Through the Paddock: Jordan Anderson talks grassroots, grinding and goals

Barry Cantrell/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Each week in Through the Paddock, Aaron Bearden takes the time to spotlight a member of the racing community in an effort for both himself and the fans to learn more about them. Interviewees can range from drivers to crew members, media representatives and more.

The audio version of this piece can be found here.

The next time you’re in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series garage area, walk past the million-dollar haulers and shiny, new trucks. Maneuver your away around the teams with intricate uniforms and full crews, and keep moving past the stacks of new tires that each of the playoff contenders purchase for every event.

Eventually you’ll reach the second half of the field. Fancy uniforms and expensive toolboxes will be replaced by oil-stained pants and pop cans. The trucks often rest outside, still showing signs of character from previous weeks or even months of use. The teams are hard at work to adapt their vehicles to the new track and race at hand. And here’s the kicker – the drivers are often working on the machine alongside of them.

This is where you’ll find Jordan Anderson.

In a paddock defined by money and intricate business deals, Anderson can appear to be a bit of an enigma. While other drivers are sitting in their haulers waiting for their turn on the track, Anderson’s swinging a hammer at the roof of his No. 1 Chevrolet, trying to make the worn down machine fit NASCAR’s myriad templates and specifications.

The 26-year-old goes into each race knowing that, at least for now, he has virtually no chance at a victory. In fact, finishing in the top half of the 32-team field is typically considered a strong result for Anderson and his TJL Motorsports team. Yet he continues on with a smile, carrying a dogged determination to succeed that’s made him a cult favorite for some of the Truck Series’ fanbase – in fact, fans have even helped fund Anderson’s efforts through his “Fueled by Fans” campaign.

Where others might complain about a lack of financial backing or top-tier equipment, Anderson cherishes the opportunity to compete in NASCAR. The South Carolinian fights on with a style reminiscent of the some the legends of the sport that preceded him.

After a brief delay as he worked on his No. 1 truck to make the machine pass technical inspection, Anderson took some time with Kickin’ the Tires at Chicagoland Speedway to discuss his career, goals and outlook – shining a light on the trials and tribulations of a team and driver in the back half of the Truck Series field.

(Photo: Barry Cantrell/NKP)

It’s a little hot out here today. How are you doing? 

Jordan Anderson: Yeah man, it’s hot! We’re here in Chicago today. This is my third time racing here. It’s always cool to keep coming back to these race tracks. We’ve got a lot of fans that follow us, and it’s always good to see them when we come back.

You actually just got to witness a little of our team in action. We just went through tech, our first time through. I was just talking about how we’ve run this truck since Daytona. You can imagine going road-course racing, racing at Bristol (Motor Speedway), going all over the place, it tends to flex a little bit when it comes to the body and fitting through templates. We came through here, we worked on a couple things and we’re lined up to go through tech a second time. Hopefully it’s our last time for the day.

I saw you grinding with your team and working on the truck. How would you say the team dynamic  works with you guys? You seem like a close-knit bunch.

It really is. It’s myself, Cody (Barrett), Ryan (Fields) and Dillon (Corum). It’s the four of us in the shop. We’re all under the age of 25… Well I’m 26, I’m the oldest one in the group. Everybody else is under the age of 25.

It’s a real good group of guys. We all travel together in the hauler you see behind me. We’ve got the smallest hauler in the Truck Series garage. We’ve got a dually that pulls our hauler. The four of us pile in that thing and go cross country. It’s really cool.

My guys know that we’re a small team. They’ve got opportunities to go work for bigger teams, but they like to stay with me because they love what we do.  We’re a tight-knit group. We have a good time. We stay at the shop late, and we have dinner at the shop. I’m just very blessed to have a lot of good guys around me, and I love the hard work they do to help me be here every weekend. It’s just an awesome group of guys, and we love working together.

We kind of love the underdog side of things. We love to come out here and finish better than where we’re supposed to every week.

What’s it like to have such a young group of guys? Is there anybody else around the garage area that might have advice, that you turn to from time-to-time? 

That’s the cool thing about the Truck (Series) garage. There’s a lot of guys that I turn to, and go to for advice. I know Kevin Eagle on the (No.) 44 team, a lot of guys over at ThorSport (Racing), (Brad Keselowski Racing). Austin Wayne (Self) is right here behind us. We had carburetor trouble in Canada last week. One of the guys from Triad (Racing Technologies) let us use a carburetor during the week.

It’s cool. This being my third year in the series, I’m getting to know a lot of people here. It’s always pretty humbling when people are willing to step out and help you do whatever it takes to get to the race track every week.

It’s not uncommon to see Jordan Anderson working on his truck along with his crew. (Photo: Barry Cantrell/NKP)

We all know you’re grinding now, but how did you even get to this stage? What led you to NASCAR?

It definitely was an interesting journey. I grew up (racing) go karts, bandolero cars. I ran legend cars for years, won the Summer Shootout series out at Charlotte (Motor Speedway) two years in a row in the pro class. Jumped up, ran dirt late models for two years. Never really had the funding to go run K&N (Pro Series) or ARCA (Racing Series). I ran two K&N races – just enough to get my license up to go run some trucks.

I went and ran at Phoenix (Raceway). Got hooked up with Mike Harmon at Miami back in 2014 and ran all of 2015 with him. Jumped up, started that (No.) 66 team up last year. We parted ways at the end of the season, and I kind of went back to grassroots doing this campaign this season.

After last year… Sometimes things happen in this sport and it kind of sucks a little bit of passion out of you. This year doing the basics, grassroots, it’s been absolutely humbling, and it really reminded me why I love this sport.

The deal we did back in 2015, we ran one truck the whole season. We’ve done the same thing this year. We’ve had two top-15 finishes at Iowa (Speedway) and Texas (Motor Speedway). I think we’re sitting 17th in points right now.

We’re racers. We love what we do, and a lot of the times we basically do whatever it takes to get to the track every week. I grew up and loved the history of NASCAR, loved the history of the sport. Guys that are in the Hall of Fame right now, those are guys that I look up to, especially the guys from South Carolina.

I’m from Columbia (S.C.). Cale Yarborough. David Pearson. Those guys, growing up they didn’t have a full fleet of cars. They maybe had one or two back at the shop, and had some guys that would come over to the shop, talk shop. They’d work or do what it took to get those guys to the race track every weekend.

That’s what we do, and our goal with this program that we’ve done this year is to build it. This team didn’t exist two weeks before Daytona this year. We threw everything together, and we’ve worked hard to build it. Hopefully come this time next year we’ll have two, three trucks in the shop. We’ll maybe have a slightly bigger hauler to haul a spare motor and transmission from the shop with us.

Being the people’s driver – that’s what I love about this. There’s so many fans that reach out on Twitter and Instagram. They can relate to what it is that we’re doing here at the track. It’s people that work the 9-to-5’s, the people that work to keep their rent paid and keep food on the table. That’s really what we do. We work hard to keep this program going so that we can keep food on the table and rent paid and come back to the race track every week.

It’s been really cool. Through our “Fueled by Fans” deal that we’ve done this year, people can really relate to what it is that we’re doing.

When you look, there’s teams like Brad Keselowski Racing, and guys like Matt Crafton and John Hunter Numechek. These guys have a lot of money. They can compete for wins. For a team like this, where you are right now trying to build, what are you looking for results-wise?

The biggest thing that we look for, and I think what’s cool being involved on the business side of the team is knowing what things cost and how hard it is to get to the race track. As a driver, I drive a little differently and take care of the equipment. The biggest objective for us every week is to make sure that the trailer rolls back into the hauler just like it unloaded when we first got here for practice.

You’ve got to really be a calculated driver, and pick and choose your battles and know who it is you’re racing against. We’re obviously not going to be racing against Brad (Keselowski), Chase (Briscoe) or any of those guys at the front of the field. We’ve got our set of field that we’re kind of racing against.

If you watch a Truck Race, XFINITY race or even a Cup race, there’s not just that race for the lead going on. You’ve got the guys that are running first to tenth, tenth to 20th. There’s different races going on.

Our goal every week is a top 20. We’ve come away with some top 15s. I think tonight a good night for us would be a top 20 and possibly a top 15.

We have our objectives. We try to be optimistic realists toward the end of the day, and outperform where we’re supposed to finish. Our goal every week is to survive, keep this truck in one piece, build and get ready for next week.

You come from a business background. When it comes to approaching this sport in the position you’re in, what do you look for in terms of business opportunities and sponsorship? 

We’ve definitely been really fortunate this year. Lucas Oil stepped up to help us a lot this year. Jacob Companies, LTi Printing, a lot of those (companies) have helped us out.

I think the two coolest ones are Knight Fire (Fire). The (owner) Randy Knight, I actually stumbled into his condo a couple years ago looking for another sponsor, hit it off with this guy and he’s become one of our big sponsors along with Bommarito Auto Group. We actually had the dually that pulled our trailer blow up going to Martinsville (Speedway) earlier this year. They sponsored us at St. Louis last season, pulled over and sponsored me again this year.

They heard about all of the dually trouble we had been having. We were having dinner with them out in St. Louis when were racing at Gateway (Motorsports Park). John and Chuck – the two guys that run everything out there – they basically said, ‘We’ve already sponsored you for the race. We want to help your program out even more. We’re giving you a brand new 2016 GMC to pull your hauler with for the next three years.’

It’s little things like that that help build our program up.

I went to Belmont Abbey College in Charlotte. I got a degree in business management with a concentration in motorsports management – that’s what the program’s called. I took the accounting classes, took economics, took marketing, took an entrepreneurship class.

All of those things I went through college with really helped me to appreciate what we’re doing to keep the books balanced, to make sure things get taken care. You know, it would be nice to buy a full allotment of tires, five sets. You’d be looking at roughly $12,000 of tires. But for us, I’m going to buy a set or two and find scuffs from other teams, then figure out how to make end’s meet from there.

The biggest thing for us is that we’ve got to figure out, I’ve got this much money to work with. How can I get the absolute most that I can out of this money that we have to work with and finish the absolute best that we can, because everything that we have sponsorship-wise goes right back into this team – to buying better parts, better pieces and more tires.

As a driver, I want the absolute best that’s possible, but sometimes you have to realize that we may have to sacrifice a little here to make this side better to make sure that we can to the very next race.

You know, I graduated with a degree in business economics. Maybe we both just aren’t using our degrees very well. We ended up at a race track spending it all.. *Laughs*

Hey, if you ever want to help us figure out the economics of our race team we’d be more than welcome to have you come work with us a little bit.

I haven’t figured it out for myself yet, but if I do I’ll let you know. 

Supply and demand of racing, right?

Right. Moving forward from here – you guys are really grinding this year out. Moving into the next year or more, what are your goals as a team? As a driver/person in this sport? 

Without the tires or equipment of the top-tier drivers, Jordan Anderson and TJL Motorsports have to be smart and make the most of what they have. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

You know, I told somebody last week when we were racing at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, that was my 50th-career Truck start, and I remember back when I was racing late models always having the dream of getting into NASCAR. Even back then racing late models, we barely had enough money to get to the track every week and buy tires.

To now have 50 starts under my belt… I ran some XFINITY races, have been trying to break into the Cup Series and run a few races there. To even have the opportunity to be in this garage area, I’ll never take it for granted. Every time I walk into a race track, to a garage area, it’s a humbling feeling.

To me as a driver, this is how I make a living. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t think any of us do. But it’s been a blessing for me to be here. Hopefully one year, five years, 10 and 15 years from now, I’ll still have the opportunity to be a driver in this sport.

I love NASCAR. I love our sport. I love the fans that it attracts, the fans that keep our sport going.

The thing for me is this team that we’ve got this year. I love being a part of things like that, being hands on. You were just watching us here thrashing through tech. I had a hammer in my hand, and we were working to get the body fixed. I love that side of it.

Hopefully we can build this team up to where, you look at ThorSport (Racing), how it was back when it first started in the 1990s when (Matt) Crafton came to drive for them. Matt’s one of those guys that I always go to for advice. He told me where they ere as a team back then and where they are now, how much they’ve grown.

I think it would be an honor to have the opportunity to be like that, to bring on the right partners and create a lot of business-to-business opportunities for our sponsors like Lucas Oil and Jacob Companies that allow our team to grow alongside with our sponsors, to really keep that business side of things growing. That’s what really drives this sport is the business side of things. That’s what I try to focus on.

Hopefully there might come a day where I can spend half of the day in the shop working on the race truck and the other half working on the business side of things. I think we’re in a good position to grow. NASCAR itself has helped us a lot. I hope we keep our sponsors, keep them happy, keep delivering ROI for them to where it allows our team to grow. Three-four years from now we might be in a position to battle for wins. I’d love to have that opportunity.

Alright, just to wrap up. It’s time for some plugs. Where can fans follow you? 

Twitter: @J66Anderson. Instagram: @JordanAndersonRacing. Snapchat: J19Anderson. Facebook: Jordan Anderon Racing.

I don’t have a PR person, so I handle all of my stuff. If you want to email me, I respond to emails all the time from you guys. I love the interaction the fans do on social media. They follow me.

Coming up to Chicago the other day, we worked all day and left our shop at 8 p.m., drove through the night, got here to Chicago at seven o’clock in the morning. I try to keep the fans tuned in on what it is we’re doing. The fans think I’m absolutely crazy sometimes, but I think that’s why they love me so much, so we’re going to keep that going. Everybody that tweets me, I always try to respond back and love all of the support.

If you ever email him, know that he might respond at three in the morning, but he will respond. 

That’s it.  We’ve got some things we’re working on for later in the year. We had the “Fueled by Fans” (FbF) truck going earlier in the year, and next week in New Hampshire will be the one year anniversary since we did the first FbF truck last season.

We’re going to work towards Las Vegas coming up here in two weeks, and we’re going to bring the FbF truck back to give the fans an opportunity to ride with us again.

Thank you so much for your time. Good luck today, and I appreciate all you do for the sport. 

Likewise. I appreciate you guys that cover the sport and give guys like myself an opportunity to share our story. That economics degree is going to use, so we appreciate you being out here.

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