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It’s hard to know exactly where and when Bill McAnally Racing really got its start, so along the pit wall at Las Vegas Speedway is as good a spot as any to begin the story.
“I had been racing for a number of years and had some success to show for it,” McAnally recalled. “I was working two or three jobs and all the overtime I could, just trying to raise a family and have enough money left to go racing.
“I spent just about everything I had on a car we built for the series. I had nothing left. And then I backed the car into the wall.
“All I could do was sit there and wonder what I was going to do,” he said. “It really knocked the wind out of me.”
The BMR operation can trace its roots back to 1986, when McAnally was not only the driver, he also was the crew chief, mechanic, truck driver and the guy who called on businesses, hat in hand, trying to drum up sponsorship. That was when he and a buddy built a bomber car to share at All America Speedway in Roseville, Calif.
The following year the duo built a street stock car as McAnally began marching through the track’s divisions, advancing to more sophisticated and more expensive cars, capping the effort by winning the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Championship in the Late Model division.
There were hiccups along the way…one of which helped cement McAnally’s love of the sport.
In 1994, he took his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West car to a display at a national Pinewood Derby event. The car was “factory fresh,” as the season for the series, then known as the NASCAR Winston West Series, was scheduled to open the next day at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif., and McAnally was hoping to contest for the Rookie of the Year title.
He parked the 40-foot trailer and one-ton truck outside house, but when he woke up, ready to hit the road the next morning, everything was gone.
What was left was found later. The thieves had taken his tools and other gear out of the trailer, dumped the fuel cans and set what was left on fire.
“That was tough to get over,” he said.
But the racing community responded. In an interview before his induction this year into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame, McAnally recalled that NASCAR executive Ken Clapp cautioned him to “to put your energy into moving forward.”
“I got help from Richard Childress, donating me parts and pieces. Chuck Rider, who owned the Pennzoil team at that time, donated parts. A lot of manufacturers and vendors (helped me). Gary Bechtel gave me a car to race for a couple of races. My competitors were very supportive, loaning me pieces to get going again and our local track took donations.
“It was amazing. That was the hardest struggle, but the way everybody believed in me and responded and helped, I didn’t want to let them down. It gave me inspiration that I never had.”
But sitting on the wall at Las Vegas, with a bent up race car and little money to fix it, the bomber days and all the support he received five years earlier seemed like a long time ago.
“I began thinking about having a wife and two kids and wondering if maybe I should just give up racing. I was that close to just calling it quits.”
It was about that time McAnally talked to Gary Smith, son of Roy Smith, a four-time champion in the series.
“I worked with Gary for the rest of the ’98 season and by the end of the year was told that Ray Claridge (who had finished second in the championship with Sean Woodside in his car) was going to call it quits at the end of the season,” McAnally said.
Claridge and McAnally got together and a deal was struck.
“Suddenly I went from being a driver who had no money to being a team owner with sponsors wanting to support a championship contender give me money for a race team.”
The Bill McAnally Racing NAPA Toyota has long been a contender in competition in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. Getty Images for NASCAR
And the sponsors got a good return on their investment.
Woodside won the first race of the 1999 season at Tucson (Ariz.) Raceway Park and scored a second win at Mesa Marin. By the time the season closed at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Japan, the team had won its first championship.
In 2000, with Las Vegas businessman Michael Gaughan as a partner, McAnally built a new team around Brendan Gaughan. BMR and Gaughan won the title their first year together, and came back the following year with a second championship, giving the team three consecutive series titles.
Bill McAnally Racing took series titles again in 2008 and in 2010 with Eric Holmes doing the driving, and has had strong performances every season since entering what now is the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West series. Holmes is back in the No. 20 car with NAPA sponsorship, while Canadian Cameron Hayley drives the No. 24 Toyota, with backing from NAPA and Cabinets by Hayley, his father’s business.
McAnally’s induction into the West Coast Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame makes him the youngest member of the elite group of racers, owners and officials.
“I never thought I’d get this type of recognition this young,” he said. “When you look at some of the other members in the group, it’s pretty humbling.”
The recognition might be called a return on his investment.
Standing on the viewing platform of BMR’s distinctive NAPA blue hauler at Portland, Ore., earlier this season, McAnally could look down at 29 cars entered at the race at Portland International Raceway.
“I can remember times when we’d show up a track with only half that many cars,” he said of the days that the NASCAR series struggled to fill the fields. "In spite of the economy, the series is healthy.”
