Riggs racing with lots of help from his fans

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

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