NASCAR: David Pepper talks ThorSport Racing, COVID-19

The NASCAR Truck Series is not racing due to COVID-19. ThorSport Racing GM David Pepper told Beyond the Flag how the team is handling the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down all sports, including NASCAR. Only two NASCAR Truck Series races have been contested and another five races have been postponed thus far.

ThorSport Racing field four full-time entries in the series: the #13 Ford driven by 2016 Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter, the #88 Ford driven by defending and three-time series champion Matt Crafton, the #98 Ford driven by Grant Enfinger and the #99 Ford driven by Ben Rhodes.

The team began this season well. Enfinger won the season opener at Daytona International Speedway and Sauter, Crafton and Rhodes all finished inside the top five in the second race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Enfinger is likely locked into the playoffs and Sauter and Rhodes are in second and third place, respectively, in the championship standings.

ThorSport Racing are one of the rare NASCAR teams whose shop is not located in either North Carolina or South Carolina. They are based in Sandusky, Ohio.

With Truck Series racing on hiatus right now, ThorSport Racing General Manager David Pepper spoke exclusively with Beyond the Flag.

Pepper discussed how the pandemic has affected the team, how the team will fare once the season resumes, and his thoughts on the momentum of the Truck Series.

Mark Kristl, Beyond the Flag (BTF): How is ThorSport Racing adjusting without having any purse money?

David Pepper: There is no effect because the team is not going to the race track and therefore not incurring costs.

BTF: Is the team or its drivers doing anything to represent its sponsors?

Pepper: We’ve been in contact with them all, primary, associate, and sponsors for a race or so. We’ll fulfill contractual obligations.

We are fortunate to have some great partners such as Menards and Champion Equipment. During this hiatus, fans can go to Menards and buy something for their at-home project which they’re doing in their downtime. They can purchase Champion Power Equipment products.

NASCAR fans are loyal, but like everyone else, they’re concerned about this situation. We’re using our social media accounts to create awareness of what’s going on because it is serious.

BTF: How does the postponement of those five races with the possibility of more postponed races change the outlook of the season?

Pepper: Not really, we’re racers here. We’d race 25 or 27 times like the Truck Series did years ago (27 in 1998 and 25 in 1999 and 2003-2011). We’re bummed not to be racing, we had momentum. Whenever we return to racing, it’ll be a shorter season timewise. But we’re not worried. For each race, we put forth our fastest four trucks with our best four drivers.

BTF: When the season resumes, will the team be more prepared with the time off?

Pepper: When NASCAR announced the postponement of the races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, we had a plan in place to be more prepared. We’re now arguably more prepared to run the rest of this season. We’re in good shape to run the rest of the season in a tighter window. Credit our guys, they worked really hard at the shop. They built some trucks and worked on some things.

This team also is an experienced group of guys. I haven’t missed a Truck Series race since 1998. We have a great group of guys who love to race – just look at our drivers and crew chiefs.

Sauter and Joe Shear Jr. have known each other for most of their adult lives. Crafton and Carl Joiner Jr. have won championships together, they’ve worked together for longer than a decade, and they’re great friends. Grant Enfinger and Jeff Hensley have been together for five years. They won the season-opener too! Rhodes is in his second year with Matt Noyce as his crew chief. While that doesn’t seem like a long time, this is the longest amount of time Rhodes has had with one crew chief. When we return, we’ll be ready to go racing.

BTF: What have the employees been doing during this pandemic?

Pepper: We’re fortunate enough not to have any layoffs or furloughs. As a company, we have daily emails and there’s constant emails between the crew chiefs and engineers. We’re keeping everyone engaged. Because for our employees, they’re going stir crazy. I regularly receive texts from them asking when we’re going racing or when they can get back to work. Racing is their passion. We have to get through this patch of time.

BTF: Ohio has a stay-at-home order through May 1. Tell me how that has affected the team.

Pepper: The shop is shut down – no one there. We were fortunate enough to get a lot of work done before the government order. Folks are still keeping the team operational with payroll, bills, etc. ThorWorks Industries, our parent company, is still operational. ThorSport Racing is the only one that is not at full capacity. The rest of our owners [Duke and Rhonda Thorson] complex is still working.

BTF: The Truck Series had a lot of momentum heading into its race at Atlanta Motor Speedway due to the bounties on Kyle Busch and then the Triple Truck Challenge with the return to Richmond Raceway on the horizon. For your team, Enfinger won the season opener. How does the series regain that momentum once the season resumes?

Pepper: We put on great racing with some beating and banging and end it with a photo finish. As you said, the bounties on Kyle Busch were going to lead to some great battles. I think once the season resumes, you’re going to see some great racing. Everyone in the garage wants to win after this lull. We hope when NASCAR announces the revised schedule, it gives us two to three weeks of preparation before the first race back. That will give teams the chance to prepare their best stuff.

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It’s going to be an exciting time once sports, including NASCAR, resume. I think after all of this, NASCAR fans are going to find a newfound love for tailgating, attending, and supporting our sport. Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be a daunting task for teams to have every race in a condensed amount of time. [Laughing], I certainly don’t want that task of rescheduling those races. But I think once racing resumes, fans will be like kids in a candy store. There will be great racing every night.

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