LORAIN, Ohio (Dec. 30, 1999) Liberty Racing, a charter team in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with its No. 98 Ford, has announced it will suspend operations effective Friday due to its inability to obtain a marketing partner for the NASCAR 2000 season, team owner Jim Herrick announced Thursday afternoon.
Herrick added that all of the team's assets, including eight race trucks, are for sale. Team manager Tim Stephens said he was scheduled to display the operation for three separate potential ownership groups between now and Monday.
"The potential is here for someone to have a good, successful program as it has been for us," Stephens said, "if they can simply add the right people in the right places."
The lack of the right backer, unfortunately, was the one element that eluded Liberty in the end.
"It's a difficult decision, one which we reached after a great deal of consternation," Herrick said. "It's frustrating to be in this position, but without a sponsorship commitment and no good leads on gaining such a commitment, this is the only prudent action."
Liberty competed in all 122 series owns three victories, two Bud Poles and finished in the top-12 in the series point standings four of five seasons. The team also played a key role in launching the careers of drivers Kenny Irwin and Kevin Harvick.
Irwin won two races and the 1997 Cintas Rookie of the Year Award driving Liberty's Raybestos Brakes/Ford Credit Fords. He followed that season with the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series driving for team owner Robert Yates.
Harvick drove Liberty's No. 98 Porter-Cable Power Tools Ford in 1999. He left the team for a full-time ride in the NASCAR Busch Series with team owner Richard Childress. Sponsor Porter-Cable also left the team to back a NASCAR Busch Series effort fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing.
The loss of Liberty Racing, combined with departures earlier this year by the Chesrown, Childress and Earnhardt teams, leaves only two teams, Rick Hendrick's Hendrick Motorsports and Jim and Marlene Smith's Ultra Motorsports, which have competed in all 122 series events under the same ownership that are expected to participate in the NASCAR 2000 season.
The decision was particularly frustrating for the team and Stephens, who said the operation was ready to test and go racing "immediately," save for the lack of a marketing partner to fund the effort.
"We have a better depth of resources overall than at any time in our history," Stephens said earlier this month. "We have everything in place except the funding. The two trucks that would go to Daytona are sitting, less engines, ready to go in the hauler. The trucks that are complete and in the fleet could run deep into the season."
The season opening NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series 250 at Daytona International Speedway is scheduled for Feb. 18. A two-day test is scheduled at the 2.5-mile trioval for Jan. 14-15.
With the decision to close the operation, Stephens said he was unsure exactly whether Liberty's crew of six -- half the crew that ended the season in October -- would seek opportunities to stay in the sport. He added that while he and Herrick had some business opportunities outside motorsports they might pursue he was also considering motorsports consulting or working weekends as a spotter.
"After dedicating so much energy to this operation it would be hard to jump into something else with the energy level it would take," Stephens said. "But I think there are some people in the sport we could help from a consultant's standpoint. I'd like to be at the race track because after all we've been through I'd hate to start missing them now.
"We've had a great five-year run. Those of us who have been through most of it have made a tremendous living doing what we love to do. It's been a great experience, but the worst case is we'll be watching and cheering like crazy for Kenny and Kevin."