This veteran-backed NASCAR team is heading to Daytona
It's shake and bake, veteran style. NASCAR is well known for being military friendly. When the green flag waves at Daytona this weekend, it will usher in the new NASCAR season with a really special story. The crown jewel event is the Daytona 500. On Saturday, the day before the 500, there is a race called the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 which ushers in the Xfinity Series season. One of the cars racing to win the 300 should be the favorite of all military supporters around the country.
The Our America Dream Team car won't have the familiar sponsors you see on all the other race cars. Instead, they will feature veteran-owned businesses as the car trades rubber with all the cars on the track.
How is this possible? The team crowdfunded to raise money so they could race. In return for donations, veteran-owned businesses will be featured on the car racing around one of the world's most famous race tracks during one of racings marquee weekends.
The car will be driven by Colin Garrett. Garrett said, "I'm so grateful for the support from everyone who's backed the team. We're excited that fans and military-owned small businesses will be able to see the car on the track and feel proud, knowing they had a hand in us racing. When I started racing, my dad said he wanted me to find a way to use it to make a difference, so I could look back on it and know I helped someone. I wasn't quite 15 at the time and didn't really get it, but now I do. Working with the military community is the perfect fit, and it's cool that it ties in with my brothers' Army careers."
Team owner Sam Hunt added, "It feels good to know we're racing for something bigger than ourselves. We love racing, but the National Awareness Campaign makes it mean so much more."
Lisa Kipps-Brown, the marketing strategist behind the team who took time to answer questions about the team.
WATM: Where did the idea of "Our American Dream Team" come from?
Kipps-Brown: Two ideas converged to create "Our American Dream Team:"
- The belief that hard work, talent, and ingenuity could compete at the professional levels of NASCAR was fostered by the families of driver Colin Garrett and team owner Sam Hunt.
- At the same time, the Garrett family had been running a National Awareness Campaign throughout the 2019 NASCAR season to promote the free services offered by Racing For Heroes, a nonprofit founded by Army Special Forces CW3 Mike Evock (ret.). Their holistic services include mental & physical health treatments, job placement, and motorsports therapy. Since over 25% of active-duty military are NASCAR fans and about 18% of NASCAR fans are Veterans, it's the perfect platform to reach the military community.
We realized that the American Dream that we believe in and are chasing is often hard for those in the military community to achieve. Since we wanted to expand our National Awareness Campaign for 2020, helping those who have given so much achieve their own American Dream was the perfect fit to complement what we were already doing with Racing For Heroes. We decided to take a leap of faith and commit to crowdfunding the team to replace as much corporate sponsorship money as possible, which would free us up to promote issues important to the military community and companies owned by Veterans and military spouses.
WATM: Tell us a little about the team owner?
Kipps-Brown: 26-year-old Sam Hunt dreamed of starting a NASCAR team after racing throughout his childhood. After he graduated from college, the late J.D. Gibbs, whom Sam knew through his family, gave Sam his first two cars to help him get started. Sam started his team in 2018, living in his van behind the shop and couch surfing with friends to be able to afford the business. He and driver Colin Garrett started racing together that year in the K&N Pro Series, and realized they had something special working together.
WATM: Tell us about your driver?
Kipps-Brown: Unlike most NASCAR drivers, 19-year-old Colin Garrett didn't grow up racing karts or in a racing family. Yet, in just his third season of racing, he was historic South Boston (VA) Speedway's 2017 Limited Sportsman Division Champion and broke the track's qualifying speed record twice. In 2018 he started racing with team owner Sam Hunt in the K&N Pro Series and continued racing Super Late Model. What started out as a 3-race deal with Sam turned into a great fit, and they raced K&N together the rest of the 2018 season and all of 2019. In the fall of 2019, they decided they wanted to make the leap to the Xfinity Series.
WATM: Do you have any connections to the military? Why did they partake in this endeavor?
Kipps-Brown: Both of Colin's brothers are Active Duty Army, one currently deployed to Korea. One of Sam's best friends is a Navy SEAL. I am a milspouse whose husband is retired Navy with 26 years of service, 3 of which were in the Vietnam War. Combating Veteran suicide and helping service members transition back to civilian life is an issue that's personally important to them. Colin knows it could be his brothers who need help, and I have experienced how difficult the transition can be for Veterans and military families.
