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Does it take a ‘Rich Dad’ to get into modern day racing?

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.

Topics: Articles |

13 Responses to “Does it take a ‘Rich Dad’ to get into modern day racing?”

  1. missouriracefan Says:
    April 12th, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    While we will never know how far Davey Allison would have gone, we do know Kyle Petty and Earnhardt Jr.’s records. Both men have been great publicity representatives for the sport. I wonder though had they not had their heritage and coattail admittance to NASCAR would they have been as quickly dismissed as most want to do with Townley, Menard or Gaughan.

  2. Richard Allen Says:
    April 12th, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    I believe that had Mr. Petty and Mr. Earnhardt been wealthy CEOs rather than drivers their sons would not have been viewed as favorably as they have been.

    That said, I remember seeing pictures of a teenage Kyle Petty pushing a broom at Petty Enterprises.

    And Junior was never just handed anything until he had worked at it on his own at Myrtle Beach and other places.

  3. jamie Says:
    April 13th, 2010 at 5:07 am


    it takes a rich dad even if he doesnt become the sponsor at a high level.

    im sure if mr. logano or mr. stepfather (of jeff gordon) were working men who made 35k a year….we would have nevr heard of their sons either.

  4. Alvin Davenport Says:
    April 13th, 2010 at 7:55 am

    I’m sure the employees at these companies are glad “junior” is out tearing up race cars instead of hanging around the job site, collecting a paycheck and trying to boss everyone around. Sometimes, it’s better for the company to find the kid a hobby that keeps him away.

  5. zhills fan Says:
    April 13th, 2010 at 9:18 am

    I know one that has made it on his talent, his family lives on meager financial support. I bet DW know’s who i’m talking about. Go 00

  6. Glen H. Says:
    April 13th, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Having a rich daddy pay the bills in no different than a driver show up with his own sponsorship and getting a ride. It’s happened in NASCAR, IRL, ARCA, you name the series. After all, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers” and with coorporate money being pretty tight, I think we’ll be seeing more drivers bringing their own funding.

  7. dawg Says:
    April 13th, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Don’t forget Mark Martin’s father owned a trucking company. Mark broke into cup in the early ’80’s driving for his family owned team.
    Don’t forget that Paul Menard grew up around racing. John was one of the pioneers of Stock Blocks at Indy. He spent years chasing his Indy dream. Perhaps if he were to back Robby Gordon’s Indy effort this year it could happen.
    Maybe John Wes, needs to go into Sports Cars, where he’s not as visible. With the proper instruction, (Bob Bondurant, maybe) he should be able to race well enough to satisfy his urge, without calling attention to his deficiencies.

  8. goat Says:
    April 13th, 2010 at 9:54 am

    I think this is a little unfair to Townley. Yes, he has a ride with RCR because of his father’s sponsorship, but he has improved quite a bit this year, with an average finish of 22.4, and has completed 96% of laps. Compare that to a solid driver like Trevor Bayne, who is averaging a finish of 22.0 so far this year.

  9. Sue Rarick Says:
    April 13th, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Racing started out as a rich man’s sport. There was a short period right after WW2 where a common person could make it to the top. But other than that short period it’s always been a rich man’s sport.

    Even then there was Carl Kiekhaefer and his chrysler’s in nascar.

  10. JB Says:
    April 13th, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Rich Daddy Syndrome is not a new developement. I was first exposed to it in ARCA in ‘05 - and it was an old story then. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but what’s the alternative?
    “Money buys speed. How fast do you want to go?”

    Goat: Any comparison to JDub is an insult to Trevor Bayne! Anyone who has raced against Townley (as we have since he was in Bandoleros) is well aware of his talent / funding ratio. Competitors are usually glad when he moves up and is tearing up someone else’s cars!

  11. Ginger Says:
    April 13th, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Mr Davenport, your comment is an insult to a man that slept in a garage in a sleeping bag all summer just to learn the business. Away from home and without a cent in his pocket, he raced 3rd class cars only to go back to the shop to sleep on concrete. The next few days he did every trivial job in the shop still trying to learn the business. You need to study your history before you start putting people down. You obviously think you know a lot. I assure you, you do not.

  12. Chris Says:
    April 13th, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    This is not only the case in racing but just about every sport. It costs money to haul your kid around to every AAU basketball game, soccer tournament, hockey tournament, football camp, etc. In those sports the talent differential is wider but very few make it without some means.

  13. Keith Says:
    April 14th, 2010 at 8:42 am

    I’ve heard it said by Kyle Petty in so many words. He said anybody can drive these cars around Daytona or Talladega at 5 mph off the Pole speed 5% of the people can do it 4 mph off the pole speed 1% at 3 mph. Then he said the only way you learn to do this is practice and how do you get practice by having someone buy you a $250,000 race car that you can wreck and they can buy you a new one or pay someone to fix the old one. So you need someone willing to fork over a lot of cash for you to learn how to do this or bring alot of your own to offset the cost.