BK Racing provides haven for former MWR employees looking for work

(Photo by Dustin Long)
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CHARLOTTE — Being laid off was nothing new to Kevin White, but the feeling this time was.

Twice before, the 22-year NASCAR veteran had been with teams that shut down — Ricky Rudd’s in 1999 and Andy Petree’s in 2004. Each time, White quickly found work with another organization.

But when Michael Waltrip Racing announced in August it would cease operations after the 2015 season, White, who had been a tire specialist, mechanic and worked on front suspensions in four years there, struggled to find another job in the sport. He wondered if his time in NASCAR was over.

“You don’t want to go out on their terms,’’ the 50-year-old said. “If I pick and choose to get out of it, I want it to be because I’m ready to get out not because I was forced out.’’

Monday — less than three weeks before the Daytona 500 — White began his first day at BK Racing. He’s not alone.

He is one of 11 former Michael Waltrip Racing employees at BK Racing, including driver David Ragan. On a team with about 75 people, including about 25 new hires since last year, the influx of MWR employees could make a significant impact on the growing team.

It already is in the parking lot. Tuesday afternoon all the parking spots in front of the 36,000-square foot facility were taken, forcing team members to park on a driveway next to the building and on the grass behind the shop.

“We’re busting at the seams,’’ Ryan Dubois, the team’s general manager said.

BK Racing also has not been able to keep up in distributing team apparel. That’s left White, Joel Cox, a fabricator, and Greg Schaefer, who oversees the assembly of the cars, among those in the shop working in their MWR garb.

They are among more than 80 former MWR employees — out of about 200 — who have found jobs with Sprint Cup teams since last year.

White admits this was the most difficult time to find another job after being laid off. It was easier years before when there were more teams in the Cup series. That number has dwindled, leading to reports that the 43-car Cup field will be cut to 40 this year when NASCAR and teams agree on a charter system.

New jobs used to be so easy to get that Cox got one by chance. Cox, who lost his job when a Nationwide team shut down in the middle of the 2006 season, took a friend to Michael Waltrip Racing shortly after that so the friend could drop off a resume. Cox walked into the shop, saw someone he used to work with and was asked if he needed work. Just like that Cox had a new job.

While not having a job since the end of last season was concerning, the time off allowed Schaefer to spend time with his father, Dick, who was hospitalized from October to mid-January. Schaefer spent about five weeks in Florida, time he likely wouldn’t have been able to have spent if he had a job.

With his father at home, Schaefer is back at work. In some ways, it is as if he didn’t leave MWR.

The team purchased 17 MWR cars and much equipment. With former Michael Waltrip Racing employees in the shop, there was a sense of familiarity not often associated when one starts a new job.

Ragan also feels that comfort with the familiar faces in the shop.

“It gives some confidence as a driver knowing that the inventory that I raced last year, which was competitive, that I’ll be starting the season with it and with a lot of the same guys that will be assembling the cars and working on the cars,’’ Ragan said.

There’s little free space in the team’s shop with all the cars and equipment packed tight. Hustle and bustle exude in the shop as the team prepares for the upcoming season and integrates its new employees.

One of the new things the team did this year, Dubois said, was offer contracts to all its employees.

“You stay with us, we stay with you,’’ Dubois said is the message the team is sending its employees by offering contracts. “This is our group moving forward. We want to be a family. We want to get rid of the turnover rate.

“We want people that want to drive a stake in the ground and say, ‘I’m going to make BK successful.’ We ask that commitment from the employees but also provide that same loyalty and commitment to them.’’

That’s comforting for White. He laughs about his luck in NASCAR after being with three teams that shut down and going through the mergers that saw Evernham Motorsports become Gillett-Evernham Motorsports and then Richard Petty Motorsports.

“I’m kind of scared for these guys,’’ White laughs, looking around at his new teammates at BK Racing considering his history with teams shutting down. “Hopefully, it’s not me.’’