Make no mistake, money makes the world go around.
Without money, racing doesn’t happen. The cars, the equipment, the crews, none of it exists without someone writing the check to pay for it all.
There are, however, always going to be small teams with small budgets doing their best to compete with the teams that have larger budgets. It’s true in every form of racing.
The ARCA Menards Series is no different. Look around the garage area at any ARCA race and you’ll find teams with big budgets like Joe Gibbs Racing and Venturini Motorsports.
These are the teams that field multi-car programs and have full-time employees who prepare the cars. They have sponsors that help pay the bills and drivers who, more often than not, bring money to the table to help the team get to the track.
On the other end of the spectrum are teams like Mullins Racing.
Owned by Willie and Dinah Mullins, Mullins Racing is based in Fredericksburg, Va. If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because Willie Mullins nearly won the 2018 ARCA Menards Series opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway, finishing second to Venturini Motorsports’ driver Michael Self.
Mullins did that on a shoe-string budget and with no full-time employees and a volunteer pit crew.
“The good thing is we’re able to show up, we have a very nice car, we paint in house, we do all the bodywork and things in house. We put these cars together. We do it all,” said Mullins. “It makes people recognize that we’re hard workers and we show up with good stuff.”
If there is anyone in the ARCA garage who understands what the Mullines are going through, it’s Billy Venturini.
Venturini, a former ARCA competitor and now the general manager of Venturini Motorsports, has watched the team started by his father, Bill Venturini, go from a small, family-owned operation to a program that employs nearly 20 people and fields three full-time teams.
“Before 2005, I never had more than one other employee,” Venturini explained. “We always had one. So it would be myself and one more person that was basically at the shop the whole time I drove. At a couple points, it was a $200- or $250-a-week kid who was 19, 20 or 21 years old and it was his first job in racing.
“The whole time I drove I never really had a crew chief, I kind of handled all that stuff,” Venturini continued. “We were such a small team I drove and crew chiefed myself anyway. I set my cars up., I did all the bodywork on my cars. I built all my shocks. When you’re a small team, you have to wear many different hats.”
Walking through the garage area at Daytona Int’l Speedway during the February ARCA opener, the difference between Mullins Racing and the aforementioned teams is noticeable.
The Mullins Racing hauler, while not cheap by any means, doesn’t compare to those utilized by the bigger programs. The Mullins Racing crew, all volunteers with the exception this year of crew chief Tony Furr, wore Mullins Racing T-shirts or older crew shirts as their uniforms. On the other hand, teams like Venturini Motorsports had their employees decked out in fancy new uniforms with sponsor logos aplenty.
Just getting to the race track for Mullins Racing isn’t cheap. They may not be paying their volunteer crew, but they still have to get them to the track. Flights, rental cars, taxis, food and lodging all add up.
“For us to come down and play in the big leagues, you’re going to spend without the car, without the trucks, without the motors, just logistics, food, preparation stuff, you’re probably going to spend $20,000 or $30,000,” said Willie Mullins. “That’s on the small, small side. Then you add in tires, wear on the motor, liquids, it slowly starts to add up. It’s something I save up for to do this.”