Can you imagine the conversation between Tommy Baldwin Jr. and friends in the off-season between 2008 and 2009? “You’re going to start a Sprint Cup team? You’re going to compete with the likes of Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs and Roger Penske- in this economy?” You know what they say about owning a NASCAR team, that in order to make a small fortune in racing, you must first start out with a big one. Here we are, seven years later, Tommy Baldwin Racing is alive and kicking- a NASCAR survivor.
You may have heard the news this week, that Toy State has signed on to sponsor TBR’s number seven car- driven by Alex Bowman- to a multiyear deal (here’s the story at jayski.com). In spite of the fact that no one is forecasting Bowman to challenge the likes of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick or Jimmie Johnson for a championship, the company that features Nikko radio controlled cars is happily extending its relationship with the team after what they describe as positive experience in their experience with first go-round with TBR in 2015. It’s Christmas come early for the former Ward Burton crew chief. Tommy Baldwin says he’s happy to be more focused this off-season to focus more on preparation for the 2016 campaign, as opposed to securing sponsors.
Given the economy over the last several seasons, and the current competitive climate of NASCAR, what Tommy Baldwin has managed to do in terms of making small, steady steps forward as a team is nothing short of amazing. His team entered the 2009 Daytona 500 with journeyman Scott Riggs behind the wheel with a car built primarily by a volunteer effort of crew personnel who had been laid off by other teams. According to the Tommy Baldwin website, they went unsp0nsored for much of speedweeks.
The real-life story often doesn’t match the Hollywood script. The vast majority of the time in NASCAR’s modern age, most teams end up folding their tents after a handful of races. If not that, NASCAR’s tiny teams are relegated to permanent “start-and-park” status. Somehow, TBR has weathered the rough economy and weathered the storms of the uncertainties of racing. While their cars haven’t received much camera time, over the years, former World of Outlaws champion piloted a Tommy Baldwin ride to a third-place finish in the fall, 2011 race at Talladega. David Reutimann and Danica Patrick piloted TBR rides in a partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2012. Baldwin also partnered with SLR to provide a ride for Scott Lagasse Jr. in the Nationwide Series as well.
Given the limited view a TV camera provides, it’s too easy to forget there are 43 cars out there, many of them longshots. Still, you have to love the Tommy Baldwins of the sport. They’re a throwback to a simpler day in NASCAR, and they capture that spirit of American independence. They’ve made it through seven seasons and they’re back for more. If it’s an underdog you root for, then Tommy Baldwin is our team. Good luck, TBR, and e’ll be watching for you.