DENVER, N.C. -- Jordan Anderson's story is probably best written in Sharpie. Nothing fancy, but with the personal touch of handwriting and the resilient qualities of permanent ink.
When Anderson needed help making it through the back half of the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule, fans and other backers he'd never met answered the call, making contributions with the promise of their name appearing on the truck at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Anderson considered registering their support with a decal or printed wrap, but that meant early deadlines and money. Plus, "It just didn't seem very personal to me," Anderson says.
So, just as with most everything else in his everyman's racing career, Anderson did it himself. Borrowing a page from his own history of ingenuity, Anderson made neatly ruled lines with a straight edge and hand-wrote each name on the truck bed panel with permanent marker, even during the course of the New Hampshire race weekend. It mimicked a campaign of his from nearly 10 years ago, when he painted his Legends Car white, letting fans sign it in exchange for donations.
This year, Anderson faces yet another hurdle to clear, in large part because of a late-race crash two weeks ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway that left his only truck's frame rails bent, battered and caked with far too much Georgia clay. It's why the 25-year-old South Carolina native may be brushing up on his penmanship even while putting his own sweat equity into a new vehicle.
"It was something that had never really been done before," Anderson says of his 2016 crowdfunding campaign, which he's revived through his self-designed 'Fueled by Fans' website, sponsorjordan.com. "So my goal with this thing here, we get this new race truck built and my whole truck's going to look like an autograph card with hopefully Sharpie names all over it.
"You never know. There's always so many positives through the negatives, and that's kind of been the background through my racing career. Yes, I'm an underdog; no, it's not a bad situation, it's just where I'm at and I'm going to make the most of it. There's 100 different ways to look at it, but I always try to stay positive through it all."
'I want to be a NASCAR driver'
Jordan Anderson wasn't born into a racing background. His father, Clif, is a property manager in the greater Columbia, South Carolina area; his mother, Sherry, owns a hair salon.
But the family tells the story of how at age 4, Jordan sat whimpering in the back seat of his mom's car as she drove home from an errand. "I want to be a NASCAR driver," the preschooler cried, even though his experience with the sport extended no further than seeing races on TV or playing with Hot Wheels cars.
"We didn't influence him in any way, shape or form, but he was burdened by the fact that he was going to be a race-car driver," Clif Anderson says. "Of course, at the time for us that was no big deal. Yes, you're right, you can be President of the United States, a doctor, a cowboy or a race-car driver. Little did we know it would be a life's journey."
That trek started at age 6 with a go-kart, which quickly became the scourge of the elementary school grounds across the street from the family home. "My dad got to know the local police really well because I was just sitting there terrorizing the parking lot, cutting laps in circles over there," Jordan says.
Anderson progressed to competitive karting on an actual course by his grade-school years, but the family operation's inexperience showed early on. A competitor noticed their kart's wheels angled incorrectly and told them their toe was out. Instead of inspecting the kart's tracking, the Andersons looked down at their feet, making sure their shoes were intact.
Jordan's parents have offered support and encouragement every step of the ladder, through karting, Legends Cars, Late Models, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and now in his third season in trucks. But Jordan says they never pushed him toward the sport, never bankrolled his career with wads of cash, and never had racing as a family tradition. Even Jordan admits, "if you really look back, it doesn't make sense why I'm in racing or why I'm here," other than the tearful wish he had confided to his mother at age 4.
"He didn't come from any of the ingredients that it takes to be there," Clif Anderson says. "He's totally defying all the odds to be doing what he's doing. He completely recognizes there's 10,000 young people across the country who would love the opportunity to be doing what he's doing -- and he's doing it."
Anderson at Canadian Tire in 2015
Jordan Anderson likes to relate a parable about summiting Mount Everest, about how it would be far easier to own a mountaintop home and simply walk out the front door to its peak. But Anderson says the more rewarding route involves the climb.
"The journey sometimes is what it's all about."
Anderson's ascent is measured less in feet above sea level than in miles -- specifically, the 210,000 miles on the Dodge Super Duty truck that hauls his race truck with a 40-foot gooseneck trailer. The truck belonged to Chip Ganassi Racing for towing show cars until Anderson purchased it as a teenager in 2009. Since then, roughly two-third of its miles belong to Anderson.
"So it's seen everything from the dirt banks at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney (South Carolina) to Daytona," Anderson says. "This hauler -- they always say if houses could talk ... if that hauler could talk, the stories it could tell."
The stories might start with the season-ending Texas-Phoenix-Miami turn, a nearly 5,500-mile round trip that Anderson once drove himself. Or this year's trip to Daytona, leaving North Carolina at midnight and arriving at the speedway by 10 a.m., splitting driving duties with his dad.
