Barney Visser built a winning NASCAR organization the old-fashion way — he earned it.
For 13 seasons, the Denver businessman and former gentleman racer has subsidized his NASCAR habit primarily with advertising dollars from his Furniture Row/Denver Mattress companies.
That won’t be the case in 2018.
On Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, Furniture Row Racing announced that Bass Pro Shops and 5-hour Energy will share dual sponsorship for 30 races in the Monster Energy Cup Series next season. Auto-Owners Insurance will pick up the balance as the primary sponsor for six races.
The once fledgling No. 78 team from Colorado has evolved into a perennial contender with driver Martin Truex Jr. behind the wheel. And for once, Visser won’t be writing the check.
“You don’t see me dancing in the aisles, but inside I am,” Visser told motorsport.com. “Martin has just delivered. You’ve all watched him the last few years, and it’s just been remarkable what he and the guys have been able to accomplish.
“We have to attribute it to that. If we didn’t have the performance, this wouldn’t be happening.”
For Visser, 67, success did not come overnight. He started his race team with one employee — former crew chief Joe Garone — and a dream. The team attempted to qualify for 15 races in what was then the Busch Series and two Cup races in 2005. FRR expanded to a full Cup schedule the next year and qualified for half of the races. After three full seasons, the company took a step back to a 20-race run with Regan Smith in 2009, expanded the following year and has been in full growth mode ever since.
“It’s been a long-time coming to the point where we can be darn-near well-funded and sold out,” said FRR GM Garone. “It’s really exciting to see the growth that we’ve had. The partners that we have from Toyota to (Joe) Gibbs, 5-hour, Bass Pro, Auto-Owners. It’s just terrific.”
Visser credits Garone with “pouring his guts” into the race shop with 100-plus-hour weeks to keep the team rolling. When the budget allowed, the team would upgrade personnel in key positions. Although Smith earned the No. 78 team its first win at Darlington Raceway in 2011, the real transformation began the following season when former champion Kurt Busch and crew chief Todd Berrier became available. FRR wasn’t afraid to make a change. Although Busch didn’t win in 2013, the team finished 10th in the standings--having never broken into the top 20 before that.
Bringing Truex into the fold
Busch’s departure to Stewart-Haas Racing opened another door, and Furniture Row recruited Truex. When Michael Waltrip Racing shut down at the end of a controversy-filled 2013 season, Truex was jobless. He replaced Busch, just as Berrier groomed team engineer Cole Pearn to take over as crew chief in 2015. Truex transferred to the final four in the playoffs that year — a career-best for the driver. In 2016, the team left Chevrolet for Toyota, and Truex scored a career-high four wins and five poles. FRR’s technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota Racing Development enabled the team to concentrate on refining the race cars.
This season, the Truex/Pearn combination has led the series in wins (six), top-10 finishes (21) and laps led (1,977). Truex, 37, has led the standings for 17 of 31 races. And more important, the company’s performance attracted sponsorship to sustain the team over the next year.
Since 2004, when Truex won his first Busch Series title, Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, has sponsored the driver. Morris told motorsport.com it’s not only Truex’s talent but his demeanor that makes him easy to support.
“He’s genuine and the real deal,” Morris said. “We couldn’t be more proud to be aligned with him. This is a great American sport and Martin is a great guy — his whole family. When I think of Barney, and how this team started, I think of how our team started — and 5-hour.