Tuesday, September 28, 2021

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East Tennesseean Making His Mark As A NASCAR Owner

By Brody Jones 

When you think of NASCAR owners, you generally assume all the teams have roots entrenched in the Carolinas. One team owner in NASCAR has East Tennessee roots and recently, OnPitRoad.com had a chance to sit down with Front Row Motorsports owner Bob Jenkins and talk about his unlikely rise from East Tennessee businessman to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner. “I grew up as a rabid fan of NASCAR and have always been a fan.” recalled Jenkins. “It was always a dream of mine to own a race team and I wanted to do it and the opportunity came about to do so, so in 2004, we started racing in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series and I’ve been in NASCAR ever since.”
While his team is currently located in Statesville, North Carolina, Jenkins has never forgotten about his days as a fan at Bristol and the sentimental attachment he has to “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile”. “Bristol, honestly, is more of a home track for me than Charlotte because of all the memories I have here. My friends and I would come here and get buckets of KFC and Bojangles’ chicken and watch the races here. Of course, I liked to watch the wrecks as a fan because Bristol, at times, could become a demolition derby.” Jenkins said. ”Though as an owner now? I don’t like to see the cars wreck as much.” Over the course of the teams’ tenure since 2004, they have had to undergo their fair share of trials and tribulations. “There were times in the early years of our team’s existence where my stomach was in knots during qualifying. It took a whole lot of money to start the team and early on, it was a real struggle. But, thanks to the hard work of the guys, we’ve managed to do well for ourselves.” reflected Jenkins.
Last year, when the team ran 3 cars for the first time, the toll of going from two teams to three with limited resources eventually caught up to Jenkins and his team “Going into this year, the #34 and the #38 are our main focus currently as we feel those cars are our best opportunity to be competitive and as for the #37, I’m not sure long-term at the moment, what the plans are for the team. The #37 guys have done a great job for us this year considering the fact that we don’t have the resources to supply to them.” The past few seasons, Jenkins has had at least one car locked in over the course of the season and that has been a god-send for his team. “It means a whole lot to not have to worry about qualifying and just focus on the race set-up. We were fortunate to have all three cars locked in at Daytona after Travis Kvapil timed in and we’ve got in on speed at every race so far this year.”
Jenkins teams have mostly been backed by his restaurant franchises the past few years. “I’ve got 134 Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s, and A&W Restaurants that have supplied most of the sponsorship and financial backing for my team.” explained Jenkins. “We get some help from corporate but not a whole lot.” After David Gilliland’s 3rd place finish at Daytona in February, he was quoted as saying that the FR9 engines have made a huge difference and Jenkins agrees. “The FR9 engines have made a huge difference for us. Last year, we were down 25-30 horsepower and we’d be even with teams in the corners but get pulled down the straight-aways. Doug Yates has done a great job building our engines and I can’t thank him enough for that.” On the subject of Gilliland’s 3rd place finish, it was just as much of an emotional high for Jenkins as it was David Gilliland. “It was so huge for us considering all the struggles we’ve had to go through over the years from being uncertain if we’d make the field not long ago to running in the top 3 at Daytona, and it couldn’t happen to a better guy than David (Gilliland).”
Over the years, when a rash of teams have started up, Jenkins’ team has managed to stay afloat where others have fallen by the wayside and that is definitely a commendable feat compared to all the larger teams. “We started out like everybody else. We haven’t had the resources these other teams have had but we’ve made the most out of a limited budget and we’ve got great drivers and great people that have helped us along the way.” said Jenkins. At Bristol, he has high hopes for his operation “I used to be happy with not having any wrecked race cars, but now, honestly? I would like to see us get a top 15, especially the #38 team. They have just had terrible luck to start the year and a good day would be such a boost for them.”

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