David Ragan’s victory in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway was more than a win for the underdogs. The NASCAR Sprint Cup victory was one to be celebrated by the local community.
Bob Jenkins, the owner of Front Row Motorsports which Ragan and runner-up David Gilliland drives for, lives in Dandridge, and owns several businesses in this region including many of the Taco Bell and Long John Silver’s franchises.
His cars often sport logos of those restaurant chains as well as Morristown Drivers Service, a trucking company based in which Jenkins owns.
His race team, now based in Charlotte, also got a local start. Jenkins’ first involvement in a major NASCAR series was as a sponsor for Johnson City driver Brad Teague and car owner Jimmy Means.
Fueled by that involvement, Jenkins became a partner in the No. 77 Nationwide Series Ford for which Teague drove for.
Once Jenkins began fielding his own cars in the Cup Series, another Johnson City driver Johnny Miller raced for him at Watkins Glen in 2005.
It’s been a nine-year journey from a team struggling to make Nationwide Series races to Jenkins owning three-car Sprint Cup teams and picking up his first win.
He was understandably proud of Sunday’s 1-2 finish as well as Josh Wise ending up 14th.
“I tell you what makes it special is just the time and the effort that these guys put into these cars,” Jenkins said. “There are a lot of owners out there that they get the best available driver they can get and they’re like a hired gun, but the thing that I think makes our team different than some of the rest is that we’re so close.
“More than anything we’re friends and I know I’ve got drivers that are capable of winning races. I’ve got guys at the shop that have the heart to win races. We just haven’t always had the resources, so the challenge for me is as we build cars is to make them better every week and to put ourselves in a position
to win a race. It’s just so satisfying to see that over the last nine years every year we’ve gotten a little bit better. I knew it was just a matter of time before we’d win one of these things.”
It was no accident.
As the record shows, Ragan and Gilliland are talented drivers on the restrictor-plate tracks.
Ragan won the 2011 July race in Daytona, and likely would have won the Daytona 500 that year if not for a penalty for a restart. Sunday’s victory also marked his third straight top-10 finish at Talladega.
For Gilliland, it was a third top-five finish on a plate track, following a fourth at Talladega and a third in the 2011 Daytona 500.
Like the team owner, both drivers have local connections.
Johnson City veteran Mike Potter once drove for David Ragan’s father Ken. Also, Erwin resident Lesa Dwomick heads up Gilliland’s fan club. During the 2010 season, Gilliland ran a special decal on his car in memory of Dwomick’s daughter, Jordan, who died tragically after a stack of lumber fell on her.
All three of the Front Row Motorsports drivers are respected for their actions as people as their abilities as racers. On the track, most people understand the kind of uphill battle they face.
Many sports writers used the line of the pair of Davids slaying the Goliaths of the Sprint Cup Series after the two charged from the 10th and 11th spots into the lead on the final lap. Jenkins took no offense at that line, the first to admit his team is underfunded when compared to the mega teams owned by the likes of Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs and Rick Hendrick.
“I wouldn’t say it’s nickels and dimes, but I want to be known as a team that did the most with the least,” Jenkins said. “Every year we try to get better. We work within ourselves. The chassis we run, we build. We’re unable to go out and buy products from other teams and that’s a disadvantage, but on a day like today it really makes you feel good because you know the equipment that you won the race with was what you
built in your own shop. That makes it so gratifying.”
The cars did have Roush-Yates engines, and it was particularly satisfying for Ragan to pass Carl Edwards for the lead. They were teammates at Roush-Fenway Racing from 2007-11 before Roush failed to re-sign the Georgia driver.
“He was driving for a top tier team and had UPS as a sponsor
and when he left he bought in to what we were trying to do at Front Row,” Jenkins said. “The thing that makes him so different from a lot of other drivers is his expectations of himself and his team never changed. He didn’t look at it as if, ‘Hey, I’m taking a step down here. I’m gonna be a backmarker or whatever.’
“He continued to expect a lot out of himself and a lot out of his team and I think what happened is people bought into that and they followed behind him and we’ve seen results from it. It’s the same way with David Gilliland and Josh Wise. The chemistry in this group is so strong that I didn’t know when it would come, but I just knew something special was gonna come from this group of drivers.”
Virginia driver Adam Long led from flag-to-flag in his No. 3 Chevrolet to win this past Friday’s Late Model Stock feature at Kingsport Speedway.
It was Long’s second win of the season in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
Daniel Pope II of Smyrna finished second, and points leader Chad Finchum of Knoxville was third.
Among the other finishers: Johnson City driver Zeke Shell was ninth, and former NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year Danny O’Quinn was 12th.
Veteran Mike Potter of Johnson City finished 15th, one spot ahead of Gray driver Joey Trent.
In the support classes, Jared Broadbent of Bakersville, N.C. outdueled John Harrell of Surgoinsville to win the Street Stock feature. Other winners were: Jason Ketron of Kingsport in Pure 4, Billy Taylor in Rookie Pure 4 and Jacob Owens of Bean Station in the Legends cars.
Another weekly program of racing is scheduled for this Friday night.
Wet weather forced the cancellation of the Southern Regional Racing Series debut at Volunteer Speedway this past Saturday night.
The 4/10-mile dirt track will try to go at it again this Saturday with a $2,000-to-win feature for the Pro Late Models headlining the action.
The Modified Hobby, Open-Wheel Modified and Mini Stock classes are also on the schedule.
Bristol Dragway has the DER Bracket Series on tap for this Friday and Saturday with gates to open Friday at 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. on Saturday.
Time trials begin at noon Saturday, followed by the elimination rounds.
The popular Street Fights program is scheduled for Thursday night with any driver who can achieve a perfect .000 reaction time to receive a free night of racing.
Otherwise, the cost is $10 to race your street car down the famed Thunder Valley drag strip.
Chester Stamper of Piney Flats won last week’s Burnout Wars competition. Stamper’s tire-smoking exhibition with his 1986 Chevrolet Camaro was judged the best by more than 170 racers.
Gates open for the Street Fights at 5 p.m. with racing to start at 6 p.m.