Spire: ‘Something to prove’ with new-look lineup, incremental growth

CONCORD, N.C. — Corey LaJoie has molded his career, his team and even a podcast after the mantra of “stacking pennies” – a nod to the grind of making more with less. So it was without irony when Spire Motorsports introduced Ty Dillon as his new teammate, and LaJoie promptly said he was looking forward to Dillon adding his two cents.

The next phase in Spire’s development took shape Tuesday with the unveiling of its NASCAR Cup Series lineup for 2023. LaJoie returns for his third season in Spire’s No. 7 Chevrolet, and Dillon charts a new course in his journeyman career as the newest driver of the No. 77 Camaro.

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The organization’s next chapter drafts off LaJoie’s slogan with a goal of incremental growth, but it also stresses continuity — with LaJoie and crew chiefs Ryan Sparks and Kevin Bellicourt returning to their roles, but also with the No. 77 team’s shift from a rotating roster to a full-time driver in Dillon for next year. The course is also big on buy-in, from all parties involved in making the underdog team go.

“Look, I think it’s cliche, but I hope you guys hear it, but I mean, it’s the people,” said team co-owner Jeff Dickerson, who partnered with T.J. Puchyr to launch Spire Motorsports in 2018. “I think if you look at everybody here that works here and that’s up here on this panel, I think we’ve all been discarded by somebody, right? And I think that, kind of that bond, that desperation, feels like just everybody here has got something to prove. Sometimes I question who we’re trying to prove it to, right, but I think that that desire to be successful or to prove something or somebody wrong binds everybody here.”

That attitude applies in nearly equal parts to both the team and to Dillon, who was not renewed after one season at Petty GMS Motorsports. News of his pending dismissal was the latest in a recent line of cast-off moves, from the end of the road at Germain Racing in 2020 to a mishmash of part-time roles in all three national series last year.

Dillon credited his family and support system for helping him weather the uncertainty. Even as his career swayed in limbo, Dillon spoke with candid and often unflinching honesty about the struggles.

Through it all, the 30-year-old driver says he never lost confidence in his abilities. Dillon’s determination has already been requited by the team he’ll join next season.

“I’ve already felt that in the few meetings that I’ve had here at Spire,” Dillon said. “… There’s a belief in me, there’s a different way of communicating to me that they know I can be a part and they know that we can win. And that’s all I need. I know I can get it done, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this relationship and everything blossoms and the confidence builds.”

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Dickerson recalled the days when Dillon was what he called “a No. 1 prospect,” a champion in the ARCA Menards Series with multiple victories in his portfolio. Wins in Camping World Trucks and the Xfinity Series followed, but achieving the same level of success in the Cup Series has been elusive in 199 starts to date.

That recent track record was no damper on the team’s enthusiastic welcome of Dillon to the team’s Charlotte-area shop.

“Honestly, the second I found out that the deal was done and he was signed, I mean, I couldn’t think of a better person to get in this race car, and it’s for multiple reasons,” says Bellicourt, who was atop the No. 77 pit box for Spire’s best finish this season — fourth place by Landon Cassill in August at Daytona. “I think that what he brings to this race team, and the 77 car for us in particular, is a lot of experience, a lot of talent, and I have a group of guys that are hungry to go compete at the Cup Series. …

“These guys, we’ve all kind of been on a journey together, and they came here with me, and we’ve been building this place. And now to plug somebody in like Ty, I think it’s very important that Ty knows how lucky we are to have him in this race car, and he feels that. And I believe that 110%.”

Spire has markers up in its race shop commemorating the team’s thus-far modest accomplishments in its brief history. As a bit of a goof, Dickerson says, the largest of those is for LaJoie’s winning side in the celebrity kickball tournament he hosts each year for charity. It’s even bigger than the marker for Spire’s breakthrough Cup Series win — a 2019 stunner by Justin Haley at Daytona.

Adding more banner moments will mean rising from the two teams’ current perch in the Cup Series team owner standings — 32nd for the No. 7 and 33rd for the No. 77. Dickerson says that’s achievable in gradual measures in the team’s quest to contend against NASCAR’s established guard.

“So for us, we’re in year two of competing against teams that have been together for 30, 40, 50 years, right?” Dickerson says. “Sundays are so hard. It takes time to develop the notebook you have, and get the right personnel in place and just have them jell. So it takes a little bit of everything, but longevity, for sure. And we just, we’ve got to keep building, like I say, brick by brick, and it’s whether we add a few engineers or a few people in the back of the shop or whatever, so it’s just … it’s a slow progress, but I think we’ve definitely made our mark pretty quickly.”