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Starr Finally To Get A Starring Roll In NASCAR

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 7 2011

David Starr will make his Sprint Cup debut this weekend at his home track of Texas Motor Speedway. His excitement level is off the charts. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – David Starr’s Texas-sized heart will be beating a whole lot faster on Friday afternoon, when the chance to realize his “childhood dream” finally will unfold at Texas Motor Speedway.

A longtime regular in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, Starr will make his Sprint Cup Series debut with start-up Leavine Fenton Racing during qualifications for the inaugural Saturday night edition of the Samsung Mobile 500. Tyler-area residents Bob Leavine and Lance Fenton have plotted a six-race Cup schedule for Starr in the No. 95 Ford Fusion fielded in a partnership with Roush Fenway Racing and Roush Yates Engines.

“I can’t describe it in words, really, how cool and what it means to me that Lance and Bob chose me to be their driver at the level we’re going to be competing at,” said Starr, a 43-year-old native of Houston living in nearby Flower Mound. “When I was a little boy growing up, you always wanted to compete at the highest level of NASCAR, the Sprint Cup Series.

“This is my home track and these two guys are giving me an opportunity to live my childhood dream. We’ve been racing the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for 14 years, and 15 races this year in the Nationwide Series. Having the (Cup) opportunity in 2011 with Lance and Bob…I’m so excited I can’t stand it. I love it every time I get in a race car, race truck. Man, I’m so thankful. That excitement, that enthusiasm is still there. The passion just almost explodes out of me because I want to win so bad. Anything I can bring to the table, I will.”

The first of two Cup practices is scheduled for Thursday afternoon. A final, 90-minute practice is

David Starr is so excited he 'can't describe it'. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for TMS)

booked for Friday afternoon before the 43-car field will be filled beginning at 5:40 p.m. (CDT).

Starr has four third-place finishes in 25 Truck Series starts at TMS. As if inspired by the track’s 2011 “No Limits” marketing campaign, NASCAR neophytes Leavine and Fenton enthusiastically have chosen to dive into the deep end of the pool that is Cup.

“My expectation, goal-wise, is obvious – to show up here at our first race and qualify,” said Leavine, who also has planned a three-race Truck Series schedule for Fenton. “When we sat down and looked at our goals, the very first thing on my list was to have fun. Obviously, if you’re involved in NASCAR and not having fun you need to go do something else, because this is an adrenaline rush.”

Starr has been a fixture at TMS since the 1.5-mile quadoval opened in 1997, with uncle Mike Starr’s Team Texas driving school a popular destination for NASCAR wannabes. Among them was Leavine, whose wife presented him with a Team Texas driving experience for his birthday in 2002.

Leavine, 66, founded WRL General Contractors in New Mexico in 1976. The company relocated to Texas in 1985 and continues to prosper as a family-run business. “I built my firm over 30-something years, a little at a time, from ground zero,” Leavine said. “I never worked for another general contractor, but I watched and listened and got to be where we are now. Was blessed to do that.”

Fenton, 33, is a native of Ada, Okla. Fenton counts 12 auto dealerships serving Oklahoma and Texas under the umbrella of his Fenton Motor Group, including three Ford stores. Leavine and Fenton will fund Starr’s No. 95 Fusion, which is based in Concord, N.C., primarily out of their own pockets this season while looking for sponsorship for 12 to 15 events in 2012 and a full schedule in 2013.

“I think it’s very smart how they’re going about it,” said Starr, who is running the full Truck Series schedule this season in the No. 81 Zachry Toyota Tundra fielded by SS Green Light Racing. “The

David Starr is one of the steadiest drivers in the Camping World Truck Series. He drives for NFL star Randy Moss. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

financial burden just to race six races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is unbelievable. Bob sponsored me last year in the Nationwide Series. Bob and his family went from being a sponsor for $100,000 in 2010 to not sponsoring at all to partnering-up with Lance and owning their own NASCAR Sprint Cup team. I’m just hoping that six months down the road he’s not thinking, ‘Man, I should have just stayed as a sponsor.’^”

Starr’s Cup crew chief is Wally Rogers, who served in the same capacity with Elliott Sadler’s Ford team at Richard Petty Motorsports last season. Leavine and Fenton purchased the 18-wheeler Paul Menard used in 2010, along with pit boxes and assorted equipment. But Leavine said Starr’s experience was chief among the factors that led to the decision to run Cup.

