By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
For this week’s edition of Climbing the Ladder, Seth Eggert sat down with Brandonbilt Motorsports’ Brandon Brown. Brown drives the No. 86 Coastal Carolina University / W.G. Speaks / Carrier / Vector Security / ABS Vans / Vero Chevrolet Camaro SS for his family owned team.
The 25-year-old sits 15th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Points standings. Brown is 590-points behind points leader Tyler Reddick and 224-points behind Ryan Sieg who holds the cutoff for the playoffs. He is also competing for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
Seth Eggert: How did you become interested in motorsports?
Brandon Brown: “Well I got interested in motorsports as a child. My pop-pop just always had all these cars, like junk cars that later on in the yard. I don’t know if something drew me to him all the time and he had this little yard kart that we used to try to run around, and I started it and never looked back.”
SE: How did you convince your parents to let you race? Was it difficult?
BB: “We went out to a little track in Virginia, King George Speedway. I there it was a go kart race out there and you know, we saw there was kids and everybody ranging up to adults that were racing. Pop-pop actually had a go kart in that race and we went and watched.
“They were out there just having fun and I wanted to turn laps and when I did it, I just begged and pleaded like, this is what I want to do. I hadn’t stuck with any stick and ball sports, so we tried it and the rest has been history.”
SE: Where and when was your first race? What was the result?
BB: “Oh, it was terrible. I cried when I got out. Our car was so bad and so slow, I got lapped. It was bad.”
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
BB: “My father, he’s been the one that’s there week in, week out every weekend traveling with me since grade school up until now. Teaching me, not necessarily the driving techniques, but he picks up on what others are doing and he relays that information to me and then, also telling him like kind of instilling a good work ethic in me, and how I need to act off the track as well.”
SE: What inspires you to compete?
BB: “I just hate losing. I hate it. I just always have. My brother and I have always been super competitive growing up and there’s just something in us that it just fires up. I wish I could tell you, but it doesn’t matter what we’re doing, if we’re golfing, playing basketball or school grades or even just, when he tried racing too, it was neither one of us wants to lose ever.”
SE: Do you have any superstitions around the racetrack?
BB: “All of them? It was funny, I just put up a tweet about that. We had a chassis No. 013 that we were running at Bristol and the track bar broke and we got in the wall and I went out and tweeted out the video of me using the sharpie to scratch out the ones so it said, 003, saying ‘I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.’
“That was a cool tribute there to those guys. So, I figured that nulled, the bad luck. The bad luck had to take second place to the nation’s troops.”
SE: What kinds of goals do you set forth as a driver each week?
BB: “Each week we just look to improve. I want to be better every time I get in the car. I want to know more about what I’m doing. Because when you’re coming out here and I’ve never gotten to drive one of the star cars, we call them, your JR Motorsports, Penske’s, you know those guys. I don’t know what those guys have.
“I don’t know what they look for. You don’t know what to look for in a good car. So all you do is you get in what you got and, you just try to find your comfort in the car, but keep digging for speed.
“So, it’s been very helpful for us each week to have the help that we’ve had along the way Adam Brenner to start us out as a crew chief. Then getting Butch Hilton and now Doug (Randolph)’s come aboard and it’s been something where we’ve been able to translate that into speed each and every week. So, every time I get in the race car, I just want to be fast.”
SE: At Bristol, post-race, you came over and congratulated Jeremy Clements after his top-five finish. Are there many other drivers you’d repeat that if they were to finish up front?
BB: “I don’t really have a whole lot of friends in the garage. I’m not inside that Charlotte bubble, so I don’t have everybody around me to lean on. I didn’t grow up racing with a lot of them because I grew up on the other side. I ran dirt cars and then ran asphalt late models and then late models to trucks and trucks to these.
“I didn’t go through all the steps with them with them. Whether they run Bandoleros, Legends Cars, K&N, Late Models, Super Lates, or whatever they ran. I didn’t run with them. I didn’t really start out with the friend group in the garage. I was able to relate a little bit with Jeremy an, I kind of feel that our situations are similar, running family teams trying to compete against the best in the business and, so I like to see everybody succeed.
“I don’t wish people to succeed more than others, but I do love it when, you know, watching Jeremy’s team when at Road America and then seeing him get a top-five at Bristol, it kind of gives us hope. He’s a veteran of the sport and somebody that I kind of look up to here.”
SE: Your first top-10 came at Daytona earlier this year. Describe what that finish meant to you and your team.
BB: “A replaced nose cone? (laughs) I didn’t make any friends at Daytona either. To go out at the superspeedways is a place where we feel that we can succeed because to me it’s an equalizer. All the talent shows, and a lot of luck shows sometimes. So, it’s kind of funny that we ran the green car and then we had a good finish. Maybe I got to start going against those superstitions.”
SE: Do you feel that being based in Virginia gives your team and advantage or a disadvantage?
BB: “Well, an advantage to stay out of the drama that you typically see around the tracks. A disadvantage, everything else. Parts running and just logistics in general. It’s always whatever they want to do and there their days we can do it but add six hours one way. 12-hour round trips to Charlotte each and every week to make sure.
