Exactly one year ago today, Timmy Hill debuted his own Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series team at Martinsville Speedway.
After competing in NASCAR at a national level since the day after he turned 18 in 2011, the Maryland native sought a little more “certainty” and “exposure” for a career that’s been defined by racing underfunded equipment.
“Being a NASCAR owner was never a big dream of mine to do,” Hill told NBC Sports on Monday. “I just wanted to be a driver, I want to be the man who drives the cars. But this sport, there’s no certainty, at least for me and my career, there hasn’t been. I’ve been fortunate enough to where I’ve driven for other family teams.”
Added Hill: “This is a better way to control your own destiny by just doing it yourself.”
One year after his No. 56 Chevrolet finished 21st at Martinsville, Hill’s getting the most exposure of his career following a race.
But nobody could have predicted it would come as a result of a nationally televised iRacing event.
On Monday, the 27-year-old driver was scheduled for seven interviews with at least three more awaiting on Tuesday. All because he finished third in Sunday’s NASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series exhibition race, essentially the only brand new sporting event in the last week amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Held on a digital Homestead-Miami Speedway, Hill, who has been competing on iRacing for just over a decade, took on NASCAR All-Stars Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and others.
While some of the more well known drivers participated via expensive and fancy iRacing “rigs,” Hill’s setup reflected how he’s competed against powerhouse teams in the real world.
He sat at a desk he estimates he bought for $75 on Black Friday one year, the same desk he does his team’s business at. and uses a steering wheel he bought 12 years ago for $300.
The 100-lap race started sloppy with multiple wrecks before it calmed down for a long green-flag run at the end, which saw Hamlin win over Earnhardt, Hill, Chase Briscoe and Garrett Smithley.
“I think some of these guys took for granted how much work and effort you still have put in to be competitive,” Hill said. “I could tell you just from watching (practice) what these guys would do … Bobby Labonte, I saw he ran several hundred laps of practice just in one day. Denny and different ones, they took it seriously and I really appreciate that, because I think the guys who did take it seriously, it really showed and they put on a good race.
“The guys who didn’t take it seriously, took it for granted and thought it would be easy. I think they were kind of surprised and shocked and taken off guard … You could see the different levels of experience in yesterday’s race … I think going forward to next weekend’s race, I think these guys will probably be practicing quite a bit more.”
This wasn’t the first time this year Hill has finished in the top five of a major racing event.
In February, Hill placed third in the Xfinity Series season-opener at Daytona, earning his second top five across 317 NASCAR national series starts.
“I think it’s (Daytona) probably my favorite weekend I’ve ever had in racing,” said Hill, who also qualified for his first Daytona 500. But even with the “big hype” around that weekend, Hill said “I’ve gotten more media requests, interview requests from (Sunday’s) race than for anything else I’ve ever done.
“It’s very new. With everything that’s new, everybody would love to know more about it.”
The invitational series will continue this weekend on a digital Texas Motor Speedway, but on Monday Hill was hard at work prepping his Truck Series team for a return to the real track.
Hill, who lives in High Point, North Carolina, drove roughly 60 miles to Mooresville to get parts for his trucks, which he hopes he’ll get to run in 10 races this season while the truck is fielded full-time.
Due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hill’s gotten the exposure he was seeking in creating the team, but like the rest of the sport, there’s not much certainty about what comes next.
With him is his lone employee, crew chief Greg Ely.
“We can’t stop,” Hill said. “Between him and I, everything that you see that comes to the race track … it’s just done between he and I. I don’t think most people realize that. I’m very hands on … Even though we’re not racing we’re preparing for what could be a very busy summer depending on how things shake out. When that gets here it’s going to be very busy for us, it’s going to be very tough to do.
“So we’re trying to get as far ahead as possible. We basically have two mile-and-a-half trucks done, ready to go. Got one short track truck that’s done and ready to go. I don’t know what our next race is going to be, what style of race track, we haven’t heard yet. We don’t have time to figure that out once the season gets here, we have to be prepared as possible now to be able to be ready to go.”
Here is a neat throwback! So one year ago today, we debuted our No.56 truck in our first race as a team owner! Crazy to think we chose a race with 6 extra trucks but we qualified into the race! In our first year we accomplished so much and even came away with a top 5 finish! pic.twitter.com/ViE7NdsBfT
— Timmy Hill (@TimmyHillRacer) March 23, 2020