#77 Jasper Motorsports ownership triumvirate initiated self-sponsored interplay between company and team before current Winston Cup trend.
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Over four years before the ownership of MB2 Motorsports and Valvoline agreed on what was then described as a ground-breaking relationship for sponsor co-ownership of the #10 Pontiac team, the Jasper Engines & Transmissions officially ushered in the era of NASCAR-related companies controlling their own destiny as sponsors by taking over the management and ownership of the #77 NASCAR Winston Cup Series team which it had financially supported for the previous three seasons.
Falling somewhere between the self-serving, self-branded NASCAR sponsorship efforts of former Winston Cup owner/sponsors J.D. Stacy, Warner Hodgdon and Sam McMahon (of Team III infamy) and the MB2-Valvoline business plan, the trio of current co-owners for the #77 Jasper Motorsports Ford team for driver Dave Blaney--Doug Bawel, Mark Harrah and Mark Wallace--came together through both their passion for racing as well as their interest in better protecting their sports-marketing investment.
After entering the sport as an engine supplier for mid-pack teams such as Larry Hedrick Motorsports in the late 1980's, Jasper Engines & Transmissions assumed first a co-sponsorship role with the #55 RaDiUs team, then splitting ownership (Bawel) with D.K. Ulrich through most of the 1994 and 1995 Winston Cup seasons. On October 2, 1995, the current trio of owners decided to purchase the entire NASCAR program--officially renamed Jasper Motorsports--for which the primary sponsor was the company with whom they were involved in varied capacities.
"There's not another team that's structured the way the #77 Jasper team is, but there are a lot of different people within the industry that have looked at a plan similar to what these owners have done as a way of better determining how their sponsorship dollars will work for them," said Blaney, himself a former owner of a contending World of Outlaws team as well as a co-owner of Sharon Speedway, his home-area race track in his native Ohio.
"With the cost of Winston Cup sponsorships going up each year, companies in the sport have had to get more creative about protecting their position. Some don't have a good idea of how the sport works from the competitive side, and probably should let the people who race run their programs. But some--like Doug, Mark and Mark--do have a good understanding about how the sport works and how their company should be positioned in the sport."
Bawel, 47, has a particularly unique position in motorsports, serving as part-owner of the #77 team while also functioning as President of Jasper Engines & Transmissions. Bawel has been involved with the automotive industry through most of his adult life, starting with his role as a car salesman for the Ruxer Ford Dealership in Jasper, Indiana, while attending college.
After graduation, Bawel joined Jasper Engines & Transmissions as a sales trainee, advancing through the ranks to Advertising Manager, Sales Manager and Vice President before being elected President of Jasper Engines & Transmissions in 1987, when he and a group of associates purchased the company from its founder, Alvin Ruxer.
Bawel introduced the Jasper brand to NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing in 1989 when he negotiated a three-race sponsorship with driver, Ken Ragan. Jasper Engines kept up a limited involvement in 1990-1991 when the company began supplying race engines to the #55 RaDiUs Motorsports team. The new division supplying the NASCAR engines to race teams--Jasper Performance Products--produced power plants for Ford, Chevrolet and Pontiac vehicles in both the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Grand National Series.
Bawel formed the partnership with two Jasper Engines & Transmissions distributorship owners--Mark Harrah of Greensboro, N.C. and Mark Wallace of Atlanta--purchasing D.K. Ulrich's share of the #77 NASCAR team which they were already sponsoring.
At the start of the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season, Jasper Motorsports engine operation joined forces with Penske Engines in a combined venture known as Penske-Jasper Engines to supply engines to the #2 Miller Lite Ford team (driver Rusty Wallace), #12 Alltel/Mobil Ford team (driver Ryan Newman) and the #77 Jasper Ford team (driver Blaney). Jasper Engines & Transmissions also produces the transmissions and differentials for the #77 team at its manufacturing facilities in Jasper, Indiana.
Harrah oversees all performance issues as Team Manager for #77 Jasper Motorsports team, including the interaction between the #77 team and the Penske-Jasper Engine operation in Concord as well as all research-and-development programs. Harrah graduated from the West Virginia University with a degree in Management, and started his Jasper Engines & Transmissions distributorship in 1986 in Greensboro.
Harrah has been involved with racing for much of his life, beginning a competitive karting career in the early 1980's that eventually produced two NC state championships. It was Harrah's decision to sponsor a late-model stock car in his area that led the three men down the path to the current NASCAR Winston Cup Series ownership arrangement.
"Doug (Bawel) and Tom Schrader (Vice-President of Marketing and Strategic Planning) came down to a couple of races, really liked it and saw a much broader potential in the marketplace, so I suggested they get involved on a national basis," said Harrah. "That Jasper car probably won 40 races in a two-year span. We won everywhere we went. That was the beginning of getting Jasper started in NASCAR Winston Cup Series."
Wallace, who graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Industrial Management, handles all the financial affairs as Team Controller for the #77 Jasper Motorsports program from his offices in Atlanta. After a short stint with Federal Mogul, Wallace started Jasper Fleet Sales in 1978, and in 1980, purchased a Jasper Engines & Transmissions distributorship. Today, Wallace owns the largest distributorship network in the Jasper family, with 58 associates throughout the Southeast. Wallace has also expanded his distributorship base to include warehouse and office extensions in Orlando, Florida, and Columbia, South Carolina.
On race days, Wallace is often seen atop the grandstands at NASCAR Winston Cup Series events, serving as a second spotter for Blaney and the #77 team. Aside from his Jasper-related businesses, Wallace is a novice racer, competing in the Masters Division of the Legends Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway and also in a "retired" Winston Cup car that he races on the Hooters Pro Cup circuit.
"It's an interesting mix of guys that own this #77 Jasper Motorsports team, and what each brings to the program seems to work well with the others' strengths," said Blaney. "They've taken a company that obviously should be in NASCAR as a primary sponsor, managed to maintain their position in the sport through tremendous growth over the last decade, and made it work in a cost-efficient way for their businesses. I'd say the way they've gone about being involved in the Winston Cup Series has been a pretty big success story in itself."