Just recently I was able to connect up with the NASCAR veteran driver of both the Camping World Truck Series and now an Xfinity Series racer for Jimmy Means Racing, David Starr. It took a little effort of a couple of people to coordinate this event. My associate and friend, Shane Smith, ran most of the legwork. He was coordinating with me and David Starr’s PR person, Jessica Rhodes. Once I made contact with Jessica, the time slot for the interview was easily arranged.
Many of the NASCAR fans will recognize the name, David Starr. He has been around the NASCAR scene for nearly two decades, racing in both The Camping World Truck Series and now in the Xfinity Series. In light of all these “young kids” who have infiltrated NASCAR David would be considered a “wily old veteran” by most!
I caught up with David on his “off race week”, and I hope that you will find this insight into Starr and a small glimpse at his personality, and what makes him tick interesting.
Herein lies the bulk of a 45-minute conversation/interview with this Houston, TX native. It will begin with some biographical info about how Starr got into the crazy world of auto racing.
Leon Hammack: David, I would like to begin this by establishing a little biographical info for our readers so that they will understand how you got to where you are now. How did you first get into auto racing?
David Starr: I love that question because, you know, I got into racing when I was born! That is probably a weird statement, as well as an interesting statement. My Dad worked for a racing team owned by Gordon Van Liew, Vita Fresh Racing, that also was owned an orange juice business in Houston. There are a couple of things that are significant about that, Gordon also had Indy cars that he raced every year at the Indy 500. And then everybody knows that Houston is home to A. J. Foyt, Jr., and he, AJ, had a little Indy Car operation there, as well. AJ built and owned his own cars and was the first four-time winner of the Indy 500.
There was this little half-mile paced track in Houston that both Gordon and A.J. ran some of their stock cars at that track. One of AJ’s drivers, at this time, was from the famed Bettenhausen family, Tony, Jr. My dad worked on those stock cars for Gordon and A.J. So I as far back as I can remember my dad would take me to those race shops and to those races. I fell in love with racing at a very early, early age! I couldn’t wait for Saturday when my dad was in town, to go to the race track and sit up in the stands for the races. After the races, I would go down to the pits to be with the all the drivers. So the dream started way, way early! As it turns out A. J. Foyt has turned out to be one of my very good friends, and I have been very blessed for that. I have driven for A.J. three or four times in the Xfinity races.
Leon Hammack: In doing my homework for this interview, I saw that you were a race car driving instructor before you got to NASCAR. Can you talk about how that job came about?
David Starr: My uncle, Mike Starr, started a race driving school back in 1988 at the old Texas World Speedway, which is located just outside Bryan, TX (College Station, TX, to be exact and it is the home of theTexas A&M Aggies). That track was a lot like the Michigan International Speedway with a lot more banking and a lot more speed! Since my family owned and operated that driving school I naturally got involved and became one of the driving instructors there.
I also raced at that track, in addition to being a driving instructor. I won the very last competitive race that was staged at the Texas World Speedway. The race was called “The Texas Race of Champions”.
Starting the driving school in 1988 at the old Texas World Speedway was quite an opportunity for my family and me. Then in 1995, we got a phone call from Bruton Smith (owner of Charlotte, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Sonoma, Kansas, and Louden race tracks) asking us to bring our NASCAR driving school to his newly built Texas Motor Speedway in Ft. Worth, TX. We have operated the driving school at TMS every since that track opened up.
So in 1997 when my NASCAR career started to take off I had to cut back my instructing because of my racing commitment. To this day if I do not have a race or sponsor commitments, I am over at the Texas Motor Speedway working at the driving school and instructing. We have about 45 NASCAR race cars on the property at TMS.
LH: I understand that you had some association with, or worked on or for one of “The Alabama Gang”. How did that come about?