WATM: How hard was it to raise money?
Kipps-Brown: We knew it was a long shot, but we also had faith that we could do it. We believed in the loyalty of grassroots NASCAR fans and the power of large numbers of people who could give any amount. Nothing was too small. Our friends, family, and existing fans kicked it off for us, backing the team because they believed in us and our dream. We ended up raising enough to not only race in Daytona, but also pay for stem cell treatments for a Veteran through Racing For Heroes. Crowdfunding needs a crowd, though, and we're really just now tapping into the power of the military community.
WATM: What were the biggest obstacles?
Kipps-Brown: Connecting with the crowd was by far our biggest obstacle. People are jaded, and for good reason. They've seen too many people use Veterans' issues to further their own cause without giving anything back to the community. The most important connection so far has been when Stephanie Brown, founder of The Rosie Network, introduced us to Marine veteran Greg Boudah, founder of Jewelry Republic. Jewelry Republic, where Veterans buy jewelry, became a sponsor on the car for Daytona, and Greg has been instrumental in getting the grassroots movement going. He's activated his network of vetrepreneurs like Chris (Smurf) McPhee (retired Green Beret - Green Beret Media) and Michael Whitlow (Marine veteran - Vetbuilder) to help us get the word out. Once people get to know us, they realize we're part of the military family, that we're not just asking for money, and we really do want to make a difference. When we get over that hurdle, everyone responds with excitement.
WATM: How many veteran businesses donated?
Kipps-Brown: We have about 50 Veteran Business Advocates so far. When a vet- or milspouse-owned business gives and provides their logo, we promote them on our website, tell their story on our Facebook page, and provide a Veteran Business Advocate badge for their website. It's an opportunity for them to participate in a national NASCAR marketing campaign, something that would normally never be available to small businesses. There's never been anything like this done before, and we have plans in the works for other ways of helping grow military-owned businesses. Stay tuned :)
WATM: How did you get involved with this? What other outside help did they get.
Kipps-Brown: It's really been me, Colin's dad, and the staff of my web & marketing strategy company, Glerin Business Resources. I started working with Colin and his dad in November of 2018. A couple of months after that Racing For Heroes happened to contact me, wanting to hire me to develop a National Awareness Campaign for them.
When I visited them at Virginia International Raceway and saw all they do, I was literally in tears. I couldn't believe the extent of their free services, and the fact that they were holistic was even better. I remembered how hard it was for my husband when he retired, losing that sense of mission and knowing he was part of something that made a difference. I just couldn't bear the thought of taking money away from their programs. I called Colin's dad, Ryan, as soon as I left, and he readily agreed to roll Racing For Heroes into the work I was doing with them.
Just after that, he and I began working with Steve Sims, author of Bluefishing: The Art of Making Things Happen, as our business coach. Steve's encouragement, input, and challenging us to think differently were instrumental in the evolution of the team.
I think the fact that this whole campaign started with a call from Racing For Heroes is so cool; it's really an organic effort that was constantly changing throughout the season. We're proud that a movement that started in a small, rural town in Virginia has gone national and is becoming a disrupter in the racing industry.
WATM: Tell us about the race the car will be in?
Kipps-Brown: The NASCAR Racing Experience 300 is the most prestigious NASCAR Xfinity Series of the year. The 300-mile race is held at Daytona International Speedway the day before the Daytona 500, and is broadcast live on TV and radio.
WATM: Are there future plans for any other races?
Kipps-Brown: We intend to race as many Xfinity races on the national stage this year as we can fund, and we plan to be prepared to run the full 2021 season. Colin will also be running NASCAR Super Late Model and Late Model at the grassroots level, like his home track South Boston Speedway. The smaller tracks actually give him a better opportunity to interact directly with fans, which is great for helping communicate the free services available.
The NASCAR Racing Experience 300 rolls out at 2:30 p.m. EST this Saturday, February 15th. Tune in and cheer on the Our America Dream Team!
More information on the team and its cause can be found here.
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