DOVER, Del. — The green flag will fly today for the Camping World Truck Series and some teams could be further in the red by the time the checkered flag waves.
A series that debuted with four demonstration races in 1994 sees its teams battle financial challenges while facing questions about a schedule that has veered from its grassroots beginning.
Brad Keselowski understands all too well what team owners face. He said his truck operation lost $1 million in the 2014 season and says that’s still the average for his organization, which has five victories since 2015.
“It’s a money loser,’’ Keselowski told NBC Sports. “Big time.’’
If an organization lost $1 million in a season (23 races this year), that would equate to losing more than $43,000 per race on average.
Red Horse Racing, which was in its 13th season in the series, suspended operations May 22 after struggling to find sponsorship. It made that move even though Timothy Peters was fifth in the points at the time.
Kyle Busch says it costs $3.2 million a year to run a full-season Truck team at Kyle Busch Motorsports and he has to put some of his own money into the operation. Keselowski says the cost is closer to $4.5 million to run a full-season Truck team, counting reinvested purse money and manufacturer support.
It is amid those challenge that former Truck owner Kevin Harvick recently suggested on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show that the series run at more short tracks — as it did in its early years — to help NASCAR reconnect with grassroots racing fans and give the series a stronger identity.
“I think it’s something that a lot of people want to say and haven’t said, but I think it’s definitely time to look at the grassroots sides of things, and I think the Truck series is a grassroots division,’’ Harvick said last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I’m not saying we need to take them from Daytona or Phoenix or some of these other places, but there are some places that they don’t need to be going.’’
On his radio show, he mentioned Dover — site of today’s race — as one of those places.
“They don’t want to show up on a Friday at Dover and watch these trucks drive around the race track because they’re going to show up on Sunday to watch the Cup cars,’’ Harvick said. “Take the trucks somewhere where everybody wants to see them, because there’s short tracks across the country that want to see them.’’
Busch likes the idea.
“I would definitely enjoy that model of going back to those race tracks,’’ he said. “Now again, how you accomplish that and how you get that done, that’s for people a hell of a lot smarter than me to figure out.
“But I would certainly enjoy seeing the Truck Series go back to Tucson, or even around here, go to Motor Mile, go to some of these short tracks that you can put 10, 15, 20,000 people in the stands for an exciting truck race.
“Because in all honesty, that’s the crowd count that you’re getting at a mile‑and‑a‑half anyways, so pack the place, make it look good, and put on a good show for the fans and go back to some of the roots of short track racing that these drivers are coming up from.’’
If NASCAR went to some smaller tracks, it might have to lower sanctioning fees and that could mean a smaller purse for teams.
“If we make less money, you’re digging our grave, so the sanctioning agreements can’t be for any less money, that’s for sure,’’ Busch said. “We actually need them to be for more. In order to cut our costs, we need to be able to make more money or compete for more money to race for more winnings. If you cut our winnings out, you might as well just say goodbye.’’
Keselowski said that even when Brad Keselowski Racing wins, it doesn’t cut the spending deficit in a weekend by much.
“If we win the race it is, at best, and this is at best, about 5 percent of what we spent (that weekend),’’ he said.
But Keselowski said that there is a way the finances could work for teams even if with smaller purses.
With more short tracks, Keselowski said, engines are not as great a factor and money can be saved there. Also, more short tracks would make aero development less important and that might be another area to save money.
“I’m a big believer you can’t cut your way to prosperity,’’ he said,“but you can make smart decisions.’’
The race is on to make those decisions before more teams end up like Red Horse Racing and are faced with leaving the sport.