Ryan Ellis is a 25-year-old driver who is looking for his big break in NASCAR. Some drivers often drive for the smaller teams, and once they prove themselves there in underfunded equipment, the big-name teams will look their way.
Ellis is a four-year veteran in NASCAR, though he hasn't been behind the wheel of an Xfinity Series car very often. In 2014, he ran 12 out of the 33 races due to funding. In those 12 races, he put up a best of 24th at Richmond for JGL Racing. Since then, he has beaten that record with a 22nd-place finish in August at Watkins Glen. Just a couple of weeks ago, at Richmond he led his first two laps behind the wheel of an Xfinity car.
The Virginia native feels that he has a lot to prove and is willing to do whatever it takes to get seat team. This includes a recent fan vote that placed him behind the wheel of the No. 97 for Okaika Racing at Dover.
Dustin Albino, Speedway Digest: How did his deal come together?
Ryan Ellis: It’s actually a really interesting story. I don’t think that this has ever been done, especially in the top three series. I actually found out about it on social media. I can’t remember who messaged it to me, but someone was like ‘hey have you applied for this’ and I had no idea what they were talking about. I read about it and a bunch of people voted for me. I got nominated. It went from 68 people to 43 people who actually have Xfinity licenses. Somehow, I ended up getting the ride. I got 55% of the vote, so I’m excited to run this weekend.
DA: Do you think this could be a new way for younger guys to get into the sport?
RE: I think so. There’s not really a cut and dry way on how to get in. You need to have money. You need to be marketed, and obviously you need to be a good driver. There’s a million different ways to get a ride and it’s cool to see this be one of them. I’m just hoping that I can make this a multi-race deal, but it would be cool to see some other people get in there with the same experience that I had.
DA: What does it mean to you personally to get this ride through social media?
RE: I think it just means a lot to win a fan vote. If someone had ever told me that I’d ever win a fan vote in NASCAR and it wasn’t a huge one, it’s a huge honor. It’s a huge honor not only to race for the team, but to win a fan vote is really cool and it’s a big opportunity for sure.
DA: Do you know if they have any fan votes for any other races this year?
RE: I hope not. I hope they keep me in the car. I don’t know what their plans are. I know it kind of changes week-to-week so we’ll find out.
DA: Could this lead to more races for you?
RE: I hope so. It’s definitely something that I’ve thought of obviously, and I talked to them about. But, I don’t think they know as much as a lot of people think they do. I think a lot of it is done out of Africa. They’ve kind of keep it up to date, week-to-week just like a lot of other smaller teams. I’m hoping the race gets delayed until like Tuesday or Wednesday because they won’t have enough time to take my seat out and I can just run next week to.
DA: What are your expectations for tomorrow?
RE: Hopefully to race. It would be good to qualify in the top-30. Qualifying in the top-30 is good for this team. A top-20 finish would be huge. They haven’t run this car since Bristol. They’ve been running the same car for quite a while now and this one they’ve had a little bit of trouble dialing in earlier in the season, but they think they got it straightened out. A top-20 would go a long way for me and the team for sure.
DA: What do you think it would mean for your career if you got a top-20 with this underfunded team?
RE: I don’t think it would mean anything long-term, but short-term hopefully it would mean more races with them. It’s tough. There are so many young guys out there that are fighting. Look at guys like Ross Chastain, Harrison Rhodes, Joey Gase, there’s a ton of them. You could throw a million names out there and a top-20 is tough. I don’t get many opportunities. Those guys are in there every week, and a top-20 would mean a lot more for me than it would for them just because I’m not out there as much. It would be my best finish ever in Xfinity, so that’s pretty cool.