Then there's Canada. A spur-of-the-moment call in 2015 prompted Anderson to drive 800 miles to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, this after a Tuesday scramble to a bureau in Atlanta to obtain his passport for international travel that weekend. None of his usual garage helpers had passports, so upon arrival, Anderson enlisted two fans to help push his truck through inspection. He finished 16th on the lead lap.
On the way back, he took a wrong turn and drove his hauler to Niagara Falls over a bridge where commercial trucks are prohibited. After being detained at the U.S.-Canada border for five hours -- "CSI style," he says -- he was finally headed back to North Carolina.
"Most bigger teams, you tell them that story and they're like, 'That's dumb. I'd never do that. That's crazy. Why would you do that?' " Anderson says. "No, if you actually do that, life is all about creating experiences. Do it for the story, and that's why you talk about guys back in the day, how they did what they did to get to the race track."
Anderson talks with Matt Crafton
Old school is an apt description, from the decommissioned show-car hauler, the maybe 3,000-square-foot warehouse space that he's sharing with veteran racer Mike Harmon, and the rolled-up sleeves and dirty fingernails from working in the shop.
The first NASCAR driver Anderson ever met was Harry Gant, among the last of his generation of stars in the 1980s and '90s. He quickly became a favorite, with Anderson gravitating toward hard-nosed racers willing to make sacrifices to stay in the sport.
It's why Anderson sees a bit of himself in that generation, and a modern-day corollary in Carl Edwards, who famously handed out business cards to prospective car owners before landing his big break. It's also why Edwards was among the first to reach out to Anderson after a failed qualifying attempt at Daytona in 2015.
"He was one of those guys before I drove home, he said, 'Man, you're in the valley now, but keep digging -- this is just all part of the journey.' That's what a lot of this is."
When his two-year association with Bolen Motorsports ended after last season, Anderson went back to basics, putting plans for 2017 together after a heart-to-heart at Harmon's desk. With help from Rick Ware Racing, plus space, parts and know-how from Harmon, Anderson was set with a 2012 model Chevrolet.
Four days after the Atlanta crash, the aging truck sat quiet and crumpled in the shop. Days earlier, he'd gotten a call from two-time series champion Matt Crafton, offering help. Crewmembers with full-time jobs elsewhere often pop in to offer their own assistance. It's restored Anderson's faith in the NASCAR industry and the spirit of community that pervades the truck garage.
"It pains me to look at it, but it's definitely a light under me," Anderson says, glancing at his beaten truck. "It fuels the flame to keep digging and to make this deal happen. There's no give-up in me, and this has just served as more motivation. This may be a blessing in disguise."
Anderson's wreck at Atlanta Motor Speedway
Piecing together financing
"That Jordan Anderson, he's just a horrible kid, you know," says Robbie Pierce with a satirical wink that almost translates through the phone.
"And no good head on his shoulders either, right?" I say in return, answering sarcasm with sarcasm because neither of us have experienced this to be true.
Pierce, the owner of Indianapolis-based safety equipment manufacturer Impact Race Products, has a long history in racing. Meeting Anderson at a TORC off-road event in Charlotte sparked their relationship, one that extends beyond business and into personal life. Once when Anderson's truck broke down near Indy, Pierce offered him a ride and a place to stay. When Anderson needed advice on obtaining his passport in a hurry, he called Pierce, knowing his history of racing off-road vehicles in the American Southwest and Mexico.
"Just a great young man, he truly is genuine," Pierce says. 'He's one of those people that we kind of took, not necessarily under our wing, but we certainly remembered him and started following him. His story is just amazing. I don't know anyone who works harder in motorsports, trying to live his dream out and his passion. As hard-working people ourselves, we certainly appreciate that. We've come to know and respect Jordan even more."
It seems each of Anderson's associate sponsors have similar stories. Anderson points at each of the small decals on his truck's B-post and recounts his personal experience with the people behind each company.
Randy Knighton is part of that group. The owner of Knight Fire Protection in Olympia, Washington, also has a deep background in backing racing in the local and regional ranks, but a chance meeting with Anderson four years ago exposed him to the entry levels of NASCAR's national series.
Anderson was looking for someone in the Charlotte Motor Speedway condominiums during the Coca-Cola 600 weekend when he wandered through an open door into the wrong suite -- Knighton's. After sorting out the mix-up, the Knighton family had offered the young driver food and drink and the relationship started from there. "About an hour later, he's hanging out with us, he's got my wife charmed and he's just a great kid," Knighton said.
