind of showcase what that experience is. We feel that it's an attractive component of what we produce every race weekend. Marcus Lemonis, of course, has been active to say the least, and so some of his recent acquisitions are also included in our sport, Overton's with the Chicagoland race weekend entitlement, and Gander Outdoors with the July Pocono race.
We look forward to working with Marcus and his team continually. They're an active partner, and there will be some good things coming down the pike.
Q. Steve, what went into‑‑ can you walk us through the whole process of changing the first weekend up here, moving the Clash to Sunday and just what went into all that?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Yeah, I think I saw Chip walk in here. A lot of cooperation with the racetrack, really looking at everything from weather to what we thought would be the best for the fans, and I don't want to say we lucked into it because you hate to have weather, but last year seeing what took place on the racetrack, we kind of liked the combination of qualifying followed by the Clash.
It was certainly a good day today with practice and having the ARCA race, so I felt like that was really good content to fill the weekend, kind of back‑to‑back day races and mirrored a little bit more what you'd see for the start of the Daytona 500, which I think in talking to a lot of the teams they wanted to see us, as well, is get us out there during the day, similar to what you'll see on Thursday. So that kind of all factored in, and certainly we'll see how this weekend goes, but enthusiastic so far from a fan base standpoint.
Q. Ben, you're not really that old, and you were doing great in your racing career. Was this your plan all along to graduate into the management on the competition side, or was there a plan, or was it a carpe ‑‑ I realize you've got the family history, but what pulled you away from racing to do this now? Was it something that you had thought of, planned a long time ago was the right course, or was it just an aha moment?
BEN KENNEDY: I had been thinking about it for a long time, and it was certainly a long decision for me. But I was happy with what I've done in my career in the trucks as well as XFINITY, and had some opportunities to continue forward. But I think more than anything, I'm so passionate about this sport and so passionate about the health of the sport, and this opportunity kind of came along, and really weighing out all my options, it made the most sense for me now and for the long run, as well.
I think it's a good time for it, and the Camping World Truck Series is the best place for it.
Q. Steve, where do we stand with the sponsorship of the pole award?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Well, I think I'll leave that to our marketing folks, but as always, that's an important position for us. I think there's been a lot of dialogue with some good sponsors out there. But probably turn that one over to Steve Phelps, and I'll follow up with you on that.
Q. Ben, you talked about the long run and your future; what do you see that being for your future? What are some of your career goals that you want to accomplish in the sport?
BEN KENNEDY: I think it's hard to say for sure what the future really looks like. I can tell you now, I'm solely focused on the trucks and really getting up to speed on everything competition‑wise with the NT1 motor and everything these guys have done on the cost‑saving side. I think that's an element to it.
You know, as far as the future goes, I think it's hard to really sit here and say this is what it looks like, but I can tell you I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can. As I mentioned, I care about the sport a lot, so hopefully I can bring value to it.
Q. Looking at the measures you guys have taken to save costs in the Truck Series, the engines and stuff, what's the balance between wanting to help the teams save money, and then also giving the manufacturers a platform to kind of‑‑ for technology and that kind of thing, and giving them an opportunity to basically showcase what they can do on the track?
BRAD MORAN: Sure, I'll take that one. Obviously we recognize that the cost of the engines in the Truck Series was one of the major expenses. We wanted to tackle it. We felt it would be for the wellness of the Truck Series to look at it and come up with an alternative engine. We had the OEMs involved in the parity process and all the testing and everything that was done starting back, I guess, in August. To answer your question, that was kind of why we did it, and as far as the OEM involvement, they certainly are still eligible to compete in the Truck Series, so all the engines are eligible to compete. Obviously they have their other platforms with the XFINITY and Cup, which they can certainly advance all their engineering and all the additional technology they want to learn.
STEVE O'DONNELL: I think it's also a balance, too, when you look at the potential for some new OEMs to take a look at the series, maybe in a one‑off position. Makes it a little easier, possibly, to come in and not necessarily put all of that money toward engine costs and kind of look at the brand instead with certain truck brands. That was one of the things we had to balance. Certainly a tough conversation with the OEMs to balance, but I think from our perspective, very appreciative of how the OEMs reacted, at least up until now. We'll certainly see how it goes throughout the season, but we were really happy with them kind of buying in as we tried to make this happen for the series.
Q. Ben, with the focus that we have on all three series but with the youth movement, you being the youngest guy of this panel, your mom running ISC, your uncle running NASCAR, what message does this send to the fans about the future health of NASCAR and investing in management of being a younger guy coming up through the ranks and probably will be the future leader of our sport?
BEN KENNEDY: I'm not really sure. I think as I mentioned, I kind of bring a new perspective on the team and driver side, but also kind of bring a new perspective of my age, and just recently graduating college a few years back.
You know, what I'm kind of talking about with my mom, just hanging out at lunch or something, is different than what she's seeing every day. I think I'm more short‑term time span, technology focused, and it's interesting to kind of go back and forth and talk with these guys, as well, and really learn about the history, what's worked, what hasn't worked in the past.
