MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 28, 2019) – Developing the next generation of NASCAR stars is a top priority for many teams these days. With the announcement of Drivers Edge Development, a joint venture among JR Motorsports, and GMS Racing and presented by Chevrolet, the teams took a giant first step down that road.
“We have always prided ourselves on being a stepping stone for drivers that want to get to the top level of racing,” said JRM team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the day of the announcement. “JR Motorsports was designed with that in mind, and now with the help of GMS and Chevrolet, Drivers Edge Development will provide a clear-cut path and more options for drivers to get there.”
Before the birth of Drivers Edge, JRM had much success in developing young drivers. Starting with Brad Keselowski (2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion) and moving on through 2017 Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., top-series drivers Aric Almirola, Landon Cassill, Danica Patrick and Alex Bowman, JRM has had a hand in a lot of successful careers. Of course, Chase Elliott got his start at JRM, winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series title as a rookie in 2014. William Byron began his career in JRM’s Late Model as a teammate to Josh Berry and returned in 2017 to win the second series title for the team. Tyler Reddick made it three titles and two in a row for JRM as somewhat of a development driver as well.
The Drivers Edge Development program features six drivers at various levels who will drive for either JRM or GMS. Noah Gragson will drive for JRM in the NXS, while John Hunter Nemechek will pilot GMS’ Chevrolet Camaro in the same series in 2019.
Zane Smith will drive a handful of NXS races for JRM this season, while Sheldon Creed will pilot GMS’ NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series machine. Former JRM Late Model driver Sam Mayer (15) will race in the NASCAR K&N Series, ARCA and NGOTS for GMS as well as a set number of Late Model events at JRM. Adam Lemke, the 16-year-old California driver, will run the full CARS Late Model Stock Car series for JRM as well as select other LM events throughout the year.
A successful technical alliance between the teams was the jumping-off point for Drivers Edge, but the program is aimed at more than performance on the track.
Earnhardt Jr., the most visible and popular NASCAR driver of the past two decades, said it’s about providing tools for young drivers to build brands that will endure.
“We want to give them the opportunity to understand what building a brand is all about,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “There are a lot of things outside the race car that are important to building a brand…how you use social media to your advantage, how to carry an interview or conversation with the media.”
If anyone knows about building a brand, it is the 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver.
“I was really fortunate that before I started racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 1998, to be able to go through a program that helped me a tremendous amount with my interview skills, being able to carry myself in front of the media. Obviously, nothing beats the real experience and hopefully I got better at it over time.”
In that vein, JR Motorsports and GMS Racing are building on the platform to give talented young drivers a leg up on building their own to go with success on the track.
“We have a lot of drivers coming into the sport that have a lot of talent and ability and we just want to be able to give them the tools they need outside the car, he said. “I didn’t understand what building a brand was for the first half of my Cup career, and when the word brand would come up in conversation, I’d have a hard time understanding what that meant. Social media is a huge part of what we do today, and it’s more and more every year.”
Mike Beam, team president at GMS and a 40-year veteran of the NASCAR experience, said it was a simple concept that is right for the time.
“We are trying to create a curriculum for drivers to learn,” Beam said. “We started talking about this in February (in 2018), and it snowballed. If they want to excel and make it in NASCAR, we’re going to give them the tools to do it. The time is right to do it.”
Chevrolet is on board with the program, as is Lorin Ranier, who has his finger on the pulse of the feeder series to NASCAR’s top divisions. So is Josh Wise, who has transitioned from driving to training the next generation.
“We talk about the social media aspect and doing well in front of the media, but there’s a physical aspect as well that Josh is sort of the pioneer of,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Honing the hand-eye coordination and just being in the best physical condition you can be in mentally as well. A lot of the drivers will work with Josh to be able to handle that part of it, and that’s definitely an important piece of this program.”