Knighton's incremental help was crucial to Anderson making the Atlanta trip. In turn, Anderson surprised Knighton with his company's website address splashed across the tailgate.
"From a business standpoint, it makes no sense at all to sponsor a truck that's running in Atlanta, Daytona and all over the East," said Knighton, a fixture in the Pacific Northwest. "But we did get several phone calls after the accident where Knight Fire Protection was on FS1 prominently on the tailgate of the truck, with people wanting to know was Jordan OK, was that your truck I saw and stuff like that.
"So there's a little bit of trickle-down effect, and we still get jobs from people back home just because people know that we're involved in racing and they like to support us when they can."
The crowdfunding method of financial support has its critics, as Anderson has discovered when reading internet comments on articles or message boards that say he doesn't belong in the sport. Anderson holds a business degree from Belmont Abbey College, a four-year liberal-arts university near Charlotte. His aspirations of trying to make it in racing have tested both his education and marketing savvy in making sure that he does belong.
"I think Jordan's actually really, really smart to have thought of that idea," Knighton says. "I know a lot of the race fans are thrilled to be able to actually help and be involved with sponsorship on a NASCAR level, which is something most people would never be able to do. Even if it's only 20 bucks or 50 bucks, then for Jordan to put their names, hand write them and get them on the truck and get interviewed about it, it just helps everybody. It helps Jordan, it helps NASCAR, it helps the sport because that's what's missing -- that fan connection to the drivers, that interest."
Pierce agrees. "I think that's thinking outside the box. He doesn't have the wherewithal or the path that other people have had to do what he does. I think that was great. I don't know if that's a sustainable thing, but it got him through that race. It's one race at a time, and I admire that with his work and persistence.
"With this sport, we see all sides of it -- the big-business side of it, the lack of loyalty, the lack of relationships and honoring those relationships sometimes, the lack of appreciation, and Jordan just flat exemplifies everything that is good about motorsports, that hard-working work ethic and doing whatever it takes to make it happen."
Anderson and Austin Wayne Self
'They see me fighting for it'
Sleep is not something Jordan Anderson gets in abundance. There's the 20 minutes he got on the shop floor as he fastened splitter bolts under the truck before Daytona. There's the catnap he got in his old Dodge hauler before qualifying at Atlanta. He became a coffee drinker on his road trip to Canadian Tire, stopping in Pittsburgh for a large cup of joe to keep him going through the night.
This is why e-mail responses from Anderson come at odd times -- 2:30 a.m. or thereabouts. But he always responds, both to e-mails and to inspirational messages left for him on social media.
When Anderson offered T-shirts for sale in another fundraising effort, he says he sold 400 in one swoop to fans from 42 states and Canada, Mexico and Australia. If you ordered one, Anderson packaged and shipped it himself, figuring out best practices by googling "How to ship T-shirts" and conducting other internet research.
Clif Anderson rattles off an inventory of his son's duties -- "crew chief, head mechanic, driver, fundraiser, marketing director" -- and even that's most certainly an incomplete list. It's why fans have taken notice of Anderson's do-it-all moxie, helping him to build a modest but dedicated following.
"I think so many fans get behind me and support me because they can relate to me, and that's what makes it so big," Anderson says. "It's humbling to see that, because the fans reach out. They see me hauling tires, and they see me fighting for it. People can just relate to that because so much in life is about overcoming the odds."
Clif Anderson says he doesn't participate in social media, but sees and appreciates the personal feel his son brings to it. He also notices the unwavering positive outlook that his son has maintained, even when the obstacles seem insurmountable.
"Sometimes it takes a lifetime to prove who you are, and who Jordan is right now is who he's been all along," Clif Anderson says. "He's genuine, he's real, he loves people. I think the reason people follow him is because he's the real deal. What you see is what you get. There's nothing fake, nothing phony, there's just Jordan."
Perhaps that's why racing fans connect with a driver who isn't too proud to make his own run to the gas pumps, to turn his own wrenches, and to do it all with a steady smile on his face.
The goals remain simple for an underfunded team racing against well-heeled competitors: lead-lap finishes, reaching the top 20 in the points standings, and completing the remaining two-thirds of his sponsorship drive to fund his new truck. Sometimes the goals are even more fundamental: Just getting to the race track, which as Anderson often indicates, is part of the fun.
"Never giving up, being appreciative for what I've got, and realizing that there's not many of us that have the opportunity to race at this level," Anderson says. "I've got an opportunity here and just trying to make the most of that. Hopefully this is something that'll be another chapter in that book, so that 10 years ago when we write that book, this will be a good chapter."
Perhaps best written in Sharpie.