Leavine Family Racing seeks Daytona 500 berth for full-time future
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –- Wally Rogers doesn't look at a clipboard when he wants to see some of the notes associated with the setup of his team's car.
He looks at his hand.
"It's all right there," Rogers, crew chief for the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Ford, said, laughing as he pointed at the numbers etched in ink across the palm of his left hand.
Old school? Yeah, Rogers is that. He's driven, optimistic and talented. He's also waging one of the more difficult battles inside the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage these days.
"I don't see how it's going to fail. It can't fail. We have too many good people in place to make it right."
--Scott Speed, driver of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Ford
Along with team owner Bob Leavine and driver Scott Speed, Rogers is attempting to build and field a competitive race team with far less funding and far fewer employees than the majority of the teams filling the Cup garage here this week at Daytona International Speedway.
There are teams here that have more engineers than LFR has employees on its payroll.
A year ago, the upstart Leavine Family Racing team added road courses to its itinerary and attempted 19 races, with Speed qualifying for 17. This year, they've added a superspeedway program, and based on their finish in the Budweiser Duel, may or may not find themselves competing in the biggest race of the season come Feb. 24.
A disappointing qualifying run –- Speed was 35th fastest on pole day –- means there's no room for error when the first of two qualifying races get under way today.
"We had some issues, some mistakes we made as a group that kind of held us back a little bit," Rogers said. "We kind of dug ourselves in our own little hole.
"I guess if there's a bad side of the good window, I think that's where we're at. The biggest thing working against us right now is that there are only two cars behind us in (owner) points ... our speed is mediocre. If one of those other two guys (Brian Keselowski and Mike Bliss) race their way in, that's going to put us in a tough spot."
That being the case, Rogers says the team has a simple game plan.
"Go like hell," he said. "Nah, we need to be cautiously aggressive and see how it all plays out. From what I saw (in practice), the car in drafting is pretty good. We stopped early because we didn't want to put ourselves in a bad spot. ... As long as we have a good enough position in the (qualifying) race, we should have a good finish."
Leavine admits he is "apprehensive" about what the 2013 season holds for his young team.
"There are nights I lay in bed and question myself," he said.
He knows he started his own construction business more than 35 years ago with $2,500 seed money and built it into one that now generates just under $100 million a year. "We worked hard. People believed in us," he said. "And little by little, the company grew."
Racing, however, is expensive. And without sponsorship, the money he has earmarked to get the program off the ground will be gone.
"At the end of the year, if we don't have a sponsor, I guess we're not offering something they want," Leavine said. "I didn't get it right. Then I'll spend x number of years trying to make that money back. Because I know how to work. I'm not real smart at times, but the good Lord gave me the ability to work."
Qualifying for the Daytona 500, he said, isn't so much about the potential for exposure; it's about the challenge.
"We're a small team; for us, it's our best chance of placing well. So that convinced me of that. But it's also our biggest chance of (wrecking) cars, too. But if you survive ... ."
Failure Is Not An Option
"I don't see how it's going to fail," Speed, who spent two years with Red Bull Racing before that program folded, said. "It can't fail. We have too many good people in place to make it right. "
Speed likens the move to LFR to that of leaving a "big ship for a little speed boat," and that because the team is small "it feels almost like you have a vested interest in it.
"It's way more personal," he said.
"I'm super lucky to have something, be involved with Bob and now Terance (Mathis)."
Mathis, the former Atlanta Falcon all-pro, came on board this season, and is the guiding force behind helping to "build a buzz around the team."
Previous attempts to ingrain himself in the sport failed to pan out, Mathis said, in part, because he had little to offer in terms of a team or program.
"Nobody's going to give me money to build from scratch," he said. "Now I have something to sell, it's proven, it's growing, and it has great potential. Now, I do what I do."
Speed had a best finish of 17th last season as the team raced when the funds allowed and called it a day early when they didn't.
"It's just a matter of not overstepping our reach, not spreading ourselves way too thin," Speed said. "I think we've done a reasonable job with that. Just stick to what we can do and do that as well as we can and then when the opportunity comes, which I'm sure it will, we'll be ready to grow and build off of it."
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