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BJ McLeod: “Looking Forward and Staying Determined”

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By Dustin Albino

B.J. McLeod isn’t like most NASCAR team owners. The 39-year-old racer stands out amongst the crowd as he has a love for skulls and is always wearing the color black.

What many fans don’t know is that McLeod is also a successful race car driver. He’s won more than 300 races and 18 championships at the regional, state and national levels, despite not starting his racing career until he was 13.

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Meanwhile, McLeod was also a driving instructor at Finish Line Racing School in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. He taught the likes of Matt Tifft and Scott Heckert in 2010 before dipping into NASCAR in a one-off start with Germain Racing at Martinsville Speedway.

Between 2010 and 2015, McLeod ran partial seasons in all three of NASCAR’s top touring divisions, including his first Cup Series start for Circle Sport Racing in 2015 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He had a vision, however, of becoming a team owner. So, in 2016, he kickstarted BJ McLeod Motorsports.

Since then, McLeod has entered nearly 600 NASCAR Xfinity Series races as a team owner, at times running up to four cars in a given race. When he had some downtime during NASCAR’s hiatus for the COVID-19 pandemic, McLeod thought about adding a Cup Series team. A handful of months later, he announced he would start Live Fast Motorsports, a full-time team with Tifft as a co-owner.

This season, BJ McLeod Motorsports is fielding the No. 78 Chevrolet for Anthony Alfredo in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Live Fast Motorsports has the No. 78 Chevrolet with a rotating roster of drivers that includes McLeod.

In this interview, McLeod talks about the growth of his teams and how he manages expectations.

Why did you want to become a NASCAR team owner?

Becoming a team owner goes all the way back to 2010 when we started the Super Late Model driver developmental program. The goal the whole time was, I had been a driving instructor at Finish Line Racing School for nine or 10 years, maybe a little bit longer. I had been teaching kids and saw them having success in the sport. I thought I was at the point that I wanted to teach some of them myself past just the school, so that’s when we started the driver development program in Super Lates.

We got up to four cars in that series and had the chance to go K&N Pro Series racing with Scott Heckert in 2013, so we did that. It kept snowballing where we were doing well and treating people right and were able to run the Truck Series full time in 2015. We switched to Xfinity in 2016 and ran our first Cup Series race in 2020 with BJ McLeod Motorsports. It was because we had good partnerships and relationships with the people that drove for us, and as they advanced, a couple of them would take us to the next step with them. That’s really the way we made our way from Super Late Models to ultimately now in the Cup Series.

From then to now, how much do you feel the Xfinity Series program has improved?

It had done really well up until last year. We had made great advancements every single year. The series has gotten more competitive as it’s gone on. The economy was good for a couple of years and there was a lot of money dumped into the sport, so the competitiveness of the Xfinity Series went way up since 2016.

Each year, we saw the same finishes or a little bit better on average. Every now and then, we would have a finish better than what we were capable of. We got to (2022) and we tore up 18 cars in the first eight or nine races and it just crippled us to where we had no chance of recovering because we were trying to keep up with the full-time schedule.

That was a letdown. We had some great drivers and a lot of great stuff lined up, but had some really bad luck. I’m not one that likes to believe in luck, but it’s just the truth. We had some bad luck that caused a bunch of crashes that hurt our equipment, set us back. That was the first time I had ever been disappointed with the team and the progress with where it was at.

I didn’t know what I was going to do coming into 2023. I knew I wanted an Xfinity Series team, but didn’t know exactly what we were going to do. We were fortunate enough to put Anthony Alfredo’s deal together and had Garrett Smithley’s deal, too. Smithley’s deal and ours didn’t work out together, but the Alfredo deal has gone really well and we’re enjoying that.

In 2020, you made select Cup Series starts as an owner. Why make the jump to the Cup Series?

I wanted to for many different reasons, but one that popped up was that there wasn’t any practice or qualifying. It was just go, and learn. We knew that we were probably going to be a last-place car, but it was to see that system, that schedule and try to keep up with it. We wanted to see how well we did and how tired we got and knowing if we got the right people that we would be able to hang on.

Toward the end of 2020, you and Matt Tifft announced the formation of Live Fast Motorsports. Why was that the right fit?

We had always wanted to reach the highest level of stock car racing, which is the Cup Series. When we did a little bit of it in 2020 in the 78 car with BJMM, we had a chance to secure the charter and go that direction. It was a no-brainer. We knew that’s what we wanted to do together, and we’ve been working to make that better ever since.

When you first started in NASCAR, was the goal to be a Cup Series owner?

It was always a dream and part of the plan. I still wouldn’t have believed it then if you had told me I would be a Cup Series owner right now. It’s so hard to get to this level. It was something we were working for, but couldn’t see the future and definitely wouldn’t have stated that we were going to do that.

We aspired to make it happen and fortunately enough we were able to make it happen.

You earned the team’s first top 10 at Daytona in 2021. How important was that?

When you’re trying to build a small team, anything you can get for momentum is huge, to keep people working and digging when sometimes you don’t have a lot to look forward to as far as finishes. Last year was a really tough year for us. We were definitely the lowest budgeted team in the Cup Series and were running 35th or 36th on speed every week, unless it was a superspeedway or road course.

Anytime you’re building a small team, a top 10, is because of attrition. We were a 20th– to 25th-place car that day. But with attrition, we were able to get a top 10 and that top 10 gives your people that work on these things every single week, six or seven days per week, it gives them motivation to keep going because they see that it can get better and we can work toward being more competitive.

Now that you’re two and a half seasons into running a Cup Series program, what has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been building partnerships; marketing partners to get the sponsorship that you need to run correctly because it is a money-driven sport. It’s very expensive to be competitive and once you have the money – that’s a big piece – but it’s only one piece. You have to have great people, great drivers. It just goes on and on because it’s the biggest and best stock car series in the world, in my opinion.

Money has been the biggest hurdle, but we knew that when we got into it and we were trying to grow from a small enterprise into a big one. It only happens one way and that’s looking forward and staying determined, being good to people and building year after year.

How did NASCAR’s transition from the old generation car to the new one impact Live Fast?

It’s odd because it’s great for us. The first year was difficult, not because of the Next Gen car itself, in my opinion. The Next Gen car made the sport very popular, and a lot of people wanted to get in because of the parity across the field. That additional number of people coming in because of the Next Gen car made the sport more competitive.

Our first year, we were nowhere near the bottom three. We were over 50 to 60 points to the good, averaging 29th to 30th every week and outrunning six or seven teams. The Next Gen comes, everybody was excited and there were faster cars, more budget in the sport and we ended up being 35th to 36th most weeks. That was how it affected us. The Next Gen car is a great thing for us, but that’s why 2022 was a difficult year.

Was it a surprise to see it be more of a challenging season?

If you look time-wise, we were closer than we ever were with the Gen 6 car. It’s just now the field is so close. I was watching timing and scoring (at Martinsville) and the whole field was within a tenth (of a second) for a couple of laps. You just don’t have a lot of delta anymore and that’s what makes it so difficult.

Should you be one of the bottom three charters this year and next, it’s possible NASCAR will take that charter. How much of an incentive does that make to up the performance?

I don’t speak too much toward the charters, but it’s our goal to be out of the three, no matter what. We have no interest in being second to last or third from last. Our view is always looking forward and making sure we get to a competitive point that we’re OK with. For us, we’re aiming for 25th or higher.

We have all the incentives we need because we don’t want to be in the back.

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