“The decision was a conscious decision because I looked at the Truck Series and Nationwide Series and had opportunities to go in with some people in the Cup side,” Leavine said. “But they weren’t committed to getting good equipment and making the contacts that we did.”

Leavine said he and Fenton spent a day interviewing with Richard Childress Racing before opting for Roush Fenway and Roush Yates. “We kind of interviewed them…’What can you do for us?’ And told them what our program was,” Leavine said. “They said, ‘It’s expensive and we have a lot of R&D in that’…and I said, ‘OK, great. We want to be a part of that. Will you do that for us?’ I don’t know if they liked our enthusiasm but they came back with a program that worked. And then we made the decision that yes, this is where we want to go.

“And it’s a challenge to go right into the Sprint Cup, we knew that. But I like that challenge. I like

David Starr steps up to Cup this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

being able to do that. I enjoy the Truck racing and the Nationwide racing as much as anybody else, watching. But I wanted to be able to look at Sprint Cup and say, ‘We did that.’ We have an entry plan and we have an exit plan if we’re not having fun. And that’s really important. We don’t borrow any money and we have two minor sponsors. The rest is Lance and I for those six races and we really haven’t gone out and searched.

“We wanted to put the program together – a professional program that when our hauler pulls up here at 7 o’clock on Wednesday night for race day, and they park it, it looks like we know what we’re doing. Because we’ve thought it out, we’ve planned. And when they open it up in the garage at 11:30 the next day, the team’s there, they’re not just a bunch of guys meandering around. There’s a plan.

“I found over the businesses I’ve owned and run the strategy is to have a plan, have a goal, have a vision and follow through on that. Figure out how to make it happen, whatever it takes. Our people are doing that. Great people in NASCAR. And I’m learning things every day about NASCAR. But a great group of folks.”

Leavine said this current program probably would have been impossible to pull off as recently as 2007, when a top-shelf operation like RCR likely wouldn’t have given his fledgling group much consideration.

“But now because of the economy, with teams going broke and not being able to pay their bills, we went in and were able to buy chassis and write our checks,” Leavine said. “They weren’t getting that last year. They were getting promises. So Lance and I looked at an opportunity of getting in cheaper now than we ever could, with good equipment. That being said, why not do the Sprint Cup Series? If we don’t qualify, we’re going to re-boot and say, ‘What did we learn?’ We’ll go the next one and qualify.

“To me it’s kind of been an adrenaline rush. I’m pretty old, so you got to have something to keep you going. That’s keeping me going.”

Similarly, Starr – winner of four Truck Series events in 269 starts – never lost sight of his Cup aspirations. “I passed up opportunities over the years because it wasn’t a (Jack) Roush, it wasn’t a Joe

David Starr got the Royal treatment in Kansas City. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Gibbs, it wasn’t Richard Childress,” Starr said. “It was opportunities but the opportunities really weren’t (in) very good equipment. Man, I’m so ready. You look back four years ago when Robert Yates called me, and I thought somebody was calling me as a prank call.”

Starr recalled flying to Charlotte and meeting with Yates and his wife. RYR already had signed David Gilliland to drive one of its Fords and Yates wanted to team him with Starr.

“And I left there with tears coming down my eye when I got in my car,” Starr said. “But when it all came down, they hired Ricky Rudd. The sponsor, Mars, went to Robert and said, ‘We understand, we like David Starr…but we have one rookie in David Gilliland and we don’t want to have two rookies, two really no-name drivers in the Cup Series. We want a veteran,’ so they brought Ricky Rudd out of retirement and put him in the car.

“But what Lance and Bob have built…I mean, these guys have come into a sport and the equipment they’re buying and putting together and the quality of people they’re putting together, this is going to be a great team. You just look at the Texas part of it. Obviously, we’re all from Texas. That’s wonderful. One thing cool about our sport, I’m living a dream.

“Anybody that races in any NASCAR (series) there’s a lot of great people that have helped you get to the next level and the next level. The relationships you build along the way are really important, because after I’m 60-years-old and my career ends those relationships will continue.

“Everybody’s career is different. If it ended today, man, I’ve lived the dream. I’ve been racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for years, racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. If that (Cup) opportunity never came, I would be OK with it. But that’s not the case. It’s here. It’s here right now. So to put it in words, can’t really do it. Pretty cool deal.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 7 2011
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