“We’re going down there for bodies, for parts and pieces that we can’t really make in our shop quite yet. We’re just not there as a team to where we can manufacture everything on our own. We struggle there. All around it makes it a little bit harder. But, at the same time, that challenge can be a lot more rewarding when you have strong finishes at the tracks.”
SE: What is it like not being affiliated with a Cup team?
BB: “It’s one of those things where I guess now you can almost call it pride to go out and compete against those guys. And when you beat those Cup guys, like our team was more stoked this year about Bristol qualifying, when we out qualified Ryan Blaney’s car, whether they had problems or not, I have no idea. Didn’t bother to ask.
“But you know, that gave my team the boost and the confidence that they want to do better, which is what we need and to keep improving in the sport and we want to show that.
“It’s funny that everybody gets hyped up over this weekend and throwback cars and throwback schemes, representing throwback drivers and, really and truly when you look throughout the garage, there are just drivers that are ‘throwback’ in general. You know, I believe myself to be one of them. As well as like Jeremy, Josh Williams and a couple others that.
“We were here at the track on weekends, giving it the all, competing with what we got. But then when we get home, it’s not like we just wait at the lake until the plane fires up to take us back somewhere else. We’re back in the shop pounding pavement, either working on cars, pieces for the cars or trying to find sponsors. It’s fun to come out here though and see all the throwback stuff.”
SE: NASCAR announced the new participation guidelines for Cup drivers beginning next season. What do you think of the rule change?
BB: “I always get asked like on, I guess people want to know what the little guy thinks about Cup guys coming down here. And you know, I always tell them, I don’t care how many times those Cup guys want to come down here and get their butts kicked. You know, they can do whatever they want.
“But, all joking aside, I don’t mind when Cup drivers come down. I really don’t, I don’t like competing against their engineering and their budgets because it’s obviously going to be much higher than mine, but I take it as a learning piece. As long as it’s not taken away from somebody else that wants to make their name in the sport.
“You don’t mind them coming down as long as there’s almost an equal coverage of everybody because there’s a lot of teams that are like mine and you don’t want to see him fall out of the sport.
“You know, I saw the article this week about H2 Motorsports and what they’re trying to do to restructure, to come back possibly. I don’t want to see another team fall out. I think that for the sport to grow, it takes a lot more of us to come in and, to make it happen.”
SE: How much are you able to learn when Cup drivers are in the field?
BB: “Well, I get about five laps with them. I think the fans now are more knowledgeable than ever about what’s going on in our sport because of social media, because of the extended coverage and how in depth everything gets. They understand the difference between, what Dale Jr’s car has this weekend, versus what my car has this weekend.
“They understand the motor differences, the chassis differences, the part differences. Mine’s heavier and slower. It’s good that fans are understanding of that because before, you used to feel like, ‘man, people must just think I suck.’ It’s always fun to share the story.
“When I went out about two years ago with GMS to Richmond, before they had started their program. I went out and they asked me how the car was, I said, ‘Oh, it feels okay, you know, a little loose, no forward bite. It was a classic Richmond. They were like, ‘all right, well your P9 on the board.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ So, these guys just had the same problems as me about like four tenths faster.
“I like when the Cup guys come down, not to run away from your question because you can pick up on their techniques and sometimes if you’re really paying attention, you can pick up on how they position their cars on track and you can tell where they’re picking up their throttle. You can tell where they’re pitching it.
“It’s all things that you see them do it and they make it work. So, for somebody that has never run a car to that caliber, I can say, ‘okay, well my car needs to be able to do that. What do I need to do as a driver or what can my crew do to help me make my car do that?’ And that’s what we look for when Cup guys come down.”
SE: Your team has fielded a second car for Mason Diaz and Will Rodgers, do you feel that you’re running better when you have a teammate?
BB: “Oh, it definitely strained the resources, that’s for sure. But it was helpful. It was more helpful running, which I don’t mean any offense to anybody that’s run with this, with Will Rogers when we ran it at the road courses was great because Will is a very, very talented, experienced road course driver.
“Whereas, when Mason came in, he’s a very strong, short track driver. He runs very well in the K&N, he’s winning in Super Lates and Late Models. He’s a great driver, but when you come to like a track like Charlotte where you know, he’s got to learn.
“It’s helpful when I can hear what his feedback is from the car and what he’s thinking of it, because I can kind of compare it because we’re from the same background. But, at the same time, you spend more time teaching than you do kind of learning.”
SE: You were a student at Coastal Carolina University, did that give you a sense of pride to be able to run their colors on your car?
BB: “It brought a lot of pride to me because you know, going through grade school and high school I tell people I raced, but they didn’t understand what I was doing. Because I was never like kind of locked down in my schools, like where you kind of saw the groups that hung out with each other as you know, the jocks, the popular kids and the cheerleaders, everybody.
“They would be like, ‘Oh, what does Brandon do? Oh, he’s racing.’ And then, they’ve set their weekend plans different than I would set mine.