DS: Back in 1996 a bunch of my friends, who had gone through the racing school, and had gone to a bunch of my dirt car races wanted to know what my ultimate goal was in racing. Well, my ultimate goal was to get into NASCAR racing. So they people got together to make my dream come true and invested in a racing team. This group bought half of a race team that Donnie Allison was the crew chief for. So I got to work for Donnie for six to seven months. So 1997 I was going to run for Rookie of The Year, however, the race team ran out of funding. That all happened before I got to race at my first race at Hickory Speedway (NC). It just all fell apart. So that was my short-lived introduction to working for the Allison family. I have been good friends with Donnie every since that time.
LH: The next year, 1998, you actually made your NASCAR debut. Can you expound on how that all evolved and come to fruition?
DS: At that time I was racing a lot of dirt cars. But after my first NASCAR deal fell through the cracks I was thinking about going back to Texas. I met a guy named Al Mallory, who owned a company called Mallory Western Wear. Al was an older gentleman who owned some late model asphalt cars. He called me and asked to come over to race his car. He told me that he felt like he had a lot more car than what he was able to get out of it! So I moved back home and started driving for Al. We actually won our first asphalt race together. I then met Buddy Morrison, of a professional drag racer team, Reher-Morrison Racing, the winningest Pro Stock Chevy team in drag racing history. This organization was building our engines on our late model program. Buddy Morrison would come watch me race and enjoyed our winning circle track stuff.
One day Al Mallory told me that Buddy Morrison wanted me to come to his shop and talk. Buddy sent his plane down to Houston, picked me, and flew me back to his shop in Arlington, TX. When I got to his engine shop I was like a kid in a candy store! Man, there were things going on at the dyno machines. Man, they had eighteen wheelers loaded up with their pro stock car. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing and where I was! I really didn’t know the impact of Reher-Morrison and what it really was until I arrived there. buddy said that he was buying a late model team from Al Mallory and that he wanted me to come and live there. So I moved there and lived at the engine shop and worked on the late model cars.
Buddy told me that if you can win races with me, I will take you NASCAR racing. So we started winning some races as a team and did exactly what he told me we would do, we went Truck racing in 1998. Our first race was at the Orlando Speedway at Disney World in Orland, FL. When we pulled into the race track I remember Richard Childress coming over to talk to buddy Morrison and I couldn’t get my chin up off of the ground! After I got my chin up off of the ground and regrouped up walked Jack Roush to talk to Buddy. Man, I am in awe. Buddy told me that he had helped Jack Roush develop a whole bunch of stuff! I found out that Buddy Morrison was very well respected in the auto racing world. As I found out later not only was Buddy leasing out a lot of engines to the pro stock drag racing world, but he was doing a lot of cylinder head work for the NASCAR guys, as well. Looking back, I realized that without Buddy Morrison I probably would not have had a racing career in NASCAR. Many times after our race Buddy would fly us over to the NHRA races on Sunday to watch his team with Bruce Allen behind the wheel of his Pro Stock race was really cool. I had to pinch myself every now and then to see if I was dreaming.
Buddy had leukemia, and before Buddy passed away he came over, picked me up at Dallas, and drove me back over to his shop in Arlington. On the way over to his shop, Buddy said to me that I need you to promise one thing before I go up to Heaven. I said ok what is it. He said to me, “promise that you will never give up racing”. Promise me that you will keep digging. You will meet more Buddy Morrisons in your career. Buddy was just a class act! I was so blessed to be hooked up with Buddy Morrison!
LH: David, you have been in the sport a long time. You probably are now considered a “wiley ol veteran” these days. What are some of the obstacles that you have had to overcome?
DS: Years ago, in the Truck Series, I had the opportunity to drive for Wayne Spears out of CA. We won a lot of races with the support of Chevrolet. I then got the opportunity to drive for Red Horse Racing with Tom De Loach and Jeff Hammond as the owners. It has just been awesome to be involved with these people. Back then drivers were “hired guns”. the owners hired you to drive their race cars, and they paid you. Back in those days, you raced against drivers like Dennis Setzer, Rick Crawford, Jack Sprague, Ron Hornady, Todd Bodine and on and on. Mike Skinner was my teammate. The competition was really unbelievable. Everyone was really a “hired gun”.
