We could talk for days, and we have, about how Jack McNelly carried the Pro Cup Tour out of the ashes, and built from them the CARS Tour, the most exciting and competitive Late Model tour in the country. A tour so prevalent that it was a very appealing option for a successful NASCAR Cup owner, 2 current Hall Of Fame NASCAR Cup drivers, and a future one that was also a Cup Champion. And we think it doesn’t need to be said that a group like that wouldn’t take that appeal lightly. Not only as a great business option, but also as a chance to help take the base of the stock car racing world to the next level. But it was Jack McNelly that made that possible. Faced with the possibility of the end of the road for a series that began in the honor of Alan Kulwicki by the owner of the Hooters franchise, Jack thought about that beginning long and hard before he made the decision to carry on. And in the middle of that contemplation, McNelly had a vision. A vision that would see him carry on with the same passion the series was founded on in the past, but also a vision that would see the tour carry that passion into the future. What drove it forward however was personal. It was something we saw from Jack over the past few years that became glaringly obvious to us. Jack didn’t just want the tour to be successful. He wanted it to be great. And though it may sound odd to some, he treated it almost like it was his child. He protected it. He nurtured it. He fed it, and it grew. And as it did, he instilled knowledge into it. Manners if you will, and the know how to get the job done, respectfully and with honor. Most importantly however, he did all of that because he loved it. His vision was to make it not only an asset that would make short track racing stronger, but also one that could help take it to the next level.
In his love for short track racing, as Jack McNelly built his tour to become the premier racing tour in the southeast and central east coast racing region, he looked to those who shared his passion for the sport to help build it, and he surrounded himself with those people. So it only made sense that in 2020, he and Kirk Ipock struck a deal that would see Ipock’s company Solid Rock Carriers become the entitlement sponsor for the tour. The tour had landed Response Energy in 2018, but they needed an entitlement sponsor that could help add stability for the tour. Not only would Solid Rock Carriers bring bigger purses and marketing advantages to the growing series, it would give them that stability in an advocate that shared the same dreams for short track racing that Jack McNelly possessed. And we can tell you for a fact that Kirk Ipock has a been a tremendous advocate for short track racing in the region, not only for the CARS Tour, but for the tracks, teams, and drivers that compete in the central east coast, and he did it all out of the love for the sport. He took tremendous satisfaction out of helping the sport grow in any way he could. You could see that passion in his eyes as well, and in that vein, he and McNelly were kindred spirits of sorts who shared the same goal of strengthening short track racing, not only in the region, but as a whole, knowing it was important for the sport of stock car racing itself. The partnership was just what the CARS Tour needed as it became the premier Late Model tour in the nation.
And as it has, it’s becoming clear just what Jack McNelly’s vision truly was. The CARS Tour has been successful not only because of that vision, but what it entailed. And part of what it entailed was bringing the best Late Model teams and drivers to the tour by giving them the best of all reasons to be there. One, to get the exposure a driver would need to reach the next level, and two, to be able to show their talents and skills competing against the best competition around. We said it before and we’ll say it again, the old saying is true – To be the best, you have to beat the best. And everyone that’s competed in anything will tell you that competing against the best only makes you better. And with the talent that competes currently on the tour, it’s to the point that if you can win on this tour, it’s proven you can compete anywhere, even at the highest levels of the sport. It’s a fact that’s becoming even more increasingly obvious, and that’s what Jack wanted all along. He wanted the tour to be the catalyst that could and would prepare the best short track racers for the next level. A proving ground if you will for stock car racing talent. And that’s what the CARS Tour is today. It’s a tour that not only showcases the drivers, but the teams they compete for, and the diverse region tracks on which they compete. And unless you’ve been to a CARS Tour event, you might not even understand the level of competition and professionalism the tour possesses. But Jack McNelly had one more ace up his sleeve. And on the edges of greatness, he put his plan in motion to take it all to an even higher level, and he talked to the one person he knew could take it there.
