At an early age, John Hunter Nemechek learned the brutal reality of racing.
Money buys speed.
While his father Joe was able to blaze a trail in NASCAR — winning the Xfinity Series title in just his third season with his family team and sustaining a career for more than 20 years on the Sprint Cup tour — the journeyman racer has endured his struggles.
The truck series still has reachable goals, as far as being able to win for a small guy, for a small team. But you have to have everything correct in order to do that— and also have a little luck to win.
In 2009, John Hunter and his grandmother Martha designed homemade t-shirts soliciting potential sponsors for the season-opening NXS race at Daytona. The youngster's ingenuity caught the eye of a race fan on pit road who offered support for the family’s NXS team. D.A.B. Constructors came on board the No. 87 Chevrolet for that event and to this day continues to grace the sheet metal on the No. 8 truck for an occasional race. SWM an engineering company in Texas has also been a huge supporter of the team.
Passing of the torch
But now that Joe has passed the torch to John Hunter, the son has also inherited the budget of an independent race team.
NEMCO Motorsports is nestled in a business park on the outskirts of Mooresville, N.C. — where it started out as a 9,000-square-foot shop in 1992 — five years before John Hunter was born. The building has tripled in size to accommodate trucks, Late Models and R&D — as well as Cup and Xfinity teams in the past. Memories are chronicled with banners, photos and trophies celebrating "Front Row Joe’s" glory days.
This is working man’s shop, not the type of motorsports showroom where one would feel comfortable eating off of the floor. The 14 full-time employees are spread thin — including the driver.
While many of John Hunter’s competitors are still asleep, he’s at the shop by 7:30 a.m.. He’ll work out, work on his trucks or cars, take a break for lunch, then work “until the job gets done.” On Tuesday night, the 18-year-old worked on his truck until 8:30 or 9 o’clock.
“I can do just about anything except on the wiring side,” Nemechek said. “I haven’t figured that out yet. But welding, fabricating, putting in seats, I can handle.
“If I don’t know how to do something, I’ll ask. That’s how you learn.”
John Hunter has also learned that it takes as much time to develop the business side of the sport as it does the competition end.
“The truck series still has reachable goals, as far as being able to win for a small guy, for a small team,” said Joe Nemechek. “But you have to have everything correct in order to do that— and also have a little luck to win.”
Young but proven
The No. 8 NEMCO Motorsports team had both when John Hunter earned his first career truck win at Chicagoland Speedway last month in his 23rd career start. Nemechek did not start the season behind the wheel because he didn’t meet NASCAR age requirements for full-time competition until June. After competing in 14 of 19 races, Nemechek is 13th in the NCWTS standings. In addition to his first NASCAR victory, the second-generation racer has five top fives and seven top-10s.
The cost is high to run in the truck series but I think you see a lot of new people questioning the amount it takes to move up to the next level.
While John Hunter has captured the attention of fellow racers, attracting new sponsors has been difficult at best.
“People don’t see the challenge of finding funding being as difficult as it is, but maybe thats because we’ve run as well as we have,” Joe Nemechek said. “We’re an independent team but we’ve won a race. A lot of people wish they could do that.
“The bottom line is it takes X amount of money to run the truck series whether you’re NEMCO Motorsports, Kyle Busch Motorsports or BK Racing. It takes dollars to run fast.”
For independents that don’t have ties to Sprint Cup teams or the manufacturers or parents that can write a check, it’s an uphill battle. NEMCO is the only single-car team to win a race without a link to a factory or a family sponsor.
NEMCO has the physical resources, such as tools and machinery the family has accumulated over the past two decades. At one time, the company campaigned in Cup, XFINITY and trucks at the same time. While the remnants remain, NEMCO has been priced out of the top-tier series.
The funding to acquire the technology to be marginally competitive in the Cup or Xfinity series is way out of reach for a team that has struggled to put sponsors on the car. Joe Nemechek says even on the truck tour, “aerodynamics is controlling the series.”
“On the truck series side, there is a lot of work being done to help control the costs,” Joe Nemechek said. “When you have the truck series as being the feeder series for the next drivers coming in and the home for a lot of old retired guys, the sponsorship dollars it takes to get started is less in the truck series.
“But the amount that it takes right now is a lot. The cost is high to run in the truck series but I think you see a lot of new people questioning the amount it takes to move up to the next level.”
From the beginning, Joe Nemechek’s dream was to provide his son with a solid foundation to build a successful racing career. He has taken his son as far as he can in racing.
Now, the team’s immediate challenge is to find the funding to enable John Hunter to finish the season.
The winner's check for John Hunter at Chicagoland Speedway was $46,978, but most of the races don’t pay close to half of that for finishing in the top five. By the time personnel is covered, travel arrangements are made and the tire and engine bills are paid, the prize money doesn’t come close to covering expenses.
NEMCO has what it takes
Over the years, NEMCO has fielded cars and trucks for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bill Elliott, Ron Fellows, David Reutimann and Ryan Newman. The current Super Late Model program comprises a large portion of the operation and contributes not only financially but through engineering and driver development.
The Nemechek’s believe their Late Models are some of the best in the country. John Hunters’ results which include wins in last year’s All American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway and the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. would back up that assertion.
Once the NASCAR season ends, John Hunter will return to Pensacola in December to defend his Snowball Derby title. However, his immediate concern is staying competitive for the final four truck races.
“I feel we can run up front and win races with the truck team week in and week out,” Nemechek said. “With the resources we have at the shop, we use everything we have to our advantage. We have a great group of guys behind me. We’ve learned a lot this year about our trucks, about the different packages that we take to the race tracks. We’ve done a lot with just a little bit of funding — but that goes back to the resources we have.
“If we had funding to allow us to run just a little bit better, get a couple more people in here, it would be even better for us to go out and compete for wins.”