Back in 2011, I had a contract with Red Horse Racing. My contract was bought out because the parents were paying $4.5 million dollars to put their son in the truck for the following year. So I could kind of see the handwriting on the wall as to how the industry was changing. Many of the guys that I used to race with were not there anymore because the new young kids were coming into the sport and bringing big money with them! So I saw the industry changing, and realized that if I wanted to stay racing I had to be able to go out and talk with companies and be a spokesman for these companies. I had to teach myself how to go out and talk like a champion.
I have been very fortunate over the years, since the change around 2011, to be able to have a few good sponsors that allow me to bring some funding to the table to have a job. But I haven’t been able to bring the kind of money it takes to get with a championship team. So having said that, I have always tried to get everything out of the race car that it had. If I had a 15th place car that day I would try to get 14th, 13th, or whatever. Also, do my best to take care of the sponsors. I am fortunate that I am still here racing. I don’t have the millions of sponsor dollars, but we do the best we can with what we have. I love the competition!
LH: How difficult is it to gather a good sponsor. How do you keep them? Is it difficult to cultivate and keep a good sponsor?
DS: The biggest thing is just to be a champion kind of person. I am a hard racer. I eat and sleep what I do. I race hard. I am honest with the sponsors. I tell them that we are not a championship winning team. We are not a top ten team. But we have a lot of fight and passion. We take everything that they give us, put it into the car, and race very hard. We are not racing hard for wins, but we are racing hard for a 15th or 20th place. When the sponsors come to the race track we treat them like gold and put out the red carpet for them. We do everything that they ask us to and go way up and beyond. I let them come to our racing school at Texas Motor Speedway. I will give speeches to their customers. We do a lot of stuff for our partners by bringing them to the race track. However, it just doesn’t stop there at the race track. We do a lot of stuff for our partners during the week as well. It is not like we have millions and millions of dollars from our sponsors.
We have about $400,000.00 worth of sponsorship to work with this year. We do everything that we can to take care of our partners and to be a spokesman for them. When we finish the race we carry ourselves like we won the race and then I think that they can appreciate that.
LH: Last year you ran the No. 99 car in the Xfinity. Was that a partnership between B.J. McLeod and Bobby Dotter?
DS: I drove for Bobby Dotter. One of our partners like the No. 99 and Bobby didn’t have that number, B.J. did. Bobby and B.J. are somewhat partners on the NASCAR side. So B.J. and Bobby made a deal to give Bobby the No.99. for last year. Both Bobby and B.J. are two great guys. B.J. has done a heck of a deal starting up his own team and driving as well.
LH: This year you are driving for Jimmy Means Racing. Jimmy and Joey Gase parted company at the end of 2017. By the end of 2017 JMR still had not announced a replacement driver for Gase. How did you get together with Jimmy Means?
DS: It is kind of interesting, I ran three Cup races at the end of 2017 for Carl Long. I was actually going to run fulltime with that team in 2018. We had a verbal commitment with Eureka Vacuums to run about 25 races this year. When we received that commitment from Eureka we thought we would just run the full season. Just three weeks before the Daytona 500 Eureka called Carl and told him that they were going to pull the plug on Cup racing in 2018.
So now just three weeks before Daytona, I have no ride and no plans. I thought to myself, what am I gonna do? So I picked up the phone and I called Jimmy Means. I told him, Jimmy, this is what happened, this is how much sponsorship money I have with all our partners. Jimmy replied let’s go racing, let’s go do this! Timing sometimes is everything! It is been pretty neat and he is a real racer. It has been just wonderful to drive for him, a real class guy.
LH: What kind of expectations do you have this year with Jimmy Means Racing?
DS: You know that every race, so far, we have had some bad luck. We are not racing each week for wins. If we can consistently be in the top 15-20 place every week that would be a goal for us. Our cars have driven well and handled well. We have had some circumstances that have prevented us from getting the finishes that the car was capable of doing. this year it is a work in progress. A realistic goal would be to start out being a top 20 car every week. With the type of funding that we operate on now a top 10 finish is just not possible right now. Funding is the limitation. Again a top 20 finish is the realistic vision. We get everything out of our equipment that we can. We do the best that we can with the funding that we have.
