Anguished, heartbroken and confused, Timmy Hill — who won one of the seven iRacing eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series events in 2020 — finds himself on the outside looking in when it comes to the 2021 Pro Invitational Series.
Hill, 28, took time out to speak to TobyChristie.com about the apparent decision by NASCAR and FOX to leave him and his MBM Motorsports team off the entry list for Wednesday’s race at the virtual dirt Bristol Motor Speedway.
“Well for us, it’s disappointing,” a dejected Hill said. “We had really hoped to be a part of it. Last year, having so much success with it, it really helped our real life program and it was a nice morale booster as well, as we had so much success with it. So, to be left out it was really unfortunate. We were really disappointed in that.”
The news came as a shock to many fans and media in the sport, that one of the biggest stars of last year’s Pro Invitational Series was simply left off the entry list. Hill feels it just showcases the continual disrespect of underdogs in modern day NASCAR.
“Personally, living it, I don’t like it. I don’t like smaller guys being silenced or being left out,” Hill said. “Personally, living it, it doesn’t leave a great taste. It feels like you’re not part of the club so to speak. We’re out there just like everybody else, you know, we don’t have a lot of the luxuries that a lot of these bigger teams have. But I feel like if we didn’t have a lot of these smaller teams in the sport, I don’t know how this sport would survive or even thrive.”
Following the uproar that Hill was snubbed from being a competitor in the Pro Invitational Series, fans took to Twitter to offer support of Hill. The hashtag #LetTimmyRace was trending on Twitter Wednesday morning. The support of NASCAR fans has blown Hill away.
“It’s a little surprising. I’m surprised I’ve built this much of a fan base,” Hill said with pride. “But it’s nice to see so much support. I appreciate these people and their willingness to hopefully somehow petition myself into this race, but it’s so nice to see so much support.”
Hill, who has been a long-time journeyman underdog racer in the sport opened a few eyes when he became the Cinderella story of the 2020 Daytona 500 as he made the field in the No. 66 MBM Motorsports Ford Mustang. But that attention was nothing compared to what would follow when the sport would shutdown at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When NASCAR, along with FOX, instituted the iRacing eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series, it gave fans racing — virtual racing, but racing nonetheless. But what it also did was bridge the equipment and sponsorship gap that is seen in the real-world NASCAR Cup Series. This allowed Hill, who averaged a finish of 33.2 in the real-world NASCAR Cup Series in 2020, to showcase what he was capable of against his peers on equal footing.
“Yeah, it was a nice way to really introduce people with who I am,” Hill explained. “I enjoy sharing my story and introducing people to myself and allowing the NASCAR fan base to find out who I am. I wish they could have found out sooner. It’s obviously very tough for a lot of the smaller teams in the garage. Most of the time fans get the same interviews over and over every single weekend and we don’t get to hear from a lot of good stories in the second half of the garage and it’s unfortunate because we need these stories and these interviews to help us keep sponsors and get new sponsors. Unfortunately, it’s what keeps the sport growing. So, when we don’t get the time and attention, it’s tough.”
Hill, who has run a total of 87 NASCAR National Series events since the start of the 2020 season, still has yet to be given an official reason of why he wasn’t invited into the 2021 Pro Invitational Series, but he is continuing to try to get ahold of someone at NASCAR and FOX for further clarification.
“I have tried to contact as many people as I can. Can’t really get any good answers,” Hill said. “I’m not really sure why we were not chosen to be a part of it. We meet as much of the criteria as anybody. We’ve been a part of NASCAR, running the Cup Series full-time for the last couple of years. Haven’t missed a race in a couple of years now. We were a part of the Pro Invitational Series last year, we won a race. I’ve run more starts in NASCAR than anybody. So, as far as criteria goes, I’m not sure why — other than us not being a Charter team, why we wouldn’t be a part of this. And if that’s the only reason, it seems like a cheesy reason.”
Not only does it sting for Hill to not be included after having an average finish of 3.6 in the seven Pro Invitational Series events last season, but it also hurts Hill and his team as the Pro Invitational Series is what led to the No. 66 team being able to secure their sponsor RoofClaim.com for the entire 2020 season.
