Riggs racing with lots of help from his fans
GLADEVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
Talk about the ultimate fan experience.
Paul Carreau got to spend quality time with his favorite NASCAR driver and even had his name on the right rear quarterpanel of Scott Riggs' Ford for the Nationwide Series race at Nashville Superspeedway.
Even so, Riggs probably got the best end of the deal. Thanks to fervent fans like Carreau, he got to race.
Riggs has been on a race-to-race deal with RAB Racing since opening at Daytona together in February, scraping by in the Nationwide series without a sponsor. They competed in the Nashville 300 with a gray, red and white paint scheme in the ``Sponsor Scott'' fan car thanks to some $30,000 raised through a mix of old and new methods from Riggs' very committed supporters.
The old? A traditional chicken plate dinner in his home state of North Carolina staged by a couple of friends from high school. The new? The manager of Riggs' fan Web page working with the driver's supporters and eventually tapping the team's Facebook and Twitter pages to raise money for him to race at Nashville.
Riggs has been stunned by the support, especially given the difficult economic times.
``To see fans come off their hip and get on the car to see me on the race track and have something more than a blank race car, that to me was very, very humbling,'' he said. ``I feel sort of my career might've let them down. ...
``I had no idea they would come out the way they came out with this car. Very humbling, very unbelievable to see how people have come out. It makes you want to dig even harder.''
Working hard for money to go racing is nothing new in NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JRM Motorsports fielded a car at Nashville painted in a one-race deal for Lifetime Television's ``Army Wives'' series.
But Riggs once was one of the up-and-coming drivers, winning Nationwide rookie of the year in 2002, when it was the Busch Series, before making his debut at the Sprint Cup level in 2004 and becoming a full-time driver in 2005. He notched four top-10 finishes that year, including two top-fives, and joined Ray Evernham's team in 2006, winning a qualifying event for the All-Star race and earning eight top-10s.
A change in ownership left him out of a car after 2007, and he landed with Haas Racing in 2008. Tony Stewart bought into that team at the end of the season, and Riggs landed with Tommy Baldwin Racing for 2009.
By May, Riggs found himself racing for a team that could only afford to start races. He quit and couldn't find another ride the rest of the year as he stayed home in Bahama, N.C.
``I couldn't dishonor my fans to start and park. That's what made me sit out so many months,'' Riggs said.
In January, he got a call from Robby Benton, co-owner of RAB Racing with Brack Maggard. The team was looking for a veteran driver to pair in the Nationwide series with newly promoted crew chief Ben Gable. The duo clicked and Benton committed to Riggs just for Daytona, where he finished 15th.
Riggs placed 16th in California and had his best qualifying position at Las Vegas at 20th. He finished 14th there and put RAB Racing 12th in owner points and Riggs 10th in driver points.
During this run, talk started of finding a way to keep Riggs racing, especially at Nashville where he has won twice. The driver said the manager of his fan club Web site didn't tell him that fans wanted to help until a week into the fundraising. They headed to Bristol with an in-car camera to target the ``Sponsor Scott'' signs plastered inside to promote the cause.
Unfortunately, Riggs didn't qualify at Bristol, missing a big opportunity when he struggled with a loose-handling car.
Still, more than 75 fans came up with enough money to take a big chunk out of the approximately $50,000 needed to field the team at Nashville. No donation was turned away and fans who made larger donations were rewarded with everything from pictures to tickets to the race and the chance to meet Riggs.
``The amount we were able to raise was unbelievable,'' Benton said.
Carreau, who works at a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz., figures he's given up Christmas and birthday gifts and vacations for a couple years. He loved spending most of Friday hanging around the garage with Riggs and the team. His favorite part of his donation came from seeing his name written on that quarterpanel - just like any other race sponsor.
``How many people get to say they sponsored their favorite race car driver?'' Carreau asked. ``It's something I couldn't pass up to get to meet him, get to come to the race, my name's on the car. It's just a fun package, a great deal. It shows potential sponsors Scott has a big following. That's what the real purpose is. We don't want to see the season end, not early anyway.''
Riggs finished 19th at Nashville last week and earned the team a check for $19,943, putting him 20th in the series standings. That allows RAB Racing and Riggs to head to Phoenix without the pressure of having to qualify just to race for a paycheck.
Whether this fan car results in a sponsor able to write a much bigger check remains to be seen. Benton said it's hard to persuade companies to spend advertising dollars in this economy.
``At the end of the day, it's about performance,'' he said. ``Everybody who sponsors a car wants to win.''
Especially those hardcore fans.
On the Net:
RAB Racing Web site: www.teamrab.com
RAB Racing Twitter: http://twitter.com/Team09(underscore)Jessica
RAB Racing Facebook: www.facebook.com/RABRacing
Scott Riggs' Web site: www.scottriggs.com