“So, when I got to Coastal and I was in college and I told people I raced, at first it was a little like, ‘huh,’ but when I got to wear the school colors and represent the school and people started finally looking into it and finding out what I was doing, then I was like, I had a little sense of belonging.
“It was nice to get support for it. I wasn’t looking to gain a ton of popularity at school, but I did want some recognition. Like, look, I’m really working hard here.
SE: How did the CCU sponsorship come together?
BB:“We were at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the Truck Series, in 2015, we were out there, unsponsored. It was a part time season. I had just started at Coastal Carolina University; I was a freshman. I literally left my dorm that weekend to go to Atlanta Motor Speedway and we were out there on track and we ended okay.
“Practice day somewhere in the mid-twenties position-wise. Somebody that we really look to, there was Matt Crafton for help. He’s very skilled veteran driver and he was very good about explaining to rookies what was going on. And I just was wearing a Coastal Carolina University hat that I had.
“I was like, I’m in college, this is my school. I just wore the hat. I was unsponsored and I put up a picture on Instagram of throwing up the shots up sign, and Coastal saw it and I think they were like, what is this? They called me into their offices. And then I explained to them what was going on and it was kind of like pen drop silence and actually the biggest advocate for it.
“There was a gentleman named Bill Plate who grew up by Dover and he had gotten a job down there. He’s the VP of Communications, and he loved it and he loved what I was doing, what my family was doing. He believed in it and he saw the opportunity for the market that it was available in it. It’s untapped by schools, more or less than not.
SE: What do you think of other schools following that trend and being a trendsetter?
BB: “I mean, soon after you saw Liberty university and William Byron, Clemson, University of South Carolina followed with Ross (Chastain) and I was like, ‘it’s okay.’ They can emulate it. It was great. And I’ve actually gotten a lot of really great positive feedback.
“A lot of fans telling me like, ‘Oh, my son or daughter or whatever they identify as goes to, goes to Carolina University. And they loved the school car.’ And you know, we actually heard a lot of people say, ‘we’d never heard of Coastal Carolina University until we saw your car.’ To me that brings a great sense of pride is like, look, I’m bringing people here. It’s very cool to be able to do.”
SE: Where did the idea to use the CCU Chanticleer in place of the rooster on the throwback?
BB: “I actually talked to everybody at Coastal this year and I was like, man, if nobody takes it, I really want to do a Terry Labonte throwback. They had the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Rooster and we could put our rooster. That would be so awesome. It would translate really well.
“I wanted the ’95 car because it was the iconic yellow one. They wanted the ’93 one because it was iconic to the school. And then I kind of thought about it. I was like, ‘yeah, it works a lot better. 93, it was a great year. Coastal Carolina University gained its independence from the University of South Carolina. 1993 Brandon Brown was born.’
“The year fit. I think that the car translated out really well. I love the look of it and it was really cool to see Mr. Labonte when we came for the unveil and saw his face light up with it. I think he thought it was really cool and it did add a bit of pressure though. Now I have to perform. “
SE: What inspired the Terry Labonte Throwback you are running this weekend? Were you a fan of his growing up?
BB: “I’m very big fan and actually it was just because I got his car out of a cereal box. I was like, ‘I like this color, I like this car.’ I’ve always seen the replay of his battle of Bristol with Dale Earnhardt Sr., and everybody’s the Dale Sr. fan. I think the Earnhardt family has always been great at racing, but I was like, ‘I was going for Terry.’ So being able to represent him this week. It’s cool.”
SE: What is your outlook for the rest of the season?
BB: “I’m just trying to continue strong. We need to finish out the season as best as we can. In all honesty, like with where we’re at equipment wise, the playoffs seem a little far out there, a little bit of a reach. It would take some pretty big things to happen to make that happen. I don’t doubt that it could happen. I think I always hold out hope.
“We want to finish out in one piece. We want to take our notebooks home and read it over and we need to know, because this season has been hard. We’ve, we’ve built a new shop and just moved into it right before, we weren’t even fully moved in at Daytona. We were still moving things in when the truck left for Daytona.
“We didn’t get time to build out new cars. The car lot been shrunk. And then, trying to run that second car and having some misfortune, it really put a hurt on us. Now we’re, we’re all looking forward to the season ending just to regroup and to, to get our ducks in a row again.”
SE: What does the future hold for you, where will you be one year from now?
BB:“I honestly hope to be right back here. You know, I hope to keep doing what I’m doing. I love driving, I love racing. That’s, that’s my passion in the sport. I am looking to try and build the team up though as well.
“Being a part of the administration side on the team brings a whole new set of responsibilities and thought processes to the sport. It helped me gain a lot of respect for the sport and what people do. You never realize how important everyone’s job is until you’re trying to fill every role.
“We’re looking at possible drivers to fill into the seat for full time next season. We’ve gone into talks with a couple, but nothing set in stone and we’ll make announcements when we can. I hope to be back racing. Hopefully in the 86 car, who knows, I might get to throw it back to the number I grew up with in 68.”