By admin | April 12, 2010
By Richard Allen
Most likely at some point in your cruising along the information super highway you have come across an advertisement for the ‘Rich Dad’ financial planning website. Although I have never looked very closely at the site, I can guess there is one thing it does not say when advising people of how to build wealth. I’ll bet the site does not advise those looking to better manage their money to get involved in racing.
As anyone who follows this sport at all knows, racing is expensive. And as technology increases, so does the cost of the being involved. Nowadays, to get started in racing, one had better come into the deal with a great deal of available capital, no matter what form of racing is being considered.
With that said, one has to reason that many young, up and coming drivers must have rich dads, and in at least some cases that is correct.
This past weekend, driver John Wes Townley became part of the story of the Nationwide Series race in Phoenix. After a practice crash, team owner Richard Childress removed him from the #21 Chevrolet in favor of the more experienced Clint Bowyer.
The 20 year old Townley has raced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series since 2008. And despite the fact that he has never recorded a top-10 finish in either of those series’, he has driven for a team tied with Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing.
So, how with virtually no racing resume to speak of did Townley land such high profile rides?
The simple answer to that question is money. His father, Tony Townley, is a co-founder and the chief financial officer of the Zaxby’s restaurant chain, hence the reason why his son’s cars are always sponsored by that company.
Townley’s history in NASCAR is a story of one crash after another. If he has any racing talent it is difficult to see. The only thing he brings to the table, literally and figuratively, is chicken.
However, Townley is not the only one with such a calling card. For that matter, a number of modern day stars and non-stars alike have similar stories. To me, this is somewhat disturbing. Is this all we as fans have to look forward to in our racing futures?
Nationwide Series driver Michael Annett’s father, Harold, founded a trucking company in 1972, which is today one of the largest flatbed hauling entities in the country. The former hockey star has a somewhat more impressive resume than that of Townley. He has won ARCA races and scored top-10s in both the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series.
Still, however, there is the fact that his father’s finances have been there to help him along the way.
Rusty Wallace, Inc. employs two such drivers. Rusty’s son, Stephen, got his break in racing through obvious means. Along the way he has left a trail of destroyed equipment. Crashes have become all too common for this young driver. He, like Annett, has won in ARCA cars but one has to wonder if he hasn’t been moved up the racing ladder too quickly.
Brendan Gaughan’s father operates the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, which is coincidently the sponsor of his RWI ride. Gaughan has won eight truck series races and has competed in all three of NASCAR’s top levels.
Perhaps the best known of all these rich racing sons is Sprint Cup driver Paul Menard. His father’s chain of home improvement stores has sponsored him throughout his racing career. Menard is having a fairly solid season in 2010, but prior to this year, he had had a somewhat lackluster time at the Sprint Cup level.
Even in dirt racing is this evident. 2009 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Rookie of the Year John Blankenship is the son of Massey Energy’s embattled CEO, Don Blankenship.
Of course, there have been a number of second and third generation drivers in racing. However, drivers such as Kyle Petty, Davey Allison and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. worked their way from the garage to the race track. Many of these modern day sons of wealth have done little to earn their way to their current place.
This recent trend is a by-product of the extreme cost of racing. Unlike basketball, baseball or football, more than hard work and God given talent are needed to succeed here. Cash is another requirement. This sport could well become an exclusive playground of only the wealthy in the very near future.
Is the future of NASCAR and all other forms of racing going to be made up of John Wes Townley’s? Are drivers with no experience but a pocket full of money going to be crashing their way up the ranks until they reach the highest levels? Trends seem to indicate that may well be the case.
Follow @RacingWithRich on twitter.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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