Ryan Ellis is doing a monthly driver diary for Speedway Digest. He currently races the No. 1 and No. 50 trucks for MAKE Motorsports, splitting the rides with former champion Travis Kvapil, along with racing in the Xfinity Series for Rick Ware Racing on a part-time basis.
As the third part of this series, Ellis answered questions from some fans on Twitter about life as a racer. Take a look at what life is like for the 25-year-old Chipotle lover, racer and hockey addict.
If you could pick the number you race, any number, what would it be and why?
Probably either No. 71 or No. 51. I’ve been No. 71 nearly my whole life, racing it from when I was about four years old until I could no longer choose my number. I played hockey from about the same age until I was in college hockey. I wore No. 71 during my inline hockey days and had to choose No. 25 for my ice hockey days in college. Other than that, I’ve worn No. 71 my whole life.
What is your favorite meal at Chipotle?
Steak quesadilla or steak burrito … gotta have that guacamole, though.
What team, if you had to pick, would you drive for in the Sprint Cup Series?
That’s a tough one. I think Hendrick Motorsports or Stewart-Haas Racing. Growing up, I was a huge Jeff Gordon fan and it was always a dream to race for that team. As I grew older, Tony Stewart was definitely someone I tried to model my driving after, so it would be pretty cool to call him a boss at Stewart-Haas.
What’s the weirdest animal to run across a racetrack in front of you?
In front of me? Uh … none as far as I know. My road racing days brought a lot of deer and other animals on the track, but I don’t think I’ve ever hit one.
If Chip Ganassi ever mistook you for Kyle Larson and told you to get in the No. 42 car, would you correct him?
Wouldn’t even think about saying anything.
If given the chance, would you switch lives with Ryan Ellis from the NHL?
Yes. I love hockey, not as much as racing of course, but I absolutely love hockey. I played it my whole life. I wish racing were more like hockey sometimes. Hockey is like most other normal sports, where if you have talent and work hard, you’ll make it. I do love the business side of motorsports, but it’s tough. I wish we did a racing draft much like the NHL or any other sport. Plus, I think there are less politics in hockey. You can say what you mean a bit more without worrying about politics or hurting everyone’s feelings. They’re thicker skinned.
What driver from the past would you want to race against?
Ayrton Senna. He’s a guy you would hate to race against because you knew he was going to go for every gap. Very aggressive, but a guy you look up to for his race craft and lack of fear.
What crew chief from the past would you want to have?
That’s a tough one. I think it would have been cool to work with Steve Letarte honestly. Just from watching what he was able to do last year was pretty amazing. He seems like a great guy and an awesome crew chief.
What’s the craziest wreck that you have been in?
The craziest wrecks that I’ve been involved in haven’t ended up too badly for me. I’ve been lucky to avoid the big ones at Daytona and Talladega for the most part. The wrecks in the Truck Series the past two years at Daytona have been really close calls for our FDNY Racing No. 28, but we got out of them cleanly.
The worst hits I’ve had have been in road racing. I hit a wall head on at Road Atlanta when I got turned in their very fast ‘esses’ section. That hurt a lot. I caught fire afterward, too. I honestly haven’t had any huge wrecks though, and in NASCAR, I’ve really only had the one incident with Jake Crum at Charlotte. That hit hurt, too, since there was no SAFER Barrier there, but wasn’t too bad visually.
What has been your favorite race in NASCAR thus far?
To watch? That’s a good question. I’m not sure if one sticks out for sure. But I think Darlington, which was very recent of course, was one of the best we’ve seen all year. That rules package is very ‘racey’ and so is Darlington in general. The amount of quality passes and great side-by-side racing we saw was amazing. I wish we could come up with a package that allowed us to race like that in Xfinity and Trucks.
How difficult is it to race on a week-to-week basis?
Hardest thing I’ve ever done. I am just a young kid trying to make it in this sport without the business connections or connections of being in the industry for 20-plus years like some people. If I had the money to go out and buy a NASCAR truck, hauler and do payroll, I would do what Jordan Anderson does. He works his butt off to get to the track every week and people notice it. I just don’t even have the money to start that. I am working a different angle of trying to find the money to race occasionally.
It’s hard to cold-call someone and convince them to give you $20,000 to $25,000 or more, but I have very good testimonials from past sponsors and most of them, if not all, are going to do it again in the future. I think it’s a matter of surviving long enough to develop a reputation as a driver, and a network for sponsorships. I’ve already begun to see my network grow, and with that, it gets a little bit easier. People don’t realize that just getting your foot in the door is the hardest part. Cold calls and random e-mails often don’t work, but if you have a friend of a friend that might know someone in a position of power that you can go and speak with face to face, that can go a long way.
What does it cost to fully fund a race in the Xfinity Series or Camping World Truck Series?
I think you could ask every team in both series and get different answers. In the Truck Series, there are probably less than six drivers that have ran the majority of the season that are not paying to race or bringing a sponsor that has close family ties to the deal. Xfinity has more hired drivers. To run in a lower-funded Xfinity Series car or a truck, the ‘general’ asking price can range from $10,000 to $25,000 depending on the race. If you’re higher experienced, sometimes it’s a matter of finding tire money.
Highly funded teams like JR Motorsports can ask for as much as $6 million for a season, even from a highly experienced guy. Of course, the Cup guys that are driving in Xfinity are a different deal. But when you are an up and coming guy, that’s about what you are expected to bring ($120,000 to 200,000 or more a race). Some people just write a check with their own (or family) money, some own family businesses which they get the money from, but there certainly aren’t many young guys in the top rides who aren’t bringing money in some way shape or form. For mid-level truck or Xfinity rides, some drivers are bringing about $250,000 to $350,000 for a full season, and some are bringing over a million. It depends on the equipment, engine contract, pit crew, and so much more. Sometimes, the team will subsidize the cost using its own money or a sponsor that helps them out.