With seven races left in the 2016 season, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series hits New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon for Saturday's UNOH 175. Series driver and Janesville native Travis Kvapil says things are going as good as can be expected with his small team, MAKE Motorsports.
Kvapil doesn't think it's a stretch to say they are the smallest budget team running full time with only two full-time guys working in the shop.
“It all comes down to the funding to be able to put a good racecar on the track and we don't have all that. We're just trying to survive and make sure we can have a good business plan that gets us to the next track and do the best we can with what we've got,” Kvapil said.
Kvapil finished fifth at the season-opening race at Daytona and since then has had five top-20 finishes in 15 races and currently sits 18th in points. For a small team like Kvapil's, that's nothing to sniff at.
“I feel like we've had some really good runs considering the situation we're in, but at the same time it's frustrating for me knowing that I can win races given a truck that's capable of winning races,” Kvapil said.
In his second season with the team, Kvapil says he's very hands-on and has a lot of input with the team's direction. It's no surprise that the team would want direction from a championship-winning driver with nine career series wins.
“Obviously we don't have a staff of engineers and we don't go to the wind tunnel or anything like that, so we kind of have to keep everything simple,” Kvapil said.
Kvapil, who debuted in the Truck Series in 2001, feels his experience is a huge benefit to the team, especially since they don't have much of the equipment the top teams have.
“Ideally we'd have a computer simulation running and they'd take my input and data off the truck and plug it in and it would spit something out and tell us some ideas of things to change, but I'm the data system and my years of experience is what is driving us in the direction we go. It's fun to be a part of something and help grow it,” Kvapil said.
Kvapil's team doesn't have any big-time sponsors, though they did have primary sponsorship for a few races earlier this season from GasBuddy, a company that provides apps and websites based on finding cheap gas in an area. The team was hoping the five-race deal would extend through the whole year, but that didn't materialize. In a series where everything comes down to money, even a short-term deal was a pretty big score for the team.
“It was great to have a big company like that behind us and support us and really help us on the social media side. That's the constant battle: trying to find sponsorship and funding to be able to go out there and buy the good engines or the good trucks, hire better people and buy your race tires or whatever,” Kvapil said.
With limited funding, being successful comes down to spending wisely, which means picking and choosing where spending the money will have the greatest effect.
“If we go buy four sets of tires for this weekend for over $10,000, we probably won't make the next race. We've got to do the best we can with what we have,” Kvapil said.
The difference between the haves and have-nots in NASCAR is really the same no matter what level you race at.
“You go to Madison International Speedway or Rockford Speedway, it's the same thing. The guys that are running up front, one way or another they have the money to go out and buy the better engine or the better car or whatever. Every level of racing is that way and it's nothing new,” Kvapil said.
When it comes to NASCAR, Kvapil doesn't think the average fans really understand the inequality between the teams.
“They see 40 cars out there and they figure 'well heck, they all fit the same rules, they all fit the same guidelines, how come one guy is a second slower than the other?' There's so much more behind the scenes that until you're really into it and really a part of it, it's hard to understand,” Kvapil said.
As for Kvapil's future with the MAKE Motorsports team, nothing has been formally signed, but he hopes to be there next season.
“It's very fluid, I feel like the situation with this team is set through the year that I'm going to drive the No. 50 truck. Going into next year, we really haven't had any discussions, but I assume the opportunity is probably there for me to drive this truck again and I think the owners probably assume that I would likely drive this truck again. We haven't sat down and talked about it or really made any plans,” Kvapil said.
Kvapil realizes that if a driver comes along with sponsorship dollars, the team would have a choice to make that may leave Kvapil out in the cold.
“If somebody came along with funding, they'd have to take a look at it and the same goes for me. If I had an opportunity to go drive for a team that had sponsorship or better resources, I'd have to take a look at that as well,” Kvapil said.
“We all understand the business and that's kind of how we click pretty well. We cut a lot of corners but at the same time, we're not broke and we're still going to the racetrack every week and we're still competing. I and the team understand the sacrifices; we might not fly on a private jet next week to Vegas, but we'll get on US Air or whatever and we'll get out there,” Kvapil said.
The sponsored-driver scenario is how Kvapil wound up driving for a couple different teams in the Xfinity Series this season, something he enjoys doing.
“The cars I drive (No. 15 and No. 25) are fairly established in points and a lot of times they have a driver that brings sponsorship money to drive it. If there's a week where they don't have a sponsored driver or funding with a driver, they'll call me. They know I'll go out there and do a solid job and give them good feedback and take care of their stuff,” Kvapil said. “I literally get a text on Saturday or Sunday or Monday that says 'Hey, you want to run the car this weekend?' And I say, 'Okay, let's go.'”
Even though he may be driving for smaller teams that aren't competing for wins or championships, Kvapil doesn't let that slow him down. Throughout his career, Kvapil has seen both sides as he's been on big teams like Penske, Yates and Roush as well as smaller teams like PPI Motorsports, BK Racing or his current team.
“I give my 100% every time I strap in, but I'm not beating myself up every week that we finished 21st or whatever. It is what it is and I know what we have and there's a lot of critics out there that wonder why you don't do better, but they don't know the whole story. I'm comfortable that I do and at the end of the day, that's all that matters,” Kvapil said.
Kvapil is looking forward to Saturday's race as it's at a track he has won at in the past. He feels it's an opportunity for small teams like his to have a decent run.
“It's really going to come down to the handling of the truck and driver feel. I feel like I can dial it in and have a good, solid top-20 or top-15 finish and that's what we're going to shoot for. I have a lot of comfort there and kind of know what I need.” Kvapil said.
Besides his time on the track, Kvapil's boys Carson and Caden have been racing “roughly every other Wednesday night” at Millbridge Speedway, near Kvapil's home in North Carolina. Both boys won numerous races over the summer and younger son Caden won the box stock feature race Wednesday night at Millbridge.
“We run quite a bit. It's a lot of fun. We took a trip up to Iowa and Illinois and hit a track in northern Wisconsin and they won a bunch of them. It's fun to go somewhere else and clean up on them, too,” Kvapil said.
It seems as though the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.