LH: What is your mindset when you get to the race track and unload the lar? Do you think I Need to beat the guys that I am always racing around, the Ryan Seigs, the B.J. McLeods, the similarly funded race teams, etc, or are you thinking more like I just have to get the most out of the race car, whatever that is?
DS: You know the guys that are in the same category of funding. If you can beat those guys week in and week out and try to make your stuff better, that is what I love. We are not going to beat the RCR, Penske and JGR cars weekly. Those teams have way more funding than we do. We do pretty good for what we have, but when we don’t beat the like funded teams it is a little frustrating.
Here is the way I look at it. At the end of the race if I gave it everything I had, and the teams does the same thing, and we gave it all that we had, and we came in 15th or 20th, then I am ok with that. I strive to do the best that I can do at every race. If our team does the same thing, then that is all that we can do.
LH: What does the future hold for David Starr, say in the next two or three years?
DS; I will be running in the 50 lap “last chance” race to try to make the All-Star race for Carl Long at Charlotte. I am hoping to run four more Cup races this year. I am hoping to put my No.52 Jimmy Means Racing Chevy into the top 20 weekend and week out! Those are my goals for this year. But I want to race another five or six years. As long as I am competitive I want to race. I love this sport. I lose the competitiveness then it is time to quit. But as long as I have some great partners and be competitive, you are gonna see me racing.
I am in the process of taking over and owning the racing school at Texas Motor Speedway. That will keep me really busy. Maybe two or three years from now, if I have to cut back racing, because of my business obligations, then I will do that. But I want to race as long as I can. If I can continue I will be like Morgan Shepard! If I can compete I will race as long as I can.
LH: I will be looking for you to be on a pair of roller skates soon!
DS: Hey I was once a champion speed skater!
LH: You just answered my next question was tell me something about yourself that would surprise everybody and you just answered that question without me asking!
DS: Well I am a hyper person. I am always working on something. I am a neat freak, too. I like everything neat and clean. I like my yard clean. I especially like my race cars clean and spotless. I think that you call that OCD!
LH: David, if you weren’t a race car driver, what would you be doing to earn a living?
DS: Man that is a great question. I hate to even think about that, cause there is nothing else that I would want to be doing than what I am doing now! To be honest I really don’t know because I just don’t have an answer. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do watch like 20/20 so maybe some kind of police detective forensic person. But there has never ever been a plan B. I am just thankful that I have been able to race. Racing is all I ever really wanted to do since I can remember.
LH: Now that you have been around the block a time or two, what are you most proud of so far in your life?
DS: Before I was married and had kids it was an easy answer. Now that I am married and have a family, I am most proud of my family. I am also proud of where I come from and how I was raised.
From a professional standpoint, I am proud to be a NASCAR race car driver for as long as I have been. I am proud of the race wins that I have. I am proud of the people and the relationships that I have made in the industry. Life is good, man!
LH: I have one last question. Since this website is called “Working On My Redneck” what are you doing when you are Working On Your Redneck?
DS: My boys and I will be working in our yard for a little then go jump on some four wheelers and get muddy. Later in the day, we will be going to watch some dirt track racing.
I hope that you enjoyed this glimpse into the life of a race car driver. The stories that David told in the interview, the people that influenced and guided him to where he is now, and the answers to some of my questions may give you some insight into David Starr and how he got here.
As I alluded in the first paragraphs of this article, David may be considered a “wily old veteran”, but his youth and burning enthusiasm for racing far exceed that of the teenagers that are making their way into NASCAR!
What I found from talking with David was that he is a very nice, open, honest, and a very hard working man that was happy to tell his story. Most importantly, he understands where he came from, all the people that helped in his journey, and all that it took to get to where he is now.
See you at the race track, David!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!