LaJoie in, Purvis out of No. 4 Chevrolet By Dave Rodman
LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (Nov. 19, 1998)A lack of sponsorship for two race teams has forced NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division team owner James Finch to honor a commitment he made in mid-summer and end an owner-driver relationship he'd maintained for the balance of 12 years.
On Thursday, Finch said two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie would drive his No. 4 Chevrolets in 1999 in pursuit of the championship, with or without a primary sponsor; and with veteran mechanic and former employee Marc Reno as crew chief.
Due to the commitments Finch made and honored, driver Jeff Purvis and primary sponsor Lance Snacks were released from their responsibilities and commitments; and his crew chief resigned.
"I was trying to secure sponsorship for two teams, but I had made an agreement with Randy in June that we would run him in 1999 for a full season, no matter what happened, "Finch said. "We didn't have enough sponsorship for two teams, and I had given my word to Randy, so I had to release Jeff. Marc Reno was coming on board to be Randy's crew chief, so Johnny Allen, who had been my crew chief, resigned."
For his part, LaJoie is enthused about the upcoming season, after winning series championships in 1996 and1997 for BACE Motorsports owner Bill Baumgardner.
"James has got a damn good race team -- very well-run and organized -- and it has been whenever he's raced," said LaJoie, dismissing any concerns. "With the addition of Marc Reno, it's gonna be that much better. They're going to add some people, and I hope to have some input into some of that."
LaJoie, who ran his own race teams in the past and won a championship in what has become the Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring, has a lot of respect for Reno, the California native who also came out of a short-track background. Even though they've never actually worked together, LaJoie said he's familiar with Reno's work.
"I've seen some of the cars he built for (Dick) Moroso and he's helped me out a bunch in a lot of different ways, though never on the race track," LaJoie said. "I think there's no question it's going to be a good combination.
"Marc's a whole lot smarter than I am," LaJoie said of their similar backgrounds. "I understand the fundamentals and I think I'm a pretty good shoe. Learning the business the way he has and the way my dad taught me -- I think we'll mesh real well. The bottom line is we both want to win - and James is going to give us everything we need to put it together and win."
In the past, Finch has raced with his own Phoenix Construction company as a backer. Although that's not his wish, he has a definite goal for the 1999 season.
"We are hunting for a sponsor for Randy LaJoie to run for the championship, but I am committed to running the full season either way," Finch said. "Randy brings a lot to the table and this team -- I didn't consider it a good year, but we were ninth in car owner points, only 53 points out of fourth."
Finch said inconsistency was his team's biggest detractor this season.
"We had 11 top-10s, but we were in about 14 wrecks," Finch said, balancing the ledger. "We had two seconds, two thirds and some other good finishes, and the pole at Milwaukee was another highlight of our season."
While Purvis only failed to finish one race due to an accident, he was suspended, fined and forced to sit out four races at mid-season after being involved in an altercation at South Boston Speedway.
LaJoie's hiring signals the beginning of a new era for Finch, perhaps one of NASCAR racing's most diverse car owners. The North Florida construction executive has raced -- mostly with Purvis, of Clarksville, Tenn., behind the wheel -- on dirt and in such diverse asphalt divisions as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series, the ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series and the Slim Jim All Pro Series, a part of the NASCAR Touring Division.
Finch said that decision was maybe the hardest, as Purvis has won for him in many of those venues.
"We've been together basically 12 years -- on dirt, the short tracks, ARCA, All Pro, some Winston Cup and in the Busch Series," Finch said, "but we needed to make a change, both for myself and for Jeff.
"We never had a written contract, and he's always done everything he promised, as I have with him. I'll tell you this -- somebody'll be proud to have him drive their car."
The team's best finish was in 1996, when Purvis won two of 26 starts and finished seventh in the championship chase.
Apparently, Purvis and Lance Snacks will be sticking together and anticipate an announcement on their racing venture in the near future.
Reno had worked for Finch for four years when he was hired prior to the 1997 season by NASCAR Winston Cup Series team owner Robert Yates. Reno was released earlier this season by Yates and, after his contract with Yates expired after the season finale, he has begun working at Finch's North Florida shop.
"We have some associate sponsors committed and we are working and planning to be at the Daytona test in January," Finch said.
LaJoie was optimistic as well.
"When we get to Daytona Beach I believe we'll have the car covered up with a very good sponsor and we've got some good associates," he said. "James has told me not to worry about it, and I'm not worried about it. It would be an added bonus for somebody to put their name on it because we're gonna win some races."
Source: NASCAR Online