Racing has been a part of Joe Nemechek’s life for as long as he can remember. It is his life. When his son, John Hunter Nemechek, expressed interest in racing, it was time for a change
NEMCO Motorsports has been around since 1989, a team started by Nemechek, a NASCAR veteran. A slim percentage of drivers within the sport test out ownership, but after 28 years, the team is still alive.
Fast forward to 2016 and it is the younger Nemechek that is behind the wheel full-time, competing for a chance at the championship in the Camping World Truck Series in his first full-time season.
“I grew up around the sport so I knew coming into what I was getting into how it works,” the younger Nemechek said about the NASCAR experience. “You see the good stuff, the bad stuff, the ugly side of things and it kind of prepares you for when you actually come into the sport.”
Through six races this season, Nemechek sits seventh in the driver standings, recording his second career victory in the Truck Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway and a runner-up effort at Martinsville Speedway. He has led eight laps in 2016 and has completed 97 percent of laps run.
The victory all but guarantees a Chase birth in the new Chase system in the Truck Series, barring more than eight drivers’ record a victory and he isn’t among the top eight in points that have a victory.
Nemechek, 18, made his Truck Series debut at age 16, in 2013 where he finished 16th. Because of NASCAR’s competition rules, his father competed in the truck part-time in 2014 and 2015.
The organization doesn’t have the funding that truck teams like Kyle Busch Motorsports, Brad Keselowski Racing or ThorSport Racing does, but they say it’s full of a bunch of racers. Not knowing when the end is near, it is hard for the team to go week-to-week without any sponsorship. The No. 8 truck has not had a primary sponsor in half of the events this year.
“Our biggest holdback is our budget,” Nemechek said. “We’ve got to be so careful with what we spend money on compared to some of the other teams that we are racing against up here in the front of the series. We work very hard to be competitive and to be smart and out think a lot of these guys.”
They say they race because it’s fun. It’s a hobby that both father and son share, which equals a good bond on and off the racetrack. But with that comes competition. With limited funding, NEMCO Motorsports has gone from having to qualify for the race because they didn’t run the full season to one of the favorites for the championship in just three years.
Combined, the team has 29 top-10 finishes in a partial schedule over the last three seasons. Two victories, coming by John Hunter, has elevated the morale within the race shop, knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“Running up front each weekend, showing what we have and what we can compare,” John Hunter said regarding NEMCO Motorsports being one of the elite teams in the series. “How we utilize our resources to the maximum and being able to go out and run up front competing for wins.”
It’s almost the story of the little engine that could. I think I can, I think I can.
For year’s NEMCO Motorsports’ was overlooked, even in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, when Joe ran a full-time schedule for five years.
In those five seasons, the No. 87 Cup Series car was sponsorless 72 times, equivalent to two full seasons. Nemechek’s best finish for his own race team was 25th at Loudon in 2013.
Throughout the majority of those five years, Nemechek was a start-and-park driver, trying to survive, but racing because he loved it. It’s something that he says he deemed necessary to survive.
Throughout the history of the team, balancing the budget has been the biggest struggle. The team knows it needs fast race trucks, but that means spending more currency.
With the success that the team has been able to manage, specifically over the past two years, the team believes there is more to come. He wants to build on the foundation that begun because racing is his livelihood.
“It makes you proud because it’s hard to do and when you know what teams you are racing against and the amount of money that is being spent to come out and be competitive,” Jor said. “To know that you probably aren’t even spending half of that makes you feel really good that they are looking at you every week.”
With 12 full-time employees it brings up the question, how is this team successful?
This season, John Hunter has an average finish of 12.5, which is the down from 9.5 last year in 18 races. Though the results may be a little worse, Nemechek has raced at Daytona, Kansas and Charlotte for the first time in his career.
“When you put a bunch of racers together with a common goal that want to be there and want to do it and want to have success, opportunities are endless,” Joe said of the team’s success. “When you have a driver that cares and is a go-getter, but understands what we are trying to do and is involved in the overall project, man it just makes it that much better and that much easier.”
It won’t happen this season, but management at NEMCO Motorsports has not ruled out aligning with a bigger Truck Series team. Over the past handful of seasons, more Sprint Cup power houses have aligned with smaller teams, bettering the organization’s chances at success. Richard Childress Racing aligned with JTG Daugherty Racing prior to the 2014 season and they went to Victory Lane. Furniture Row Racing is aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing and led 588 miles en route to dominating the Coca-Cola 600.
For the team, there is a sense of pride in outrunning the series’ best by themselves. When a team aligns with a bigger group of guys, it’s helping the sport, having more resources to more teams, providing better competition. A team thrives off more resources, and it opens the door for more chances at a victory.
The cards are dealt for 2016, knowing that they will have to get it done on the track by themselves, which is something the team doesn’t shy away from.
“Our goal is to go and win as many races as we can and go win the driver and owner championship,” Nemechek said. “We’ve ran very well the past couple years, so we are just looking forward to going out and showing what we have.”
Seeing the success that the team has had this season, led by crew chief Gere Kennon brings up the future of a possible star in NASCAR.
Look on Twitter during a Truck Series event, the viewer will see many of Joe’s former competitors cheering on his son and the race team knowing that one day, they might be racing a second generation of Nemechek’s.
This is happening a lot this day in age, with former NASCAR stars getting out of the sport, but bringing a second generation along. The Blaney’s, Burton’s and Gilliland’s to name a few.
Once John Hunter is ready to move up the rankings, it will be a turning point for NEMCO motorsports. It could lead to a triumphant return for the 27-year NASCAR veteran and chase a title in the sport he loves.
“I want to keep racing,” Nemechek said. “This is what I love. We are working hard on our driver development program trying to get somebody on. Hopefully, we can have a two-truck team next year is what my goal is. I want to continue running the Truck Series, I think it’s a great stepping stone. I want to get out here and play a little bit more. I’m not done.”
NEMCO Motorsports has never fielded two trucks in the same race. Having both of the Nemechek’s on the same track at the same time would include them with the likes of the Earnhardt’s and Petty’s, with father and son on the surface at the same moment.
Fielding two trucks is likely the only possible way that would happen as Joe has only competed in seven XFINITY Series races over the past three seasons for NEMCO Motorsports, which is likely the next landing spot for his son with a bigger organization. Most recently, rumors have been swirling around the garage area that Richard Childress Racing has been scouting John Hunter for a ride as soon as next season.
Going forward in 2016, the team goal is to simply win races and the championship at Homestead. Knowing that there are between 10 to 12 trucks on any given weekend that can win the race, it will be one of the most difficult tasks the company has ever faced.
“There are quite a few guys that have been there in the past few years, close to winning it and then some of the new guys coming in,” John Hunter said. “It’s going to be a tough field. I think this year is one of the most stout competition sides of things that we’ve ever had.”
“Competition wise I think it’s better than it’s ever been,” Joe said. “I think the Truck Series is healthy. There are more competitive trucks than ever. Just as a team out there, everybody is trying to get more dollars to be competitive.”
Over the past two seasons, NEMCO Motorsports is one of the most successful organizations in the Truck Series. Knowing that has motivated the team to work harder than before because it still could come down to a point’s battle to get into the Chase with four truck regulars winning in six events this year.
Racing is everything for the Nemechek family. It has been since the each of them were toddlers. Many years later, NEMCO Motorsports is in a prime position to capitalize on all the blood, sweat and tears to even have a race team. There is no looking back now.