Race car drivers, by definition, are competitive people. Throw a family member in a car on the same starting grid, and that competitive fuel only burns hotter.
"I’d say we’re super-competitive," Dillon Bassett said of what it’s like to race against his older brother, Ronnie Bassett Jr. "We’re always competing. Even when we’re going to the gym at the same time, you can see us trying to out-do each other. It’s just the way we are."
The Bassett family has become a fixture in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East over the last several seasons. Ronnie made his series debut with two starts in 2013 before competing full-time for the first time in 2014. One year later, Dillon competed in his first events in the series.
This marks the fifth season in which the Bassetts have run a full slate of K&N Pro Series races – they each ran nine of 14 races in 2016, the fewest races either have started in a season since becoming regulars – and they’re doing it the old-fashioned way. Instead of using sponsorship dollars to pave the way to rental rides or teams with exponential budgets, the Winston-Salem, North Carolina brothers drive for the two-car team owned by their father, Ronnie Bassett Sr., who began his own racing career decades ago in the weekly wars at Bowman-Gray Stadium, a stone’s throw from the family’s home in town.
Ronnie Jr. has one win in 58 career East series starts, and the 22-year-old keeps things in perspective.
"It gets very frustrating," Ronnie Jr. said. "We’re in practice and we’re sixth or seventh fastest and the crew chief asks, ‘What do we need to do to go faster?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t know.’
"I start doubting myself sometimes, but at the end of the day when we’re able to come out on top, it makes it feel that much better."
And the Bassetts know that they’re doing it they way stock car racing families did it for decades before them.
"Both Dillon and I work full-time right here in our shop," Ronnie Jr. said. "When we tear them up, we’re the ones who have to fix them. Some days, I’m out hanging gutter with my dad all day, and then I have to come back here and fix the race cars.
"There are families that like baseball and basketball and other things, and they’re off doing that all the time. We go to the race track together. It’s expensive to do what we do, but we love it. My dad, I think he’s more competitive than we are. We definitely want to win, but he wants to have the results, probably because he puts so much into it."
In the days of modern NASCAR, it’s by no means easy to operate a family team. Ronnie Sr. runs his own company full-time away from the race track, where the boys pitch in. Now each in their early 20s, Dillon and Ronnie Jr. have become veterans in a K&N Pro Series landscape dotted with up-and-coming talent.
Still, the Bassetts are holding their own. Ronnie Jr. sits third in the standings through five races after finishing a career-high third in the standings last season with eight top fives and 11 top 10s in 14 races. Dillon is eighth after a rough start to the season, though he finished eighth in a backup car in the most recent race at South Boston.
"We’re not there to be just another car in the field," said Ronnie Sr., who is honest about the challenges facing a family-owned team, a throwback to a couple of decades ago.
"We like it. We do it the hard way. We always say that, and we’re not saying it’s wrong to do it a different way. You just hope one day that somebody will notice what Ronnie and Dillon are doing.
"Even if somebody would come along and offer to pay our tire bill for one race, that would be like hitting the lottery."
What the Bassett family lacks in sponsorship or resources it more than makes up for in chemistry. Ronnie Jr. and Dillon are the oldest of seven Bassett children, and as teammates they’ve forged a bond not often found in race shops.
Dillon points out that not all teammates on the track get along, though he and Ronnie Jr. have little choice.
"We feed off each other a lot. We’ve both been doing it for a long time," Dillon said. "We can go off each other’s demeanor – a simple question with a short answer, somebody else might not even pick up on anything, but we can get a lot out of it. It’s a little different than just a teammate. Being your brother, it’s a different type of connection that you have."
Both Bassetts hope that it begins paying off in the way of results soon. Given the obstacles they face every week – Ronnie Jr. sandwiched his third-place points position in 2017 between DGR Crosley Racing teammates Todd Gilliland and Chase Purdy – there’s no quit in the Bassett camp.
"Yes, I’m happy about where we ware. It’s a big accomplishment where we are with what we’re up against," Dillon said. "But that doesn’t mean we’re satisfied. When you get complacent, you might as well stop. We still have the drive, still want to do it, still want to go further in our careers. All we can do is just keep working."
That work ethic comes straight from the top.
"When you have a passion and want to do it that way, it’s just what you do," Ronnie Sr. said. "I have said it a bunch of times over the years: ‘This is it. I’ve had enough.’ But the biggest thing that keeps me going is the dream. You always think that one day somebody will come over and throw us a bone. That’s what you hope for."
TIMES TWO: For just the second time in series history, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East heads to Memphis International Raceway for the Memphis 150 presented by Auto Zone this Saturday night.
Last season, eventual series champion Harrison Burton won the inaugural K&N Pro Series race at the track. This year, the race is 25 laps longer and Ronnie Bassett Jr. believes the worn-out racing surface will play a role in the outcome on the .750-mile track.
"All the young kids when they come in, and I was the same way, I wanted to run as hard as I can the whole race," Bassett said. "Here, it’s going to hurt you. You have to manage your car, your tires. The handling thing is always big, but if you can manage your tires (at Memphis), at the end even if your car’s not handling quite as well as somebody else’s, you might have a little bit more left to make up for that."
ARMANI WILLIAMS SET FOR DEBUT: Calabrese Motorsports announced Armani Williams will drive of the No. 43 Calabrese Motorsports/ Miggy’s Bitbits Ford in Saturday’s event.
Williams is making his K&N Pro Series debut. He raced in the ARCA Truck Pro Series in 2016 and competed in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in Canada last year. Williams, who is diagnosed autistic and has used his driving career to raise awareness for autism, is also a two-time invitee to the NASCAR Drive For Diversity Driver Development Combine.
POINT LEADERS: Tyler Ankrum and Tyler Dippel each have a win already this season, and Ankrum leads Dippel by 11 points atop the standings heading into Memphis.
Ankrum is the only series driver to finish in the top five in all five races to date, while he and Dippel are the only two to post five top 10s this season.
Ronnie Bassett Jr. is third, 16 points behind Dippel for second.
NASCAR Home Tracks: Memphis International Raceway
Memphis has played host to NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races since opening its gates in 1998. Last year, it played host to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for the first time and the race was won by eventual series champion Harrison Burton.