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