The CARS Late Model Stock Tour will contest the inaugural Old North State Nationals at Orange County Speedway (NC) this weekend, paying out a historic purse of over $80,000, including $30,000 to the winner.
Before a single entry list was posted by the CARS Tour for the race, series director Chris Ragle could guarantee fans of at least 17 teams who would be in the race. That is the number of teams who have already submitted annual entry fees, thus entering in all 11 of the CARS Tour’s Late Model Stock events for 2019 at a discounted rate from single-race entries.
This is just one of a number of ways the series cuts costs for its most loyal Late Model Stock competitors. The hallmark of this focus is the “Touring 12” program, which offers a bevy of incentives to teams who are selected through an application process after committing to running the full season and allowing the CARS Tour to utilize their name for branding and advertising for the series’ events throughout the season and limited driver appearances.
For Touring 12 members, the annual entry fee is $825, compared to $1,800 for the 11 races. Touring 12 drivers are also guaranteed $500 in appearance money, and no less than $1,000 to start a CARS Tour race.
Other weekly benefits of the program include discounts on two sets of tires per event, four complimentary tickets for each Touring 12 driver at every race, and a merchandising line created for each driver at the expense of the CARS Tour, with revenue from merchandise sales going to the teams.
When 2016 CARS Late Model Stock Tour champion Deac McCaskill first heard of the Touring 12 before it was introduced for the 2018 season, he couldn’t believe it was happening.
“Last year, when it was first started, I thought it was too good to be true,” McCaskill told Speed51. “I wasn’t a part of it because I didn’t think I could guarantee I’d be there every race.”
However, McCaskill gained entrance into the program after a driver change under the No. 22 Touring 12 entry filed by Tommy Lemons, Jr.’s Jumpstart Motorsports program opened up a position. Lemons and McCaskill worked out an agreement, allowing McCaskill to take the spot formerly occupied by Grayson Cullather.
“Once I was able to be a part of it, I saw the advantages of it and it adds up,” McCaskill stated. “The tire bonuses, the grandstand tickets, the entry fees, it’s like a sponsorship with what you’re getting each race.”
McCaskill is still wrapping his head around how much the program benefits his team. He cited tire costs and the ability to bring his family to races with the four grandstand tickets as some of his favorite aspects of the Touring 12.
“I started doing some figuring at the start of the year,” McCaskill began. “The biggest thing is tires. The price of tires goes up every year. With the discount we get on tires, that adds up. That’s a lot over a period of races. You look back at the entry fee, it was cut in half.
“The four tickets, I have a lot of family that comes to the races,” he added. “That’s $100 right off the bat. If something happens and you wreck or finish outside the top ten, you’re guaranteed $1,000 rather than $600 or $700, whatever last place pays. Every little bit helps these days for the smaller teams.”
While the Touring 12 is the focal point of the CARS Tour’s loyalty incentives, there are also benefits to those who are not selected for the Touring 12 or commit to the series on a part-time basis.
“Everybody’s who not on the Touring 12, if you run three consecutive CARS Late Model Stock races, on the third race you get $500 added to your purse,” Ragle explained. “It can be three attempts, but if you’re there on that third event, it’s $500 to your purse.”
Having these programs allows teams to commit to the series, which in turns gives the CARS Tour the ability to promote events with the confidence series champions such as McCaskill, Josh Berry and Bobby McCarty will be in the field.
“If I know I have these racers and these competitors, then I can sell the series, sell sponsors, sell other drivers, sell the fans,” Ragle said. “It works. Knowing that propels us to do events like we’re having this weekend with an $80,000 purse.”
It has also fostered a strong relationship between the series and its competitors.
“It’s developed a partnership with the Touring 12 and the guys who will be there every week,” Ragle said. “These guys are saying, ‘We’re going to be here. We’re going to get pissed. We’re going to be happy. Whatever. But we’re in it together.’ If we can grow it, Late Model Stocks will be the first to tell you, from where we started in 2015 to 2019, we’ve grown together. I would say these programs are the backbone of the CARS Late Model Stock Tour.”
“I’ve got to hand it to them, they’ve done a great job,” McCaskill said. “I’ve been with them since day one. I missed one race at Anderson a couple of years ago. I’ve seen it get better and better each year, and it’s getting more competitive.
“The first couple of years, I could have an off night and still get a top-five out of it,” McCaskill continued. “Now, I can have an off night and barely get into the top ten. It’s really gotten competitive, and we’ve drawn a lot of big names on the Tour. When someone comes over here and tries it, runs a couple of races, they enjoy it and get hooked on it. They want to become a part of it. Jack and Chris have done a great job, I have to hand it to them.”
While these programs currently only exist for the CARS Late Model Stock Tour, Ragle strongly hopes to one day be able to have a similar program for his Super Late Model teams.
“I would die to have a Touring 12 program for Super Late Models,” he said. “We almost started a Super 6 program this year. You’d have to sign a contract with us, commit to it. I don’t want it to seem we’re favoring the Late Model Stocks, because everything that’s happening with Late Model Stocks could happen with Supers.
“It comes across sometimes that we’re all about Late Model Stocks,” Ragle added. “We’re not. That’s just who has supported us.”
The CARS Tour’s Old North State Nationals will take place April 6-7 at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, North Carolina. Speed51 will be on-location to provide updates from the event, as well as photos, video interviews, stories and more.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo