For the last 25 years, the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour has been a staple in regional late model racing. Founded by Jack McNelly in 1997, the series races on paved short tracks in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina from mid-March until early November. Now, thanks to its recent acquisition by NASCAR legends Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, and Justin Marks, the CARS Tour just moved into the national spotlight.
As it stands, the main changes to the CARS Tour will be on the branding and marketing side of things. McNelly and his staff will still be kept on to oversee operations and track events, while the ownership group comprised of DEJ Management, Jeff Burton Autosports Inc., Kevin Harvick Inc., and Trackhouse Racing will operate in a business management and partnership capacity.
The opportunity presented by the CARS Tour is certainly not lost on its four new owners. The series features Pro Late Models and Late Model Stock Cars competing at the same track on the same night. The puts the tour in a unique position as the first series of its kind to host two premier divisions under its banner at the same event. For Dale Jr., the deal is, well, a big one, as the NASCAR Hall of Famer began his racing career at the age of 17 competing in the Street Stock division at Concord, North Carolina's Motorsport Park. Southeast regional racing is clearly near and dear to his heart.
"This is a dream come true for me," Dale Jr. said in a statement. "I'm a huge fan of the CARS Tour and local short-track racing. The competition, the tracks and the drivers are some of the best around. These regional series are vital to the quality of racing you see at the top level. Jack (McNelly) has done a tremendous job establishing the CARS Tour as a preeminent series, and I'm thrilled to be part of its future."
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) January 9, 2023
Like Earnhardt, Harvick got his start in the regional circuit. Just on the exact opposite part of the country.
"I grew up racing Late Model Stock Cars on the West Coast," Harvick said. "Late Model racing has always been a passion of mine, and I want to ensure short-track asphalt racing and the CARS Tour continue to grow and succeed. I look forward to sharing the responsibility with this like-minded group of racers."
Justin Marks, a former NASCAR driver (primarily in the Xfinity and Truck Series) and the current owner of Trackhouse Racing Team, has really started coming into his own as an owner. In just two short years at Trackhouse, Marks' drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez went from "yeah, I know those guys" to serious Cup Series contenders. Marks is looking to build on that momentum as he moves into the CARS Tour.
"This is something I'm really excited about, not only for Trackhouse and the initiatives that we're pursuing, but for short-track racing in general," Marks said. "Asphalt Late Model racing truly is the foundation of NASCAR and bringing a group like this together will serve the racer and fan. The CARS Tour is so important to the racing scene in the Southeast, and this group can bring a wealth of experience, knowledge and passion to the series that will ensure authentic and valuable growth in the years to come."
The Virginia-born Jeff Burton, who won 21 Cup races and garnered 254 top-10 finishes during his 22-year stint in NASCAR's highest level, cut his teeth in the Southeast regional scene just like Earnhardt.
"The opportunity to work with a group of partners that I have so much respect for in the sport that I love is amazing," Burton said. "Collectively, I believe we can contribute to grass-roots racing and the overall health of motorsports in the process. By building off the positive foundation Jack has built, I'm confident we can create a next-level experience for the competitors, partners and fans."
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