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Motor sports: Team trying to improve through ‘start-and-park’

Profile image for By Matt Crider / Staff Writer
By Matt Crider / Staff Writer

FORT WORTH — Pilot Point resident Robert Richardson Jr. is a Nationwide Series racer, but he was at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night as his father’s R3 Motorsports team fielded a car in the Samsung Mobile 500.

Scott Riggs is driving the team’s No. 23 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series this season, with Richardson scheduled to drive the car in the three remaining races at Daytona and Talladega. Richardson fell two positions short in his qualifying race of making the season-opening Daytona 500.

Richardson has run four of the six Nationwide races this year, and Jamie Dick started the other two through a partnership with Corrie Stott Racing. The arrangement provides some relief for R3 while keeping its car on the track and in the top 30 in owner points, which guarantees a starting spot each week.

With limited sponsorship, the team has to do everything it can to fund its racing. That’s where the Cup program comes in. When Riggs or Richardson qualifies for a Cup race, the team has an opportunity to make some money that it can feed into its Nationwide car.

But it’s not as simple as going out and trying to get the best finish possible. The team has a business plan that allows for profit but prevents it from competing for wins.

“With the cost to try to run the whole race, it’s not financially feasible,” crew chief Greg Conner said of the Cup series. “It doesn’t make sense unless you have a sponsor to run the whole race.

“It boils down to needing a $100,000-a-race sponsor, and Mr. [Robert] Richardson [Sr.] doesn’t have that. … About 90 percent of it comes out of his pocket.”

Conner said it costs the team about $17,000 each week for Cup engines. That allows the team to run 100 miles combined in practice, qualifying and the race. With most races slated for at least 400 miles, the discrepancy is clear.

Riggs said a good engine can go 500 to 600 miles.

“We split that up and use it for three to four races,” Riggs said. “That’s just the circumstance for ‘start-and-park’ cars like us. Other teams have fresh, brand-new bullets every week.”

Conner said full-race efforts cost $65,000 a week for engines and $26,000 for 13 sets of tires. He said R3 spends $10,000 each week for five sets.

It’s not an ideal situation for a race team — and it’s frustrating for a driver — but it can pay off. The team’s official winnings from a 42nd-place finish at Martinsville two weeks ago totaled $68,895. The last-place finisher at Daytona took home $267,637.

“I wish we were racing the whole race,” Riggs said. “We have to keep making races, but we want to do more than just sustain the team.”

Riggs took the car to the garage after running 25 laps Saturday night, settling for another 42nd-place finish. Before parking, however, he was already a few laps down because he had to make an unscheduled pit stop on the ninth lap.

“We got grass on the nose and the water temperature went up,” Riggs said after retiring for the night. “We had to come in and pull tape off the nose.

“Somebody ran through the grass, and all us guys at the back got into it.”

Riggs went back out on the track for a few more laps, but he was in street clothes before the race’s first caution period.

“We don’t want to start and park, but at the same time, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to survive,” Richardson Jr. said.

Riggs said the team wants to attract big sponsors that would allow it to run whole races and improve overall.

“We could build our engine program. First and foremost, we could add quality people,” he said. “We literally have seven guys working on the team. Those seven guys work both garages [Cup and Nationwide].

“It’s just unheard of what we’re trying to accomplish with so little resources and manpower.”

With equipment at a premium, Conner said the team only practices as much as necessary to make the race.

“We figure out what feeling I have in the car and what changes we can make on the car,” Riggs said. “When we do qualify, it’s very rewarding. We accomplished the goal at hand, which is to make the race.”

Once in the race, the team knows how far it can go.

“We’ll just run 25-30 laps, knowing we don’t have tires to pit or the pit crew,” Conner said. “We’ll try a couple of things setup-wise to see how it feels.”

“We have the tires we qualified on. We don’t have the other 10 sets that we need to race,” Riggs said. “We just try to learn as much as we can during the first run on the racetrack.”

Conner said Riggs has helped the team, which had not started a Cup race until this season.

“He has a ton of Cup experience. It accelerates our learning curve,” Conner said. “We know the first lap on the track he’s going to get the most out of the car.

“If the car is off, he can really help assess what’s going to make it better.”

The help extends to the Nationwide Series, where Riggs debriefs Richardson Jr. after practice.

“He does a lot with Robert, like if Robert is struggling on a line through a corner,” Conner said.

Richardson said Riggs has been a big help, “just listening to him on the radio, how well he can diagnose a race car. Scott can go into intricate detail about the car and how to fix things.”

It’s a team effort, and R3 has qualified for five of the seven Cup races this year.

“Greg and myself and the car chief, we have to put our heads together and be the engineer and the crew chief,” Riggs said. “We have to be very precise and methodical about what we do with the car.”

Conner said the team is considering fielding cars for both Riggs and Richardson in next month’s Sprint Showdown at Charlotte. It’s a race Riggs won in 2006, and it provides an opportunity to advance to that night’s Sprint All-Star Race.

Before that, though, will be the Aaron’s 499 on May 6 at Talladega, and Richardson said the intent would be to go the distance.

“If we make the Cup race at Talladega, we’ll definitely try to race it,” he said, adding that it won’t be easy.

“They have a little work to do and things to learn on the Cup cars on the superspeedways.”