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Roderick's baseball-themed ride could be up after Charlotte

May 25, 2012, Mark Aumann,

CONCORD, N.C. -- Roderick's baseball-themed ride could be fleeting, but he's still pushing ahead

To use baseball terminology: Casey Roderick is behind in the count, but hoping to get a pitch he can drive.

Which is somewhat appropriate, given that his car at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend is sponsored by the West Virginia Miners, a team in collegiate summer baseball Prospect League.

"You read all these articles and it'll say, 'So and so got a ride here' ... I come from a family that doesn't have any money at all. We're struggling along, trying to put food in our mouths. But I'm happy the way we've done it. "


Roderick's sister, Ashlee, is an account executive with the Miners, and she's the one who convinced owners Doug and Linda Epling to take the unconventional marketing route of sponsoring a race car.

"We've getting a lot of people looking at the car and saying, 'Man, that's a baseball team,' " Roderick said. "It's cool that I've been able to do that for them and I think they're having fun with it. Hopefully after Charlotte, I can get up there and see a couple of games.

"Maybe I can throw the first pitch in one of them. That'd be pretty cool."

Like the players who will take the field for the Miners in their season opener Tuesday in Beckley, W.Va., Roderick has dreams of making it to the big leagues some day. But having million-dollar dreams is fine and dandy, until you get socked in the face by the harsh reality of trying to do it on a two-bit budget.

Welcome to the other side of the Nationwide Series garage.

In theory, he's just one level away from the big leagues, but from Roderick's vantage point -- sitting in a hand-me-down hauler, with a hand-me-down car and hand-me-down tires -- racing against the Ricky Stenhouses, Danica Patricks and Travis Pastranas is like trying to hit a 100 mph fastball with a toothpick.

Just because all the cars make it through technical inspection doesn't mean the playing field is level, and that's not NASCAR's fault. That's just the nature of racing.

The SR2 Motorsports operation, like a number of mid-level Nationwide teams, just doesn't have the money or the manpower to buy or build what it takes to consistently run up front.

"You look on TV and you see the same people every week," Roderick said. "People ask, 'What's going on? Why aren't you up there running with those guys?' They don't understand the budgets we're on. From about 15th on back, you start declining in money real fast.

"People don't understand: $25,000 is only going to get you two new sets of tires. And the rest of them are scuffs you get from a Cup team."

Roderick smiles as he talks, but perhaps not as often as you'd expect from someone who won't turn 20 until August. But there may be a good reason for that. This could be the last race with the Miners sponsorship, and Roderick faces an uncertain future.

"After Charlotte, it's kind of a wait-and-see situation," Roderick said. "I've got people working on trying to come up with more sponsorship dollars. It's a tough thing to do, especially with this economy. You have to be smooth when you're talking to people, because you've got to get them emotionally attached. But we'll get it going. I'm not going to give up."

But he's been in this situation before, and things have worked out. In 2008, the native of Lawrenceville, Ga., was racing Legends cars during the Summer Shootout series at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Money troubles were able to force the family operation to shut down when Bill Elliott offered him a ride in a late model car. That lasted two years, until Chase Elliott was ready to move up and Roderick couldn't find sponsorship to keep going.

"They were focused on Chase [Elliott]," Roderick said. "They had to look after their son first, and I knew it was going to be that way."

Roderick then worked for James Finch, which resulted in him getting a ride with Randy Hill in the middle of 2011. Roderick finished 25th at Watkins Glen in his Nationwide debut, eventually running two more races near the end of the season.

He was involved in a crash at the 2012 season-opener in Daytona, but ran 17th at Phoenix -- his best finish so far. However, Hill decided to go a different direction after Richmond, and Roderick was forced to look elsewhere. For Iowa and Charlotte, that happened to be SR2 Motorsports.

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"Racing's always kind of been my thing," Roderick said. "It's definitely my way of life and I want to keep following it. I just hope something will come along that I can start running a full year here in Nationwide.

"It's so tough nowadays, with these teams out there, to get the funding to do it. And then here you are, coming along, trying to scrape the bottom of the bucket for everything you've got. It makes it tough. Some days are better than others, but we're keeping going."

Roderick has the talent. He's won at every level throughout his career, including a 2010 victory for Finch in the ARCA Series. What he doesn't have is the financial banking necessary to pair that talent with top-notch equipment.

The baseball team sponsorship is approximately $100,000 less than the top teams are spending each week. So, for Roderick, it's not just a matter of doing more with less. It's first and foremost keeping yourself in the game, and then hoping something good comes out of it.

Roderick believes he may be able to land sponsorship for Atlanta, his home track, and perhaps a few more races.

"You read all these articles and it'll say, 'So and so got a ride here,' and that's a lot of family money to it," Roderick said. "I come from a family that doesn't have any money at all. We're struggling along, trying to put food in our mouths.

"But I'm happy the way we've done it. Instead of being given all these things, I'd rather work for it and show people I can do this. They're not going to push me out of this sport. I'm going to stay here for a long time before that happens. We'll see what happens."

There's a determined look in his piercing dark eyes. As he speaks, he glances away, perhaps seeing a brighter future ahead, one that takes him to the other side of the Nationwide garage and beyond. And then he laughs.

"You get on the other side of the garage there, in the top 15, and them guys are serious," Roderick said. "They're all about business -- which you've got to be. But there's a time where you've got to have fun, too. Since I started when I was 5 years old, my dad and I always had fun.

"It's all about enjoying what you're doing. That's what it's all about. I think a lot of folks forget about that. They look at it as a business and forget to have fun."

Casey Roderick races with the dream that someone may catch a glint of his raw talent and might just want to mine this diamond in the rough. After all, diamonds start out as lumps of coal.