Swan struggles became 'nightmare' for owner
April 23, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
It was supposed to be fun, and it started out that way. But after expanding to two cars, hiring a pair of rookie drivers, and struggling to find sponsorship backing, it eventually became something else for the owner of Swan Racing.
"It went from a lot of fun to a nightmare in a matter of months," Brandon Davis told NASCAR.com by telephone Wednesday, after his race team farmed off both its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars to other organizations. "I'm not going to point my finger in any one direction. It was just the overall thing, probably adding two cars, etc. … There were challenges there."
That much became evident late last week, when Swan announced it lacked the funds to operate and was considering options. The route it chose was for minority owner Anthony Marlowe to take driver Cole Whitt and the No. 26 team to BK Racing, and then sell the No. 30 team to XxxTreme Motorsports owner John Cohen, who will put J.J. Yeley behind the wheel. That leaves former No. 30 driver Parker Kligerman without a ride, although he remains under contract to Swan.
And with it ends an exhausting week and trying past few months for Davis, whose Swan Energy oil and gas company has bankrolled the team for most of its brief existence. Davis was willing to dig into his pockets to get the team going last year, when it fielded one car. But he expanded to two entries for 2014 and had hoped to subsist on sponsorship dollars, and the pieces simply didn't come together in time to keep the organization operational.
Combine that with the time demands of Davis' growing oil and gas businesses, and it added up to difficulty from the first weeks of the season.
"It started in Daytona, and things that were supposed to happen didn’t," he said. "It kind of snowballed from there, I guess, and it kept getting worse, not better. From a time perspective, my company has grown a lot, even since January as far as Swan Energy, and my other oil company. The time necessity, for what I needed to do and the time I needed to spend with the race team and working on it, I just haven't had. So it kind of all came to a head the week before Texas, and that's when we started trying to figure out what do we need to do to ensure as many people stay employed as possible, and to keep the cars on track."
Davis said most of Swan's former employees found work either with one of the new teams, or had something else lined up. From a financial perspective, some advised him it might be best just to shut down the whole organization, but "that was not OK with me," he said. Davis added he's retained a few people to help "wind things down" with Swan Racing, and can't foresee the team returning to the track in any capacity in the immediate future.
"My first mission was to make sure everybody had a job," he said. "That was No. 1, and not just kill it and let them go figure it out for themselves. … From that, we're going to let the dust settle, I guess, and see. I don’t know. I can't tell you. Will I be around the track? Yeah, I plan on helping John as much as I can. I like John, he's a great guy, and I want to support him as much as I'm able to. So yeah, I'll be around. As far as Swan having a race car on the track, at this point I have no loose plans, or any plans."
What does that portend for Kligerman? The 23-year-old has received some interest from other teams, Davis said, but "Parker's kind of waiting on me. Until he's 100 percent sure I'm never going to put another car on the race track, he's wanting to stick with me. I commend the young lad for that."
That leaves Kligerman without a seat for this Saturday night's race at Richmond, not to mention the weeks beyond. "I've asked him to kind of stick around, and he said he would," Davis said. "I've asked him to entertain any offer, and he said he would. I know he's had a few. We're kind of at the point of letting the dust settle and seeing what happens here. It's a tough position, for him and for me. But at the end of the day, if I take a car to the race track, I want it to be a contender. I don't want to just make it to the race track."
Although Swan lacked sufficient sponsorship dollars, money wasn't the only issue -- expansion to two cars took more of a toll than Davis expected, and the demands of his day job cut into the available time he had to help the race team grow. With two cars now in the stable, everything took double the time, money, and effort. The financial amount contributed to the team by Swan Energy, Davis said, was used up in a matter of weeks. Asked if expanding to two cars proved too much, he did not mince words.
"Yes. Most definitely. Those teams that are three cars going to four, I'm sure they had just as much difficulty as I did. But they went from one to two, to two to three, to three to four, so they kind of knew what to expect. I'm kind of learning on the fly here, as are most of the people who were helping me and working with me," Davis said.
"I hate that it's happening this way. I'm not going away. With some cooperation from some people out there, Swan Racing could possibly do a few things this year as far as at-track. But going in every week, running two cars, the time, it just wasn't there."
When Davis started Swan Racing in late 2012 after taking over the former Inception Motorsports, he had every intention of building a team that would last. He hired young drivers like Whitt and Kligerman, he said, because he wanted faces that would be marketable and could grow along with the organization. But struggles on the race track -- Whitt was 33rd and Kligerman 44th in driver points after the most recent Sprint Cup event, two weekends ago at Darlington -- were indicative of struggles elsewhere, and eventually it just grew to be too much.
"It's been tough, I'll tell you that. I thought the young drivers would help it move along a little faster. So did everyone else we talked to prior to making the decision. At the end of the day, there was a lot more interest and a lot more conversation than there was a year ago at this time. But the commitment, the demand as far as time and everything else, was double as far as what it was last year with two cars, and everything else that goes into that," Davis said.
"For me, it just quit being fun. I just didn't enjoy going to the race track. Whenever I got to the race track and didn't enjoy it, that's when all the thoughts started racing through my head of -- what did I do here, and how do I fix it? … At the end of the day, this one kept the most people working and had the most cooperation from the other parties."