Too much, too fast, too soon: The sad saga of Swan Racing

Leave a comment

Brandon Davis did all he could to keep Swan Racing afloat. But even a multi-millionaire oil and gas industrialist can only bleed so much money before deciding to throw a red flag on the operation.

When anticipated funding and sponsorship failed to materialize, the two-team Sprint Cup operation sank so fast that Davis had no other choice but to essentially go out of business.

That’s what Davis told NASCAR.com’s David Caraviello in the most revealing and expansive explanation of why the two-car Swan operation failed, and why Davis was forced to sell or merge its two cars with other organizations.

“It went from a lot of fun to a nightmare in a matter of months,” Davis told NASCAR.com. “I’m not going to point my finger in any one direction. It was just the overall thing, probably adding two cars, etc. … There were challenges there.”

After Davis purchased the assets of Inception Motorsports in 2012, he continued to field a one-car operation in 2013 with several different drivers through the course of the season.

However, Davis had bigger aspirations for Swan in 2014.

After taking on minority investors/partners Anthony Marlowe and former NFL great Bill Romanowski, and then securing an investment/sponsorship deal with rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Swan grew to a two-car operation in 2014 with rookies Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt behind the wheel.

As both drivers struggled on the racetrack, so did efforts to attract sponsorship or additional investors. Little success on the racetrack isn’t exactly a great lure for companies to spend their money on. All the while, Davis tried to continue bankrolling the team from his own oil and gas company, Swan Energy (hence the name of the team).

But it quickly became much more of a financial drain than Davis anticipated, essentially twice the amount of what he spent on a one-car operation last season. Everything was doubled from 2013 to 2014, including cars, drivers, expenses, employees and overall costs. And when anticipated sponsorship failed to come through, things went from bad to worse in a hurry.

“It started in Daytona, and things that were supposed to happen didn’t,” Davis told NASCAR.com. “It kind of snowballed from there, I guess, and it kept getting worse, not better.”

While his race operation struggled, Davis’ energy company was experiencing growth and demands that took more of his time.

“From a time perspective, my company has grown a lot, even since January as far as Swan Energy, and my other oil company,” Davis said. “The time necessity, for what I needed to do and the time I needed to spend with the race team and working on it, I just haven’t had.

“So it kind of all came to a head the week before Texas, and that’s when we started trying to figure out what do we need to do to ensure as many people stay employed as possible, and to keep the cars on track.”

To his credit, Davis worked feverishly to find jobs with other teams for as many of his now-former employees as he could.

“My first mission was to make sure everybody had a job,” he said. “That was No. 1, and not just kill it and let them go figure it out for themselves.

“From that, we’re going to let the dust settle, I guess, and see. I don’t know. I can’t tell you (what his racing future – if any – holds).”

Davis turned over ownership of Whitt’s No. 26 Toyota to Marlowe, who merged earlier this week with BK Racing, going from a two- to three-car operation.

Whitt will continue driving the No. 26, competing in Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Meanwhile, Davis sold the No. 30 team – but without Kligerman as the driver — to John Cohen, owner of XxxTreme Motorsports.

With the sale, Kligerman is out of a job, as J.J. Yeley will drive the No. 30 Toyota starting this weekend in Richmond (the car number will switch back to XxxTreme’s former number of 44 starting next week at Talladega).

“Will I be around the track? Yeah, I plan on helping John as much as I can,” Davis said. “I like John, he’s a great guy, and I want to support him as much as I’m able to. So yeah, I’ll be around. As far as Swan having a race car on the track, at this point I have no loose plans, or any plans.”

XxxTreme has attempted to qualify for four races thus far this season, and failed to do so each time.

As for Kligerman, he’ll remain under contract to Davis for the meantime – although he doesn’t have a car to drive. But Davis is also giving the young driver the opportunity to explore any and all other options.

“For me, it just quit being fun,” Davis said of his ultimate decision to close up shop. “I just didn’t enjoy going to the racetrack.

“Whenever I got to the racetrack and didn’t enjoy it, that’s when all the thoughts started racing through my head of — what did I do here, and how do I fix it? … At the end of the day, this one (parceling off the two teams) kept the most people working and had the most cooperation from the other parties.”

When NASCAR.com asked Davis if expanding to two cars proved to be too much, too fast and too soon, his brief answer told the entire tale:

“Yes. Most definitely.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.