NASCAR Trucks Series Champion Challenges Lemonis Sponsorship

Illustration for article titled The Saga Of The NASCAR Trucks Series And Its Camping World Sponsorships

Photo: Sean Gardner (Getty Images)

If you’ve followed the NASCAR Truck Series lately, either on Twitter or solely via television, you’ve probably noticed quite a number of Camping World sponsorships. You might have also heard it creating quite a stir in the racing world, where accusations of low-balling and capitalism abound. It’s quite the saga, one that should be making headlines more than it currently is.

How Did We Get Here?

Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis has been quite the avid NASCAR supporter, sponsoring the Truck Series (either via Camping World or subsidiary Gander Outdoors), the third rung of the NASCAR ladder, since 2009. He’s sponsored teams and trucks throughout the series.

But ahead of this season’s race in Las Vegas, Lemonis tweeted out an offer that was hard to turn down. If you wrapped your truck in Camping World colors, Lemonis would give you $15,000. If you got a top 10 with that truck, you earned $25,000. A top five would net you $35,000. And if you won, Lemonis would pay you a fine sum of $50,000—which he later upped to $100,000.

Drivers desperate for a little extra cash to aid their race season jumped on the offer, which resulted in a whole fleet of Camping World-wrapped trucks hitting the grid in Vegas. And Lemonis has maintained the $15,000 sponsorship offer ever since.

It Starts Out Fine…

On its face, Lemonis is doing a good thing. Racing is one hell of an expensive sport, with even lower-tier teams requiring $1.5 million just to put a car on the field; it costs double that to contend for a championship. And Lemonis is offering bonuses for other achievements, so it doesn’t just take an outright win to scrape up some extra much-needed cash. From Autoweek:

When Ben Rhodes won the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, it came with a $25,000 driver bonus and $25,000 team bonus to ThorSport.

The team leading the championship standings after the Kansas Speedway race in May will earn a $50,000 team bonus. The team leading the standings after the race at Knoxville Raceway in July will earn a $75,000 bonus.

Lemonis will pay the car that leads the most laps after the season with a $50,000 driver bonus and a $25,000 team bonus. The champion will receive an EV pickup truck and an electric Lordstown RV.

That’s in addition to a $100,000 fund for incremental bonuses or team needs throughout the season.

For many teams, that extra money is what allows them to get to the grid week in and week out. But it hasn’t quite played out that way in the long run.

…And Then It All Goes To Hell

The longer Lemonis’ offer has gone on, the less good will folks have been willing to extend him, and no one was willing to bring the issue to the fore until racer Sheldon Creed took to Twitter.

Creed is the reigning Truck Series champion, and his first race of the season came at Darlington last weekend—in an unsponsored truck. One Twitter user tagged both Creed and Lemonis in a tweet that read, ““Absolutely no reason @sheldoncreed should be running sponsor-less during his CHAMPIONSHIP season. Come on @marcuslemonis this kid needs a full time sponsor.”

Lemonis responded to the tweet to say, “I’ve offered to help.”

Creed responded, “We are worth more than $15k.”

Since that time, the subject of Marcus Lemonis and money has been a hot-button topic in the NASCAR world—especially since Lemonis took to Twitter to refer to Creed as “unprofessional” several times and has frequently been responding to other tweets to argue his case.

Two Sides To The Battle

Of course, it’s easy to see how an offer of extra cash is a great thing. It can be a little more complex to understand the other side that’s turning down money, but it’s just as viable of an argument.

Basically: Creed is running for a championship-contending team, one of those that requires way more money to run than a smaller team. As a result, $15,000 isn’t going to go as far for GMS Racing as it would for a team that scrapes by just to show up on the entry list each weekend. And while you might just think “money is money,” you’d kind of be right, but there’s so much more that goes into it.

Accepting a one-time $15,000 offer when you’re looking for something both longer-term and more considerable does undervalue you for future sponsorship opportunities. If I take a babysitting job for $3 an hour, do a damn good job, win a Babysitter of the Year award, and raise my rate, why would I accept another $3 an hour job, even if I can’t immediately find someone to pay my new $7 rate? I’m more interested in forging a long-term relationship with someone whose perception of my value matches up with my own perception of my value.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the teams and drivers to decide which sponsorship offers to accept and which to decline. No one is under any obligation to scramble at every offer thrown to them. And that’s fine. Choosing to accept the offer is fine, too. It’s a value judgement that needs to be completed on an individual basis.

But because this has been taking place largely on social media, things have gotten heated. Lemonis has gotten fairly touchy about anyone criticizing his offer. On May 14, he quote-tweeted journalist Bob Pockrass who, two weeks earlier, had responded to a question asking why Creed might turn down Lemonis.

“This is America and capitalism reigns,” he argued. “It’s not a bad word, it’s a free market economy.”

In response, some folks argued that NASCAR isn’t quite the free market economy Lemonis claims, since teams will be required to purchase parts from specific vendors in 2022. Other folks have also gone as far as to claim that Lemonis is doing this more as a personality contest and less out of the genuineness of his heart, citing previous instances where Lemonis was accused of taking advantage of the small businesses and companies he was claiming to save.

And still other folks have criticized both Creed and GMS Racing, who accepted the $15,000 deal one time previously. The argument is that it’s hypocritical to criticize a deal you’ve accepted, although others have argued that it’s entirely possible the team realized the deal wasn’t worth pursuing at every event.

The Truth Lies Somewhere In The Middle

If folks are honest with themselves, they’ll likely understand that the real villain in this story isn’t Lemonis, nor is it any of the teams that have accepted or declined his offer. Instead, we should be raising larger questions about the viability of competing in NASCAR. The concept that $15,000 is considered a lot of money for some teams when the real costs of competing are exponentially higher is a little concerning. Is that the value we’re ascribing to these teams? Is that the value NASCAR is ascribing to them by way of making competition so expensive that there’s simply no return of value?

Lemonis isn’t the devil. Neither are the teams that accepted his offer, nor the ones that rejected it. If anything, this situation should be leading us to more rigorously examine the very structure of NASCAR’s costs before we cast judgements on the people who are simply working within the established system.

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