I hope when you bring it all together it'll be a good mix.
STEVE O'DONNELL: If I could, I'd add on to that, just already you look at Ben‑‑ we went to China together, and the difference of maybe how we'd look at it from a race perspective of how can we race, what should we race, Ben immediately was what technology almost outside of racing can we bring. You look at the technology already in China, and so it was great to have kind of that set of younger eyes who's embraced technology as a part of life, of what we do, and to see how we need to lead with that versus kind of let's start with the race car‑‑ well, wait a minute, let's start with some other aspects of it was interesting to see.
Q. Brad, there seems to be a lot of sympathy among a lot of people who have been involved in the Truck Series for a long time that more short track racing is needed. Ron Hornaday was particularly vocal about that at the Hall of Fame. Is that a possibility? I understand there are challenges with some of the smaller facilities and so forth, but is that something that you're kind of looking at down the road?
BRAD MORAN: Yeah, I mean, if you look at the truck schedule as it is today, obviously we race at a lot of different tracks. We've got the run road course, which obviously is in Canada. Pretty neat. We've got a dirt track, Martinsville, Bristol, Iowa, Gateway. We certainly do race at short tracks now, and yeah, we do hear that it would be nice to get back to a Myrtle Beach or wherever other short tracks. There's a team that works on the scheduling throughout the year, and there are some hurdles with television and with costs and things like that to make it all happen, but it's never out of the question. It's just right now we feel we've got a pretty good schedule with a good assortment of tracks everywhere from superspeedways to short tracks to dirt track to the road course.
Q. Traditionally, the Truck Series has‑‑ the schedule has opened with a few races, mainly located around like the southeast, and you guys don't go out west until later and there's a little bit of a break for teams to recover. This year not as much of a break, and the third race is in Las Vegas. I know traditionally the West Coast races don't always draw the counts. What kind of truck count are you anticipating for Las Vegas, and what do you think we'll see at races this year, given there were some teams that left after last year? I know 28 to 32 trucks was generally what you had last year; are you anticipating similar truck counts this year?
BRAD MORAN: Yeah, I think what we're seeing ‑‑ again, it's a little early, but we certainly see new teams coming on board, which is obviously what we want. The third race being in Las Vegas is a first time, with us running three in a row. So the teams certainly have to prepare differently than they would have in the past. We believe they're going to do that. We think we're going to have a good field of trucks in Atlanta and the Vegas race. So again, that's what we're building on. That's why it's great to have Ben join us, and we're all getting together to try to strengthen the Truck Series, and from what I can see right now, I think we're going to have a stronger field, a stronger field of trucks at each event for the 2018 season.
Q. Steve or Ben, I don't think any other series has a general manager, right? So can somebody describe kind of what Ben is doing?
STEVE O'DONNELL: I think that's a good question. I think if you look at the Monster Energy Series, right, there's so much that goes into that series that you look at either XFINITY or Camping World trucks and you would say, if you just owned that on its own, what would you do differently. And all of us are so busy when we go to the racetrack, all the media here for the most part, right, on a triple header you're going to talk about Sunday; that's what you do. But who's thinking about that day in and day out; who's talking to the folks who run our broadcasting, our comms folks, our marketing folks to say, what are your specific efforts just towards the Camping World Truck Series. And we have not had that, and I think it's been a big initiative that, candidly, Jim France has asked for. When we get called into meetings, it's great that you're doing this on Monster Energy, but where are you at on XFINITY, where are you at on the trucks for our future.
Ben's role is going to be to lead that entire effort with all of those folks, and I think also be involved in international, and I think for all of us, it was a good spot to jump in with his experience of being recently in a truck and in a car and can bring real‑world experience that we have not had, from someone who's been there literally three months ago. I think it's huge credibility on our part to have that, and we've got a guy who's ready to go and has already made a big impact in terms of talking to race teams and getting after it.
Q. Also kind of a procedural question, does the 23 Cup car have to practice? And just in general, is there any concern in the fact that you are not going to be sending anybody home on Thursday?
STEVE O'DONNELL: So your first question, the 23 car, in terms of do they have to practice or not, I'd put this with anyone. It's a series director discretion in terms of qualifying or not, so that's kind of where we find ourselves so far. I can only comment kind of where we are today, so that would be up to Richard Buck. If you look back, Gray Gaulding, the driver, he finished ninth, I think, at Talladega, so it stands to reason that we would allow that without practice, but not there yet.
And in terms of the field, I think I stated this on social media: You can look at a car count and you can look at 30 out of 40 drivers who never have a chance to win or you can look at the quality of the field and say, who's going to win the Daytona 500, and I think it's one of the best fields we've had. It's deep. There's certainly‑‑ in the future would we like to see more? We probably would. But I think when you look across all of sports now, the idea of sending someone home with a major sponsor just doesn't happen in sports today, and it's not just a reality for NASCAR, it's really all motorsports and sports in general. So I'd tend to concentrate more on the field that we have, the quality of field that we have, and the incredible drivers and story lines. I know it's easy to point at that, but from our perspective, I know internally we're more excited than we've been in a long time about this 500 and who could win.
