This past Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East gained a new victor when Tennessee native Chad Finchum outran Kyle Benjamin to the checkers to win one of the biggest races of the year for the series. While the “local boy triumph” was the biggest story line to emerge, the other was the story surrounding the team Finchum drove to victory lane.
Finchum’s team, Martin-McClure Racing, celebrated its first NASCAR victory on Saturday at what is considered a home track for the team, laying between the team’s Virginia base and Finchum’s home in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The ownership made up of Eric McClure, the son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner Larry McClure, and Hal Martin, both of whom drove as teammates in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, were both overcome with emotion on Saturday.
“I cried, several times.” Eric McClure told the media after the race. “My family owned Morgan-McClure Motorsports for many years. They won their first race here and it was always such a special time for our family to get to come here.”
Martin also shed some tears in victory lane while celebrating the team’s Pitt Lite 125 victory.
“Much like Eric I cried too,” he admitted. “I’m just thankful to be here. It wasn’t expected in our first race out this year, not by reason of preparation, driving talent, or team talent, just that you don’t expect to have success out of the gate like we did.”
Both men can enjoy the win after years of learning the facets of the sport the hard way as drivers in NASCAR’s top level. For McClure, the triumph comes with the additional satisfaction of evoking some of his family’s glory years.
“I drove racecars for a lot of years and struggled at a lot of times. Had some good moments, but never got to experience anything like this.” McClure explained. “To put this deal together, come to this race track, one of the most special places as far as the McClure family is concerned and to do what I consider the unthinkable. Emotionally, I don’t know if I can put it into words. To see all these guys with joy, that’s the most rewarding thing. My dad came, to see him in victory lane was probably the most emotional moment for me. This is truly the greatest day of my professional life.”
After driving as teammates from 2012-2014 for car owner Mark Smith in the XFINITY Series, the talk of ownership began to rise between McClure and Martin, with the team origins coming at a somewhat unexpected place.
“This team looks fairly new and it is. But the concept of this team was formed at the late stages of 2014 on a trip to Disney World, from the Magic Kingdom actually, so it’s led to some magical times,” said McClure. “We worked through the process to put a deal together to run a couple of races last year, had a really good run in one of them and suffered through some gremlins. One thing Hal and I did was step back and say, ‘We are going to try and build something from the ground up, have an infrastructure and a foundation that will continue to grow and be a long term presence in the sport.’”
While NASCAR has been a tough environment at times for both McClure and Martin, it has also been a valuable teaching tool and inspiration of how they want to carry the team forward.
“We understand racing, we know there’s teams that win a lot and teams that don’t. There’s teams that can do certain things,” explained McClure. “But one thing we wanted to do for a young driver is to try and provide him an opportunity to help them take that next step on the race track and off. Hal and I were teammates on the track for a while and we certainly had our opinions about why things went the way they did. One thing we told ourselves is that we are professionals, we are going to have professional associations, but we are going to make sure our driver never had to experience the things we did.
“There was a lot of hard work to put this deal together. You can’t control things in racing, the only thing we can control is what we do at the shop, try to have the mainstream equipment that the teams that win the races do and right now we have been able to do that.”
One of the biggest decisions made by the ownership pair was brining on veteran crew chief Chris Carrier who has NASCAR Sprint Cup Series experience, which includes seasons spent with the old Morgan-McClure team. He has become a key fixture for the squad and also has a big outlook for the team going into the future.
“Long term, Eric and I would love nothing more to move up the ladder. How far up the ladder? That remains to be seen, obviously we’d love to go all the way up, but we are just taking it day by day and week by week at this point, we are a fairly new team,” Carrier explained. “But we have goals, a five-year goal and a 10-year goal in place for Martin McClure racing. Ideally we’d like to move up with some of our drivers that are going to be coming into our K&N program such as Chad and some other guys coming up. We’ll move up with them and field vehicles in the next division, those are the goals we’ve had from day one and just to give guys like Chad Finchum a chance to really showcase their talent and maybe to not go through the struggles some other guys might have to go through.”
Currently, Martin-McClure Racing has four to five additional races planned for 2016. While more are possibility, the team is not going to overexert themselves while still trying to get a solid footing in the sport.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor (CT, MA, LI) – Twitter @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com