Rarely are there great expectations, or successes, in newly formed race teams. Even some people with well known racing names face major difficulties in such a "start up" venture. The expense is astonishing therefore many simply don't make it without enough sponsorship to obtain and maintain the quality equipment and personnel needed to be competitive and profitable. And without "results" major media exposure fades to nothing, if it ever existed to begin with. It's all the nature of the beast, so to speak. Many of those teams are here one day and gone the next. We've all seen it happen time and time again, yet once in awhile an "underdog" causes a stir. The young guns this year definitely fall in that category! Most have a family name to help get them started, but results are necessary to continue and some are doing just that.
An underdog of a different sort, newly formed JGL Racing, is having more success than is common in a freshman year of NASCAR Nationwide competition. In December of last year James Whitener contacted Gregg Mixon about forming this team and they immediately began buying equipment, lining up key people and making plans to be race ready by Daytona 2014. Many people, in fact most people, said it couldn't happen, not enough time, but JGL made it happen! Daytona in less than 3 months? New Team? No sponsorship? What were they thinking? Yet with Mike Wallace behind the wheel of JGL's primary car, the #28 Dodge, he qualified 25th and finished 13th at Daytona. 27 cars would have liked this finish better than their own that day and regardless of Daytona's infamous attrition rate Mike and JGL Racing did what many said was the impossible! That was amazing and JGL Racing continues with that same determination.
JJ Yeley is now the primary driver of the #28 Dodge. He began with this team at the Las Vegas race and with equal determination and an amazing effort by all involved, he brought the #28 Dodge home in the 7th position at Talladega two weekends ago. I had to speak with him and I have to say I was very impressed. Judge for yourself.
"The first race I ran with JGL was in the #93 car at Las Vegas and everything went really well. I think we finished 21st. They had planned on bringing me back for a couple of races. In all the races I ran for them in the #93 car we ran extremely well. They had some discussions about making some changes and at that point decided to put me in their primary car. Since then it's been fantastic. I finished 7th at Talladega and we finished 14th at Darlington so for being involved with a very small, under funded new team, it has been a lot of fun for me. We're 16th in the points and if you look at the cars around us in the points you're looking at Roush cars and cars that have some kind of Cup affiliation, which again means a tremendous amount. Hopefully we can get some people to realize what a great opportunity being a part of JGL would be. A little bit of sponsorship would go a long way with these guys and would allow them to purchase some additional equipment and some things that we know would make the cars run better. At this point we don't even have the funds to do that.
"As a driver, and obviously I've been around a long time, I feel I'm a veteran but at the same time I don't put my self in that category as an older gentlemen. I've learned over the past 4 or 5 years, being with some smaller teams, how to get 100% out of the race car without putting myself in the position to tear up equipment. Obviously we don't have a lot of cars and tearing up race cars could mean we're not going to make it to the next track, so it's important that I understand that sometimes there's a difference in the risk factor of 14th versus 12th. Sometimes 14th is a safer chance so we can put the car back in the trailer, bring it to another race track and have another opportunity to race again. At the end of the day the difference between those 2 positions doesn't mean that much."
"James is a very excited owner and that makes this even more exciting for me. I think the shorter tracks are great for us because handling can be found with ingenuity and putting our heads together. Steve Platenberger is my crew chief and that guy works his tail off. We have seven guys at the shop who work their tails off, too, so it's kind of a throw back (to earlier times). Obviously we don't have the money that Penske, or other teams have to throw around so we have to be smart with the things we do as a team. If you look at the finishes we've had with me driving, and even with Mike Wallace at Daytona, we're competing against guys that have 20 times our budget and so many resources at their disposal. We'll see how things go at Iowa but we are all ready and looking for a good finish."
I also spoke with Gregg Mixon, General Manager of JGL Racing.
"We were starting from scratch trying to get everything together including right down to getting a building, a transporter, cars from Penske, 2 at a time, and trying to get all the Penske parts that we could. Even the cars were in pieces and we had to put them all together but we knew we were going to have great cars because these were carbon copies of the ones they won the championship with and we were already on the Dodge engine program. And I have to give all the credit for any success we've had, if you want to call it that, to the people we've hired. We have good people in place. With JJ as our driver and with good equipment there's no reason we can't be competitive. I'm very proud of the guys. They've done a great job and Talladega is, by far, our best finish. We've had 14th, 15th and 17th place finishes. too this year. but I'm looking forward to Iowa. It looks like a lot of the Cup guys won't be there so maybe it will be a little more of an even playing field with those guys not there. Maybe this is our weekend."
"I'm proud of the people we have in place. They know this business and they know their jobs. I have no dead weight. They all are working in the same direction. They all get along, which is very unusual. Everybody's got everybody's back. They never complain. It's all good and they are the reason we've run as well as we have. You would think we have all worked together for years, but that's not true. It's been since early December and some of them haven't been with us that long. The big teams can do this kind of stuff because they have multi people with multi money and all of that. But we're doing this as a small team and I can tell you I could quit today and tell everybody I'm proud of these guys. They really are doing a good job and we're not done. I am going to say, if nothing happens, if we don't get in a wreck and with JJ driving, we should have another top 10 in Iowa. That's just not me saying that. Everybody in the shop feels this way. That's a good feeling. It's a good feeling knowing we've got a chance like that."
And last, but certainly not least, I spoke with the very, very busy main man behind this team, James Whitener, who funds this team entirely. With little time to chat he went straight to the point. "We started this in December and at Daytona someone asked me what my goals are for this year. I told him I wanted to win. He laughed and said, "well what are your realistic goals"? I said I wanted to win. And I do. I don't need the money to live on so this is the best team for any company to sponsor. Everything they give us will go right into the team. We've got good equipment and good people and I want to go into 2015 with some wins. We can do it."
You know James, I believe you can do it too! If JGL Racing has accomplished all of this since December and have had some better finishes than some of the very well funded teams in the Nationwide Series, just think what sponsorship could truly do to improve their performance, not to mention the publicity that company would receive for wisely taking advantage of this opportunity! That seems it would be a win/win situation.
Thank God for underdogs. They keep this sport from becoming a little boring, as it has been, sometimes in the recent past with the same drivers up front week after week. To see a small team like this one accomplish everything they needed to do to make a 2 1/2 month deadline and to perform like this with what they have compared to the Gibbs, the Penskes and the Hendriks, etc. of this sport is truly worthy of attention in any NASCAR Nationwide news, in my opinion.
Catchfence prides itself in getting to know the people and the teams like this who are as responsible as the big guns, or even more so, for bringing public attention and affection to NASCAR. Keep an eye on this team. They are driven, pardon the pun. You just might find your self becoming a fan. I am.
Interested sponsors can contact James at GICJCW@aol.com or James@JGLRacing.com
FYI: Catchfence.com is proud to announce that JJ Yeley has agreed to provide race recaps this season. We look forward having him aboard.