Ron Devine, the owner of BK Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage, stopped by The Pit Stop on Tuesday evening to discuss their situation surrounding the Daytona 500 and their future going forward. The small team, who ran full-time in 2017 with seven different drivers across four different car numbers, plan to continue their program all the way through 2018.
The team had a small presence in the opening weekend of Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway during practice and qualifying. The No. 23 Toyota of Gray Gaulding, the only BK Racing entry in the Daytona 500 this year, posted only one lap on Saturday during the second practice session and was scheduled to go out first in qualifying on Sunday.
“It was a little bit frustrating, but, you know, things happen,” Gaulding told reporters at Daytona 500 Media Day. “BK Racing and myself, it’s not really that big of a deal because I’ve fought adversity my entire career. It’s just another bump in the road and you just gotta keep pushing no matter what is thrown your way. I’ve had many curve balls thrown my way in my career and I just gotta keep my head forward and be positive. All I’m focused on is tomorrow’s Duel.”
When Daytona 500 qualifying came on Sunday afternoon, the No. 23 Toyota ran into a hiccup while going through pre-qualifying inspection. The car passed all of the stations seamlessly with the exception of the engine portion. Devine explained the issue surrounding that situation on The Pit Stop.
“What it came down to, putting the car on the track to run a qualifying lap, I don’t think we would’ve set it on the pole,” said Devine on The Pit Stop. “We couldn’t get through the engine piece. So to say we were having some issues with our motor suppliers is such an understatement but, we managed to get through the Hawkeye, the car was ready to go, it was presented, and it’s been approved all through the other stations, and it came down to basically the motor.”
As a result, the No. 23 Toyota did not post a time in qualifying on Sunday and will start last in the second Can-Am Duel 150 on Thursday. Devine later stated that they hope to have the engine issue resolved ahead of their Duel 150.
“Hopefully we’ll have that worked out when we get there Thursday so that we can run it in the Duels,” Devine later said. “That’s what we’re focused on right now. NASCAR was great to work with and accommodating. It was a shame that we were the only car that didn’t get through it. And I’m tellin ya, it’s a tough system to get through. I just think it speaks volumes to the effort these teams had to put in this through winter to get through tech. It’s new to all of us and we’re learning it. I think we did a really good job with that. Just a shame we got hung up with this motor issue. But, employees, again, really rallied and came through and did a nice job with it.”
Despite having to start last in the second Duel 150, Devine and the No. 23 team isn’t worried. Daytona, like its sister track Talladega in Alabama, is a track where a driver can quickly gain or lose positions and serves as an equalizer for the small teams. They feel good coming into their Duel 150 because they feel like they can hang with the field.
“If there’s one race you can start last in and not worry about it, it’s the Duel’s for sure, and even the 500 with it being a plate race. Our cars are good in the wind tunnel and we feel like we can hang there with the pack and be in a position to have a great finish. And you never know with a plate race. We’re not concerned where we start. Yes. You do have to go through a certain amount of things to make the field and do all that. We gotta make sure we do that and that’s what we’re focused on.”
The No. 23 team with Gray Gaulding behind the wheel is a chartered team and is locked into the Daytona 500 and all races remaining in 2018. And even if they weren’t a chartered team, the Daytona 500 entry list, featuring 40 cars, means that nobody will fail to make the prestigious 500-mile stock car event.
In the past it wasn’t uncommon for smaller operations struggling for funding to start and park. The method, which is frowned upon by race fans and the sanctioning body, is where a team will run five to six laps before taking the car to the garage for the day. Some drivers have successfully used this method to get their name out there before landing a better funded ride. Devine declines to start and park because they’re at the track to race.
“I’ve never been a start and park car. You know, to see some of the stuff flying around about start and park -- it just amazes me,” said the owner. “We’ve never done that. In seven years of history, and you know, we’ve ran four cars in the Daytona 500 a couple of years ago. We’re a race team. We wanna race. We went there to race and we’re ready to race. And we’re gonna race.”
With Gaulding behind the wheel for the Daytona 500, it’s still unclear which drivers will be behind the wheel of that ride or other rides for the remainder of the year. Though Devine was very clear on where his relationship with young driver Gray Gaulding currently stands.
