MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Wes Gonder Racing will team with five-time CARS X-1R Pro Cup Series champion Clay Rogers to enter the season-opening Lucas Oil 200 for the ARCA Racing Series at Daytona Int’l Speedway Feb. 15.
Rogers, who earlier this month locked up his record-setting fifth Pro Cup crown, will drive the No. 48 Ford with sponsorship from eco-friendly spill cleaning product Lightnin’ FAST.
“It was hard for me to keep my mouth shut because I wanted to blab it all over the place,” said Gonder about the deal with Rogers and Lightnin’ FAST. “I was like a little kid at Christmas. It was really hard to keep my mouth shut, but now I’m ready to flap my gums.”
Gonder has spent the last few seasons competing mainly in the CARS X-1R Pro Cup Series with several different drivers, but was unsure what the future was going to hold until a chance meeting with Lightnin’ FAST owner Marcus Morgan.
“What really happened with me and Wes was I believe divine intervention,” Morgan said. “He and I just happened to meet at one of my distributor locations because he was there getting some stuff done.”
What started as a casual conversation about Morgan’s Lightnin’ FAST product line quickly created a blossoming friendship between Morgan and Gonder. The two soon began discussing the idea of putting together an ARCA program for the season opener at Daytona. When the conversation shifted to the question of who would drive the car, Morgan had only one name in mind.
“Clay and I have a history that goes way back to the Hooters Pro Cup days. He and I had a little project we did together and we became friends,” Morgan said. “That was obviously why I wanted Clay on board because I’ve known what kind of wheelman he is for some time. I think he is underrated and I think he hasn’t been given a good enough platform for him to showcase his talent.
“Once I realized he didn’t have any deals being offered to him, I said, ‘Let’s get together man and close this deal,’” Morgan said. “So we all agreed and here we are.”
For Rogers, the opportunity to test his skills at Daytona for Gonder and Morgan was simply too good to pass up. Rogers has previous experience at Daytona, including a third-place finish in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race there in 2011.
“The sooner you can put things together the better because everybody knows Daytona is about preparation,” said Rogers, who won six CARS X-1R Pro Cup Series race this year en route to his record fifth championship. “There are a lot of teams who will go down there to test, but they don’t know who is going to go back to drive. We’re fortunate to be in a situation where we’ve got all those things ironed out.
“I’m a racer. I always have been. I want to race anytime I get an opportunity. It doesn’t matter if it’s at Ace Speedway, Concord or Daytona. If there is a race I want to be involved in it,” Rogers added.
The team has acquired the 2013 owner points from James Hylton’s No. 48 team, guaranteeing it a spot in the Daytona opener. The team plans to use Gonder’s equipment at Daytona, but the now retired Hylton will be with the team every step of the way.
“We’re really honored to have James on board. Obviously we respect the ground work he has laid out for us to come along after him,” Morgan said. “This is a retirement party for him. We’re going to have him along every step of the way. He is going to come to Daytona with us and he is going to be a part of this deal.”
The program with Morgan and Rogers has Gonder excited for 2014 and beyond.
“I was really wondering what my future was going to be,” Gonder said. “I’m super excited for 2014. I was really looking for a really good deal like this. To have a driver as well respected as Clay Rogers is something I’m ecstatic about.
“I really like his maturity level. He is a true racer and a true pro and that can only help us and bring us credibility. Let me tell you, I am excited beyond belief.”
At this point the team has no plans past Daytona, but that could easily change as funding and opportunities become available. Right now the top priority for Rogers and Gonder is to prepare for the open ARCA test at Daytona that starts on Dec. 20.
“Right now we’re going to take one step at a time. We’re definitely going to the test,” Gonder said. “We’re definitely going to run the Daytona race. We’re looking at the schedule and trying to put more things together for the remainder of the season.”