Seven years ago, Brandonbilt Motorsports got off the ground and ran three Camping World Truck Series events, with a dream of one day becoming relevant in NASCAR. But winning? Pshh, that felt like a pipe dream.
“When we were running part time in Trucks, we knew we were there to learn and build,” Jerry Brown, team owner of Brandonbilt Motorsports, said. “While we were going to the track to win, we knew the chances were very slim.”
While attending college at Coastal Carolina University, Brandon Brown ran a partial NASCAR schedule. Once the Virginia native earned a marketing degree in the fall of 2018, he went full-time racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
In Brown’s rookie campaign, he finished a respectable 15th in the championship standings. Last year, he did even better by making the playoffs and ultimately finished 11th in points. Expectations were higher going into the 2021 campaign.
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However, a conversation with his father prior to the season opener in Daytona discouraged Brandon. The team had enough funding to get through Memorial Day weekend, which featured a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the 12th race of the season. From there on out, it was up to Brandon to find additional funding.
“When you’re almost in that down and out mindset, it changes everything,” Brandon Brown said. “It changes your attitude and becomes a very pivotal moment in a racer’s career, in my opinion.”
Less than a month after Charlotte, he created a beloved used car salesman video, hoping it would attract sponsorship. The plan worked. So much so that the team needed to buy him more email storage.
But the second half of the regular season was tough on the No. 68 team. After seven top-10 finishes in the opening 13 races of the season, he earned just one more top 10 until the regular season came to a close. Four DNFs over an eight-race stretch hindered any shot the No. 68 team had of making a second straight postseason.
But not racing for points opens a lot of options for him. Still, he went to Talladega Superspeedway last Saturday with a conservative approach, as he was running a seven-year-old chassis. The goal? Make it to the end of the race with a fighter’s chance of winning.
“There was impending rain in the forecast; the entire day was overcast, so I think everybody had a constant feeling of needing to hustle to stay up front because the rain could come at any second,” Brandon Brown added. “I think that made the field much more aggressive.”
With 13 laps remaining, a push from Jordan Anderson shoved Brandon Brown to the lead. With 10 laps to go, the caution flew for a seven-car incident. And the last scoring loop had the No. 68 Chevrolet as the leader, just ahead of Brandon Jones with darkness approaching the track.
Jerry Brown, who beat cancer last year, has poured a fair share of money into his son’s career, was pacing around on pit road.
“You’ve got that nervous feeling and thoughts of, ‘Our luck hasn’t been very good lately, is it going to happen again?'” Jerry Brown said. “It was one of those moments.”
NASCAR couldn’t get the race back green, deeming it was too dark. Brown was declared the winner, nipping Jones of a victory.
Brandon Brown recalled, “I knew we were side by side with Brandon Jones and I was thinking, ‘Man, I really hope we were out front.”
“I was thinking, ‘I think I’m ahead of him, I’m pretty sure I was. Yup, I’m ahead of him. Absolutely, no doubt about it.'”
Under the caution, he said when the field came off Turn 2, he couldn’t see Turn 3, despite Talladega having a long backstretch. Of course, he believes NASCAR made the right call, though stating it would have been dangerous to get back racing with no lights.
“If everyone had run a dayglow yellow car like Brandon Jones,’ yes, we would have been able to see the other [cars],” Brandon Brown said. “I’ve never looked from NASCAR’s perspective in the tower, but I do remember them yelling at me, ‘Thumbs up if you can race, thumbs down if it’s too dark’ and I’m sitting out there with my thumb down. They asked the flagman what the consensus was from all the drivers and the flagman said he couldn’t see, it was too dark.”
From there, the party was on. Brown, at 28 years old, 114 Xfinity Series starts in, was finally a NASCAR winner.
“I was pissed that we didn’t make the playoffs,” Colin Fern, a utility worker that’s been on the team for all of Brown’s Xfinity Series starts, said. “That win fixed a lot of those issues. I was worried about tech and I was thinking about how can this not happen. What can go wrong right now?
“Once he crossed the finish line, I told him to burn the (expletive) down.”
The raw emotion the driver showed in his front stretch interview was fresh. But the only thing the driver could do, mentally, was reflect.
“You think back to every late night that you were driving to a track or driving home from the track, in the race shop, in the team van before we were able to fly to all the races, putting together parts and pieces on your pit box,” he said of the emotions. “You think back to those moments and think, ‘Finally, it’s worth it. This made everything worth it.'”
Jerry Brown agrees with his son. The feeling is like nothing he’s ever experienced.
“When you’re one of seven car owners (that have won this year), it’s a pretty good feeling,” Jerry Brown said. “You walk with a little more pep in your step, and your head is held a little higher. It validates what you’ve been after for so long.
“When we first started out, we knew the odds of winning were very slim. Each year, you build on that until the odds are getting better, more in our favor. When you get to where we’re at today, and you’re going to the track knowing that if things will not go against you, then you have a chance of winning.”
Brandon Brown knows the win is validation.
“Just like the blood, sweat and tears work part of it, the finance part of it made it worth it too,” Brown said. “How worth it is it? I guess we’ll find out and see if this will translate into more sponsorships, more partnerships, things for 2022. It shows in the right place, the right time, we can get it done. Now, when we get to pitch to potential sponsors, no I can’t say I’m an Xfinity Series playoff driver like I could last year, but now I can say I’m an Xfinity Series winner so I’ll take that. That never goes away.”
The win also helps build team morale. Last year, veteran crew chief Doug Randolph joined Brandonbilt, as it was aiming to take a step up in competition.
From the outside looking in, it’s a fun father-son moment, too.
“Jerry was on Cloud 9,” Fern said. “He got the crowd into it. He launched every single one of the Victory Lane hats out to the fans. He was living it up and it was really cool to watch them both live that in the moment.”
When the Brandonbilt team arrived back in North Carolina on Saturday evening, there wasn’t an outlandish party, just a gathering at Randolph’s house to celebrate the accomplishment.
But Tuesday evening, the team threw a party at its Mooresville, North Carolina race shop, which it shares with the Camping World Truck Series’ Young’s Motorsports. With both teams winning on Saturday, it allowed the team to decompress.
Now with the Charlotte ROVAL on the horizon this weekend, Brown knows his work isn’t over. And from a marketing perspective, it isn’t either.
“We’re definitely above where we were last year,” Brown said of where the team stands heading into the offseason. “It’s enough to get us to the end, but we’re looking at the opportunity to go even bigger and to try and become a consistent race-winning organization, not a one-off.”