“Gray is now going into his second year. He’s another year older and he’s got a lot more experience. He was pretty good when he was out there, Devine said about the young driver. “He actually did a nice job with us with the car. He didn’t tear it up like everybody thought he was gonna and he was fast. He’s got a pretty good head on his shoulders and learns quickly in certain situations. I think from a sponsorship perspective, you’d love working with him. I like him. He’s a wonderful young man. The idea of getting all the economics together to keep him in the car is something that we’re hopeful as we’ve had a pretty good relationship in the past. We had some issues along the way, but in general, I think you could see that we’re back together.”
“I go into these races to let it all hang out. I’m really excited about, not just Daytona, but rest of the season with BK Racing,” Gaulding continued. “That is the plan for me to stay in the seat, which I’m excited about. As much as the driver wants to go run for the biggest team, the Hendrick’s, the Gibb’s, etc, you gotta start somewhere. I’m 20-years old, I’m young, I’m hungry, and when I do get that call one day, I will have to go back and thank people like Ron Devine and BK Racing. All those people who gave me opportunities before that big ride.”
Gaulding competed in 18 of the 36 races for BK Racing in the No. 23 & 83 Toyota throughout 2017. His best finish with the team came in October at Talladega Superspeedway with a ninth-place finish while driving the No. 83 Toyota Camry.
The No. 23 car did show up at Daytona International Speedway without a sponsor on Saturday. However, on Tuesday afternoon, two days before the Duel 150 races at Daytona, BK Racing announced a sponsorship with Earthwater and The Country Network for the ‘Great American Race’.
According to Bob Pockrass, leading up to the weekend before practice events started at Daytona, BK Racing is under a temporary restraining order and cannot sell its assets or charter while under the order. Pockrass also reported that there will be a court hearing on Thursday and could hand the charter over to the bank. Pockrass also said on Twitter that it is unclear on what the process by NASCAR will be if that sort of thing happens. Devine says that he and the team are working on getting these internal issues resolved while also improving their performance on the track and making themselves better as a whole.
“I’ve said a number of times. We’re just not good at getting through the winter,” Devine described. “We haven’t figured that out yet. I just don’t know how to do it. We’ve tried everything to get through it, and we always show up, but it’s usually ugly. And this year it was particularly ugly. I think we have to fight off the people who are attacking us. There’s a lot of that. It’s easy to pick on somebody when they’re going through change, or down luck, or whatever those words are. Misconception about our suppliers, vendors, and all this you hear so much about. And I’m just exhausted. So I just kinda started ignoring it. I know our relationship with our suppliers. It’s pretty good. I appreciate what they do and I think they appreciate what we do. I think that there’s a lot of just...noise that goes on around this team because we have just enough bad news to make everything sound like it makes sense. To me, it’s much to do about nothing. If something falls apart, we’ll fix it. Now we do have a few things going on that are very uncomfortable that we’re having to address in a big picture way. We have a couple of people that are trying to take advantage of our weakness. And we’re gonna fight them off while at the same time trying to improve.”
“No. Not at all. My job is the driver to be quite honest,” Gaulding said at Daytona 500 media day. “I don’t really know any background of what’s going on. I know something is going down tomorrow in court, which I hope it’s all things positive. I just gotta keep a positive attitude. This is the biggest thing of my life. The plan is to be racing in the Duels and get a good starting spot for the 500.”
Meanwhile, Gaulding spoke to the media about getting the call to drive the No. 23 Toyota in the ‘Great American Race’.
“I didn’t know I was running the race. We planned on it earlier in the year a couple months before. This business is tough and sometimes things work out and sometimes things don’t. I was just a lucky guy to get that call Thursday night at 12:30. To get that call, to get into the Daytona 500, is like the biggest call of my whole life. This is the biggest race I look forward to and watch.”
This Sunday marks the first ever start for Gaulding at Daytona International Speedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. In two starts last season on plate tracks, at Talladega Superspeedway, Gaulding finished 20th in May and ninth there in October.