By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
A new year brings new ownership for the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour in 2023. NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr., Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick, Trackhouse Racing team co-owner Justin Marks, and 2023 NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Jeff Burton had teamed up to acquire the Southeast asphalt Late Model series.
In addition to being a team owner in the CARS Tour, Earnhardt competed in the series at North Wilkesboro Speedway last year. The NASCAR on NBC analyst started sixth and finished third. Earnhardt’s teammate, and full-time CARS Tour driver, Carson Kvapil, won.
In total, JR Motorsports has over 25 Late Model Stock Car victories with Anthony Alfredo, Josh Berry, and Kvapil. Berry alone has 22 victories. The team also has two championships, one with Berry in 2017 and the other with Kvapil in 2022.
“This is a dream come true for me,” said Earnhardt. “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, CARS Tour founder) has done a tremendous job establishing the CARS Tour as a preeminent series, and I’m thrilled to be part of its future.”
While the ownership of the premier asphalt Late Model Series is changing, the 19-race schedule will remain the same. Jack McNelly and his staff will still run operations and at-track events. Overall, the CARS Tour will look the same on track for the time being.
The combined knowledge from the four NASCAR veterans will bring, along with their already established business ventures will elevate the series. The connections could also provide a streamlined avenue for the future stars of NASCAR, as well as a place for those looking to stay in Late Model competition.
“Owning and developing the CARS Tour has been an honor and one I’m immensely proud of,” said McNelly. “Fortunately, it’s in the best of hands with this new group. They have the passion and talent to take the Tour to the next level. I can’t wait to see what this next chapter brings for everyone involved.
“I give my heartfelt thanks to all that have contributed to the success of the series over the years. It has truly been a team effort. The CARS Tour staff, officials, competitors, sponsors and fans have made this series one of the best in the country.”
While Earnhardt made a Late Model start last year, Harvick was last behind the wheel of a Late Model in 2010. The 2014 Cup Series champion most recently competed in Late Models in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Southside Speedway. A crash ended his race before halfway.
Harvick has 39 starts in the defunct NASCAR Southwest Series. He earned four victories in the Late Model tour. Harvick’s best points finish in the Southwest Tour was 11th in 1995.
“I grew up racing Late Model Stock Cars on the West Coast,” said Harvick, the 2014 Cup Series champion with 60 wins to his credit. “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.”
Marks’ Trackhouse Racing debuted on track in the 2020 Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway. He started 17th and finished 18th. Marks had competed in several other Late Model events including the All American 400.
Since that on track debut, Trackhouse has gone on to win three races with Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez. In the team’s second season it finished runner-up in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
“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,” said Marks. “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.”
Like Earnhardt and Harvick, Burton’s background is in Late Model racing. The NASCAR on NBC analyst finished third in the South Boston Speedway track standings in 1986 and 1988.
While the 2023 NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee has not competed in the CARS Tour, his son, Harrison Burton has. The younger Burton won the 2017 Pro Late Model season opener at Concord Speedway.
“The opportunity to work with a group of partners that I have so much respect for in the sport that I love is amazing,” added Jeff Burton. “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.”
In addition to Alfredo, Berry, and Harrison Burton, multiple other current NASCAR drivers can trace their careers back to the CARS Tour. That includes William Byron, Ty Gibbs, Kaden Honeycutt, Sam Mayer, Bobby McCarty, Layne Riggs, and Myatt Snider.
While Honeycutt and Riggs have just begun to compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and McCarty in Xfinity, others have made a career in the Late Model division. Current CARS Tour stars include Kvapil, Jared Fryar, Connor Hall, Deac McCaskill, Zack Miracle, and others.
The first race for the 2023 Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour season is scheduled for Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C. on Saturday, March 11, 2023.