“Roof Claim was a brand new sponsor to NASCAR,” Hill recalled. “We introduced them at the Daytona 500. Of course, not long after that, we had the Pro Invitational. We had a nice Daytona 500, they were very impressed with NASCAR and our program. The Pro Invitational only added to that because we had so much success. Won a race. They were very impressed with their sponsorship in NASCAR. It was definitely a booster to be a part of the Pro Invitational last year and what it did for our race team — not only with online race, but what it provided for us in real life races, it added sponsorship to our program and it really allowed us to compete at a higher level than we were before that.”
Hill and MBM operate as an Open team in the NASCAR Cup Series, which means they get a tiny sliver of the television revenue pie compared to Charter teams. The sliver got even more tiny for 2021, when NASCAR announced they’d be slashing the purses for open teams. MBM looked at running the Daytona 500, and not worrying about the remainder of the 2021 Cup Series season, until they saw the return of the Pro Invitational Series was coming.
“We heard about the Pro Invitational through the winter and that it would be coming back and the criteria that was talked about in the offseason was that all full-time teams would be invited and would be a part of this deal,” Hill said. “As we were approaching this season, we had talked about running full-time Xfinity, obviously, I had my Truck team and we had always planned to run the Daytona 500, but once we heard about the Pro Invitational we took steps to try to run all of the races so that we would meet the criteria to be in.”
The Maryland-native says that his team is seriously contemplating whether to keep running the Cup Series or to focus solely on Xfinity in the wake of not receiving an invite for the Pro Invitational Series.
“Even after the prize purse was cut in the Cup Series, it’s extremely difficult to be an open team in this sport,” Hill stated. “You see it, besides JTG, we’re really the only committed team that runs open. I think you’re going to keep seeing it because there’s no money in it. Without being invited, as this is one of the main reasons we were continuing to run, it definitely makes us look at what we are doing and whether it’s worth continuing in the Cup Series or if we need to focus our attention elsewhere.”
While Hill’s team struggles financially in the Cup Series, MBM Motorsports has begun to really thrive in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season. Hill has four top-20 finishes in the six races so far this season, including top-20 efforts the past two weekends. Hill says the goal is to finish inside the top-20 of the championship standings in 2021.
“Well, you know we have great people working at MBM’s garage,” Hill said. “Clinton Cram and Mark Hillman and Patrick Magee, we have three solid crew chiefs in the MBM camp and they do a tremendous job getting these jobs repaired and getting them to the race track. What’s nice about Xfinity, you have a lot of small underfunded — family owned teams really where the grass roots of NASCAR started. It’s a nice field out there, really we just do our jobs right do a good job at it and we click off a lot of good finishes. Carl committed to me at full-time Xfinity, and I wanted to do a good job for him. I wanted to be a driver who is top-20. We’ve had a couple of failures, a couple of setbacks, but we’ve done a nice job. We’re sitting 21st in driver points even after a bum motor and broken axle at the road course. I think that only shows we have a lot of good things to come this year.”
Hill has been seeing great success in the Xfinity Series this season and it has all come while staying even busier than usual in 2021 as he became a father for the first time on February 22nd. Hill says he and his wife Lucy are adjusting to life with their bundle of joy, Hudson Grant Hill.
“He’s doing good. We just fed him. I already didn’t sleep much with owning a race team and adding a little one to our family has definitely cost me all of the sleep I had left,” Hill joked. “No, he’s been a joy. We love the time we have already spent with him — he’s a couple of months old now. I always wanted a family growing up, so it’s fun to finally experience that.”
Hill’s personal life seems to be his Zen right now in crazy and chaotic world that is NASCAR. And he and his team are also showing massive improvements in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season. Can we please just give the guy a last minute entry into the iRacing eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series? Whether it’s the real-world NASCAR or virtual NASCAR, we want to see the best of the best compete. Hill proved last year that he definitely belongs on the virtual NASCAR track, as much as anyone else. Make it happen.
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.