By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
Chevy Racing now has its own driver development program, Drivers Edge Development, run by GMS Racing and JR Motorsports. Discussions about the program began 11 months ago.
NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers Noah Gragson and Zane Smith, along with Response Energy CARS Late Model Stock Tour driver Adam Lemke will represent JR Motorsports.
Representing GMS Racing will be Xfinity Series driver John Hunter Nemechek, and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series drivers Sam Mayer and Sheldon Creed. Mayer will also compete in the ARCA Racing Series and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
“We wanted to give them the opportunity to know what building a brand is all about,” JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. explained. “There’s a lot of things that are important outside of racecars when it comes to building your brand, using social media to your advantage, to be able to carry an interview or conversation with the media.
“We have a lot of drivers that come into the sport, they have a lot of talent, ability, and we just want to be able to give them the tools that they need outside the racecar as well. I didn’t use the word brand in the first half of my (Monster Energy) Cup career, and when it was brought up in conversation, I didn’t exactly know what that meant. I wish I had someone help me early on in my career.”
Both Gragson and Nemechek began their Xfinity Series careers last season. Smith will make his first Xfinity Series starts this season, with Sam Mayer doing the same in the Truck Series. Nemechek and Creed, both 21-years-old, are the oldest of the six drivers. Mayer is the youngest at just 15-years-old.
“I was really fortunate that before I started racing in the Xfinity Series in 1998 that I was able to go through a program that helped me as far as my interviewing skills and being able to carry myself in front of the media,” Earnhardt reflected. “Obviously, it doesn’t beat the real-life experience. Through that initial class I was excelling in the process.”
The program will give drivers the opportunity to develop not only on track skills, but interview and social media skills, as well as physical training. Drivers, between the ages of 14 and 21, that participate will be able to move from the Late Model ranks, all the way up to the Truck Series and Xfinity Series. However, the program is not a contract, and drivers are free to pursue other opportunities as they choose.
“We couldn’t be more pleased to get this program off the ground,” said Mike Beam, GMS team president. “Between GMS and JRM, I feel our two programs are very complementary of each other and will give Drivers Edge Development participants multiple series options.
“We have to give Lorin Ranier some credit, too. He has been working behind the scenes and is a great help in scouting drivers for the program. He is really plugged into the local and regional short-track scene and has already worked with some of the drivers in the program.”
JR Motorsports has won three Xfinity Series Championships (2014, 2017, 2018) in five years, all with rookies. GMS Racing won the 2016 Truck Series Championship and 2015 ARCA Racing Series Championship.