Some of that health can be traced directly back to McAnally, who is not only a team owner, but also a race promoter. He puts on the races at All American Speedway, such as last week’s Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150. He also works with other promoters to help them be successful.
“I worked with him promoting a race this year,” said Gene Price, whose drivers are leading the series points this season. Price was promoter and sponsor for the K&N Pro Series West race at Havasu 95 Speedway in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
“I ended up with a new appreciation for him and what he does,” Price said. “He was in town days before the race, putting up banners and promoting the event.”
How successful was the race at Havasu 95 Speedway?
The track ran out of seats.
“If we had another 2,000 seats, we could have filled them,” Price said.
Gene Price (right) visits with Bill McAnally at a recent NASCAR K&N Pro Series West event. The two car owners worked together this year in promoting the event at Havasu 95 Speedway. June Boone
“Bill saved us,” said Chris Evans, promoter of the Portland race.
“When our past sponsor decided not to participate, we were in deep trouble. I talked to Bill who got hold of some folks at NAPA and they stepped up as our chief sponsor. He gets all the credit for making the race possible.”
NAPA was one of the first sponsors on a BMR car, and the relationship has been a solid one for more than two decades.
“It began by them giving me a couple filters and a case of oil,” McAnally said. “And it’s just grown.”
The ability to find sponsorship is perhaps the biggest distinction between McAnally and some of the other team owners in the series.
“I never had a lot of money,” he said, “so I had to go out and create money by selling what we do.
“There are a few guys who come into the series as a hobby,” he said. “For me, it is a business. I have to make it pay or we can’t continue.”
McAnally said he has a host of “partners” who contribute to the success of his teams. His long-time relationship with NAPA has evolved to where he now owns two NAPA repair facilities, one of which shares an address with his race shop.
The shops evolved from McAnally having his race team mechanics work on friends’ cars in the off-season, in order to keep them busy and to generate some extra income.
Today, his racecars arrive at the track spotless. The haulers gleam. His crew turns up for work in fresh uniforms and are expected to look professional in everything they do.
Many of his drivers go on to careers in racing’s higher levels. The list includes names such as Jim Inglebright, Steve Portenga, Brian Ickler and Paulie Harraka in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Peyton Sellers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Clint Bowyer and Kerry Earnhardt. Other drivers, Sarah Fisher and Brian Herta, also raced in open-wheels cars in the Champ Car and IRL series.
McAnally also has been involved in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and as a development team for Richard Childress Racing.
Closer to home, up and down the K&N Series garage area it is a simple task to find former employees of BMR. Some were happy to move on to new teams and greater responsibility, others were simply not comfortable working in a work place environment.
“I think we get guys who have raced at local tracks and had a great time doing it, working on a buddy’s car and hanging around at the shop,” said Holmes. “Then they come to BMR and all of a sudden what they did for fun becomes a job and it isn’t what they thought they were signing on for.”
He’s a good guy to drive for,” said Jeff Jefferson, a three-time champion in the former NASCAR Northwest Tour and current crew chief for one of Gene Price Racing’s two cars in the series.
“I did some substitute driving for him a few years back, filling in for one of his drivers who was ill. Bill did absolutely everything he said he would do.”
In return, he expects his drivers to do everything they can.
“Bill expects results,” said Holmes. “In the first three years we won four or five races a year, and then we had two years when we struggled, and that puts a lot of pressure on Bill. He has high expectations and things can get pretty intense when we don’t meet them.
“We get along pretty well, and as a former driver, he knows what it is like to be in the car,” Holmes added. “But he’s not satisfied with anything less than winning.”
A decade ago, after winning a pair of West titles, McAnally and Brendan Gaughan moved to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, where they joined the national tour to tracks all around the country.
It was fun, but it was grueling. The series would be in the Southwest one weekend and in New England the next.
McAnally tells the story of coming home after a weekend trip and having his son give him a baseball. It was his kid’s first home run.
“I was missing a lot of what’s involved in being a father,” he said. “My kids were growing up while I was on the road.”
He said that being a team owner in the West series allows him to stay in his own backyard, while still competing at a very high level.
But with his children growing up and on the verge of making their own way in the world, it may be time for McAnally to think about what the future may hold.
“We have a good team and a good operation,” he said. “But if circumstances were right, I could consider racing in a national level series again.
“If you look at the West Coast drivers making a name for themselves in NASCAR, it’s obvious that someone with talent and commitment can be successful,” he said.
This from a guy who has done exactly that.
Bill McAnally talks with a couple of the BMR crew members during a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West event. June Boone