Q. Ben, you always seem to have quite a passion for racing; I just wondered, has it been difficult for you to find the same adrenaline rush or interest from actually being in a race car and directing it towards a different facet of motorsports?
BEN KENNEDY: I think it's tough to say. My last race was in Homestead, and we're just kicking off here. I can definitely tell you that cars firing up and going on track has been a little bit difficult. But nonetheless, I've still got a late model team and may run a couple races there.
I've enjoyed racing more than ever, and if another opportunity comes about at a short track or something, I might jump in a late model or something. You know, I'm getting a little bit of adrenaline rush being this side of it, as well. There's a lot of stuff going on in the Truck Series, a lot of neat things with the NT1 engine and just kind of kicking off the season here in Daytona.
STEVE O'DONNELL: Elton, you can probably talk, too. We've had this, even with Scott Miller when we brought Scott on board and Elton and John Probst; what is a win, right for NASCAR? It's different. You're judged every Sunday on a race team, and for us, we're probably yelled at every Sunday. It's different. But I think, Elton, you've talked about that, too.
ELTON SAWYER: Yeah, it was a challenge for me initially was‑‑ on the race weekend, we'll see it tomorrow, we'll see it next Thursday. When the race is over, you get that immediate report card. You finish first or fifth or 15th or 25th and you'll know immediately what you need to work on. Even if you've won the race, well, our pit stops weren't very good, or we've got to go back or our car didn't turn very well or we've got to have more grip, got to have more downforce, got to have more horsepower. You know immediately what that is, so it took a little while to kind of figure out the same thing on the sanctioning body side. But we had the same‑‑ some of the same issues, some of the same challenges.
Every week we'll have our debriefings. We'll have a tower review. We'll sit down with our group who was in the tower, how we called the race, what did we do well, what did we not do so well, what do we got to do to get better. That part of it‑‑ and I think Ben will be able to jump in on that, as well, and start to get that adrenaline rush that you get from competing.
It's not the same as sitting behind the wheel. I'll be the first one to tell you, it's not that. But it's also quite gratifying to be on a team that you're working to make something better, as well.
Q. Ben, OD sang your praises, and those of us who have seen you mentored around the garages of NASCAR over the years, even before you were driving, know what your background is. But you're the perfect demographic that NASCAR is chasing. If you're going to sell trucks, which it should be an easy sell because I think everybody in here would agree it's the best product NASCAR puts on the track, how do you sell that to your peers, because they're the ones‑‑ they're the next generations we need to get at the racetrack.
BEN KENNEDY: I think that's a great question. And I really think there's so many different elements to it, especially my generation, the truck races are a perfect amount of length. They're shorter races, high action. To tie it in to the triple header weekends with XFINITY and Cup, we've got several of those on the schedule this year, so I think it's neat what the Truck Series brings to the table, starting at Daytona and following the schedule all the way through Homestead, and even the playoffs, as well. Going up to Canada, we see‑‑ it's probably one of our biggest races throughout the year, and then you switch it up with Eldora, too. That's something that I think my generation really kind of ties to naturally, but as far as changes and that stuff coming about, I guess we'll just have to see.
Q. Steve, you guys have been working on some cost‑cutting measures. We're seeing some of the teams kind of pull back the reins, too, with dropping from three cars to two or moving into smaller facilities in some cases. How do you deal with a situation like that? Are you confident with the general health of the sport? I guess particularly thinking about maybe the back third of the Cup field. Are those teams okay with the way the finances are set up? Are they going to be able to make it?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Yeah, I think you'd always like to see more. I mean, for our sport we'd always like to see more sponsorship flow into it. But we have done, I think, a really good job in terms of the collaboration with the teams of looking at where can we make an impact that won't be really fan facing, kind of the behind of scenes things that we could drive some of those costs down, where it doesn't affect the fan base. They won't see it on the racetrack. And I think still a lot of things to do in that aspect. But you're seeing some of the smaller teams that we've worked with, even the Tad Geschickters of the world, seeing him move from 1 to 2, seeing the Wood Brothers actually have a charter now, those are some of the good things. There are some challenges, don't get me wrong, but I think we're all aligned in at least here are the goals we've got to get to.
We're by no means there yet, but I'd say for the first time in a long time, the teams recognize that we're on the same page of trying to get there with 40 quality cars that are out there each and every weekend and everybody having a shot to win. That isn't the case yet, but there are more teams we feel like that do have that shot, and you saw it last year with the number of winners, different organizations winning. That's the goal. If you're a fan of the 36th place team last year, are they moving up the ranks? Are we able to continue that? And we've still got some work to do there for sure.
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