Dale Earnhardt Jr was no stranger to the CARS Tour, having fielded a team in the series since it’s rebranding as a Late Model tour in 2015. And he achieved three championships in that time, one with Josh Berry in 2017, and two with Carson Kvapil, son of former Cup driver Travis Kvapil, in 2022 and 2023. So he also understood Jack’s vision well, especially with Berry’s recent rise in the sport to the Cup Series driving for Stewert-Haas next year. And so when Jack McNelly spoke with Dale Jr. and offered him ownership of the tour, it also made perfect sense. NASCAR’s most popular driver and 2021 NASCAR Hall Of Fame inductee knew what it meant for Jack McNelly to offer him a chance to take the tour where only he could, and he knew why it was important. But after the announcement that Dale Jr. and his new ownership partners of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Justin Marks would take the reins of the tour, many stock car fans and some industry experts weren’t certain of what it all meant. Even the agenda was questioned. Was it just for the money? Control? Just what did these giants in the industry want from and for the CARS Tour? All those questions were answered on Monday, November 27th. And if anyone had any doubt, they were put to rest that day. On the heels of their first successful year as owners of the CARS Tour, the ownership group took their first BIG step in fulfilling their promise to McNelly. A step that will ensure future growth for the tour, and as they put it, to take it to levels previously unimagined. They talked about how important it was for short track racing and all those involved in it. They talked about taking the resurgence of short track racing and using that momentum to take it as high as they could possibly achieve. And they talked about doing it because short track racing deserved nothing less, and this coming from a group that’s made racing their life. They were doing it because they loved the sport, and that’s tremendously important here.
Bringing zMAX on as the entitlement sponsor for the CARS Tour is a step that takes it beyond stability. zMAX is a national brand with retail partners Advance Auto Parts, AutoZone, CarQuest, NAPA, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Pep Boys, and Walmart. The successful micro lubricant company built on a formula perfected by Indy race engine and chassis engineer Joe Lencki in 1936, a formula so great that even Carroll Shelby used in every car he built. Owned by Speedway Motorsports, zMAX president and CEO Marcus Smith said, “A zMAX partnership with the CARS Tour is a commitment to building future competitors and fans in motorsports.” A simple statement that hints at a great and large goal. And one that fits the vision Jack McNelly had from the beginning. And zMAX is a company with the desire and means to accomplish that goal. They understand marketing. And they have the experience and know how to bring excitement to stock car racing. It’s Speedway Motorsports’ business and they know it well. And to have them on board as a marketing partner with the CARS Tour is next level itself, make no mistake about it. It’s huge for short track racing! But, even more so for the short track racer themselves. Those racers need every tool at their disposal to make it to the premier levels of the sport, but now, more than ever, their talents will be on an ever greater display. And that’s huge because as we’ve been pointing out for the last few years, the young talent coming up through the ranks and honing their skills in the short track world today is nothing short of outstanding. They are leading the competition in stock car racing to new heights. And make no mistake about it, the CARS Tour has and is taking the right steps to lead that talent to the forefront and take short track racing to the next level. At ZMAX’s entitlement sponsor reveal we think Kevin Harvick said it best: Short Track Report – “Being a grassroots guy yourself, just how cool is it to be a part of a series that is shaping the future of NASCAR?”
Kevin Harvick: “Well it’s fun and as you look at everything we’ve been able to accomplish with the CARS Tour this year and seen everything we’ve been able to accomplish in helping grow it in the next year with solid partnerships and with the major brand of zMAX coming on board to be the title sponsor. Just being in this room today and seeing everybody here and the enthusiasm that goes with it is exactly what we wanted to do, was give it a platform through the platforms that we all have and be able to show off Late Model Stock racing in this region and show off the great competitors that we have to be able to take this series to hopefully places it’s never been.”
We’ve said from the very beginning of our existence that the very foundation of stock car racing is the foundation of the sport itself. It’s where it all began, and still to this day the future of the sport depends on it. The resurgence we’ve been speaking of is real. Some of the very best stock car racing happens at your local short track in the name of the competitors that run there, some of who will grace victory lanes at superspeedways all across the country at the highest level of the sport. Greatly in part due to men like Jack McNelly who have a vision for the sport, and the legacy they leave behind as pathways to the sport’s future elite.