Many of NASCAR’s biggest stars came out of the Coronavirus shut down seemingly in seamless fashion. Their big corporate sponsors are still plastered across their machines, and they are still chasing trophies, almost like nothing has changed. But things haven’t been nearly as smooth for underdog journeymen in the sport like Nevada’s T.J. Bell.
Bell, who has scratched and clawed for every start he’s made throughout his NASCAR National Series career, spoke to TobyChristie.com about the impact that the current pandemic has had on his racing ventures in 2020.
The 39-year old driver, who has made three starts so far in the 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, says with companies experiencing a cash crunch, there’s been some tough sledding on the sponsorship front.
“The sponsorship side has definitely been hard,” Bell said. “There are businesses that have been shut down, employees that have been shut down. Companies are trying to do their best to keep their people employed, which I completely understand and I’m with 100%. It made it a lot tougher on us to get sponsorship, it made it tougher on me with the plans that I had at the beginning of the year with what was supposed to happen and you kind of got to roll with the punches and do the best that we can with what we got going on.”
Rolling with the punches is something that an underdog racer learns to do over the years. For guys like Bell, they’ve become accustomed to not having a perfectly handling race car and not having the means to purchase sets of new tires over the years. But, while they lack big corporate backers, the lack of any sponsorship could send the dream spiraling down the drain completely.
In addition to wishy washy sponsorship, 2020 has been trying for Bell because signing on for an new entry on a decent team — such as Young’s Motorsports — goes out the window due to huge Truck Series entry lists and the fact that with no qualifying (part of the COVID protocols in place). There’s literally no way to work a team with no owner points into the field.
This has led to even some big-name current and former NASCAR Cup Series drivers like Erik Jones and David Ragan to miss truck series races that they were entered for this year.
For Bell, he hopes he is able to reschedule some of the deals that he had lined up at the beginning of 2020.
“I don’t know if [these opportunities] are not going to be happening,” Bell explained. “As we are going forward with the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, I was slated to be in the No. 12 truck for [Young’s Motorsports], but with it not having any points from last year, we have to be able to qualify to get that truck into a race. So that really put a damper on me going racing, I’ve had to do the same as a lot of other people and try to find some other opportunities, which it has opened opportunities for me because being in the sport so long it’s hard for me to say I’m a veteran because I’m older, but I think the no practice, no qualifying thing has helped me over some of these other people trying to get rides, and stuff like that.”
However, Bell believes that when qualifying is once again a part of the weekend ritual of NASCAR, that he will still have a seat in the No. 12 truck.
“Yeah, I believe so. Me and Tyler [Young] we just take it week by week,” Bell stated.
The pandemic came at a bad time, as Bell has once again found his joy in wheeling around the track in a NASCAR Truck. A few years ago, Bell was about ready to give up the dream.
“Yeah, I mean it is definitely hard, I have been a racer my whole life and that’s what I love doing, it’s my first love and honestly probably about three years ago, I was at a point in my career where I was over chasing the dream,” Bell exlained. “I was ready to give up, I was ready to quit, and a good buddy of mine Cody Efaw, we started Niece Motorsports, and we went back racing and we were having fun.”
As the Coronavirus cases across large portions of the country are continuing to trend back upward, the sledding certainly won’t be any easier for guys like Bell, just yet. But with a renewed passion for driving, you get the sense that Bell will be just fine. He’s used to having to work for whatever he gets, anyway.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.