When you scan the list of full-time teams racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season, Niece Motorsports is probably one of the last organizations that jumps off the page as a major player.
However, it’s a little team whose owner believes it can thrive.
In its second year, Niece Motorsports is doing just that, becoming a major force in the driver-development pool of the Truck Series, and an operation focused on honoring the efforts of the United States military.
Founded by Marine Corps veteran Al Niece, who enlisted into the service in 1966 and served for two years during the Vietnam War, Niece Motorsports came into NASCAR with humble beginnings but a big goal — spurred by Niece’s desire to make a difference in the sport and be more involved.
“I had actually raced myself, off and on, for many years. … between drag boats and sprint cars and a modified stock car, I dabbled in a bit of everything. Eventually though, I had to settle down and start to make a living,” Niece explained. “I started my own construction equipment company, but I still managed to help a few drivers out along the way in both the Truck Series and the Xfinity Series.
“I wanted to make an impact,” he noted. “I decided that the Truck Series fit well with my business, considering that we supply water trucks and fuel and lube trucks for the construction and mining industries.”
Niece’s goals were more difficult to realize than anticipated. His new team failed to qualify for its first race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in October 2016 and many people raised questions as to whether it really belonged or was going to be another team that would go away as quickly as it arrived.
Niece was undeterred. His spirit was strong and his will to succeed didn’t falter.
“I heard the talk. It didn’t phase me,” said Niece. “We set out to make the last few races during the 2016 season and did that with Casey Smith. We actually qualified for the race at Texas — our home track — that fall, and that was something we were all really proud of. That was the first step.
“It’s funny because we were only planning on running eight or nine races last year and we ended up putting together the entire schedule,” Niece continued. “It may have been on a shoestring budget, but we did it.”
That accomplishment may have come more from Niece’s tenacity than anything else.
“When I set my mind to something … you can ask (general manager) Cody (Efaw) — we’re not going to quit until we find a way forward,” said Niece.
Niece signed NASCAR veteran T.J. Bell to a partial season in his No. 45 Chevrolet, another major step forward, as Bell knew what feedback to give then-crew chief Efaw and was able to assist in getting the truck’s setup where it needed to be.
Bell ran 15 of the 23 races on the schedule for Niece. While he never quite cracked the top 10, he scored multiple top-15 finishes, including two that were particularly significant in Niece’s mind.
“When we started finishing up a little higher in the middle portion of the season. …probably around Texas and Gateway last summer, when T.J. (Bell) put us in the top 15 in back-to-back races, was when I started to believe we could make all this work and keep going every week,” Niece explained. “It helped too that we had a few sponsors that stepped up and really believed in what we were doing at that point as well.”
Then came Las Vegas Motor Speedway last September, when action sports star Travis Pastrana returned to the NASCAR spotlight in Niece’s truck and turned the “little team that could” square on its head with the support he brought to the table.
“Travis drove for us at Las Vegas last fall and he brought a lot of sponsors onboard when he drove our truck, which really, really put us over the top in a big way at that point,” said Niece. “That was just the second race in our history where we actually ran two trucks in the same weekend. Unfortunately, we messed the truck up for Travis and he didn’t have as good a showing (22nd) as either he or I expected, but that whole situation gave us some exposure to several much bigger sponsors that have helped us to carry forward into this new year.”