Conway Joins Joe Gibbs Racing “I Can’t Wait”By Marty Tyler
Kevin Conway, the amazing young driver we first interviwed in early 2003, has every reason to be more excited than ever. The 27 year old Lynchburg, VA native’s hard work, diligence and belief in himself and his driving abilities has finally paid off and in a very BIG way. Last week, the official announcement was made that Z-Line Designs, of San Ramon, California has partnered with Joe Gibbs Racing to sponsor Conway as part time driver of the #18 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series for 2007.
Conway will share the driving duties with Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin. At least 8 races are confirmed for Kevin. Those begin on March 24 at Bristol and include Dover June 2, Nashville June 9, New Hampshire June 30, Chicagoland July 14, California September 1, Richmond September 7 and Kansas September 29.
Conway holds a marketing degree from UNC Charlotte, and has been diligently presenting himself over the last 4 plus years to teams, owners and sponsors in hopes of making it in the NASCAR Upper Series. With 6 Busch Series starts during that time, and competition in ARCA, NASCAR Busch Series West and a vast racing background in various other series, Conway had been working on a 2007 deal that included another manufacturer, but amazingly, while at the Charlotte race last October he struck up a conversation with Steve De Souza who heads up the Busch operations for JGR and the 2007 plans changed on the spot. Conway was just one week away from inking the deal with the other manufacturer.
“The timing was just unbelievable,” began an extremely excited Kevin. “One thing led to another, everything fell into place and it was absolutely a complete and total miracle because last year was a very, very challenging year for me. It started out with losing my grandfather and 2 months later the Carver Racing program came together. We put the whole team together in 2 weeks, which was a huge undertaking, in and of itself. We put all of our blood, sweat and tears into it and had just walked out of a meeting where we had signed a sponsor and I got a phone call that Carver had shut down. Then my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, so, all of these things just kept piling up.”
“When a team shuts down in the middle of a season, it’s really difficult to find much (in the way of driving) until the end of the season for the following year. We just really worked hard and I said no matter what I know I have the talent and ability to be here and it’s just a matter of getting the right opportunity to showcase that because, along the way, I’ve been in mediocre equipment, at the very best and that’s being generous. An opportunity like this has been the goal all along and is a realization of a childhood dream.”
“It is exciting, and I think all of the challenges I’ve been through have made this that much sweeter. There aren’t too many guys that do all of their own marketing and build and drive their own cars and do everything. I’ve had a Iot of people mentor me and help me out along the way, but this a deal where we literally were able to put everything together with Z-Line Designs and Joe Gibbs Racing and make it all happen. I’ve been the point person from the beginning all the way down the line, so, it’s been really, really cool. When we unveiled the car at the media tour last week there’s just been this huge sense of satisfaction. Even though everything’s been signed and done for a couple of months, it’s just amazing. This is real. It’s really happening.”
“All of this has come together in a huge way. Jim Sexton and all the people at Z-Line Designs have made it possible. They’ve been involved with the Daytona Prototype Class within the Rolex Series and, now, we’re helping them get into the world of NASCAR and learn how it works. This has been hugely successful for them and we’re not even on the track, yet. It’s kind of funny. We’ve pitched to probably a thousand companies for sponsorship, at one time or another, and have had different people along that journey with me, but really, I could not have found a cooler sponsor than Z-Line. Their products actually fit my lifestyle. It’s just that much sweeter when you have a sponsor that you’re really behind and excited about.”
Kevin became aware of Z-Line Designs through a friend, “Not from a marketing standpoint,” he explained, “but, because of their products. I was sitting in my office one day and I started digging around and decided to email Jim Sexton, the CEO of Z-Line Designs. About 45 minutes later, I got a response. That was last summer.”
They began talking, building a friendship and, then, finally a business relationship. I talked with Sexton to get his take on how this alliance began.
“Kevin sent me an email and said he was sure I was very busy but, would I mind taking a few minutes and looking at it and talking about NASCAR.” Jim began. “I put it on the side of my desk and then I’d pull it out and then put it back on the side and then pull it again and finally I called him. I said, well, I don’t know if he can drive a car, but, he sure is a smart young man, I’ll tell you that. He really amazed me and has a really sharp mind. He’s so genuine and one of the smartest young people I’ve met in a long time. ”
“He gave me a list of references to call. I’m in a carwash one Sunday afternoon and had thrown this piece of paper in my bag, so, I pulled it out and it was Lake Speed’s number. So, I called and this guy answered. I asked is Lake Speed there and he said you’re talking to him. So I said, well the first thing I have to ask you is your real name Lake Speed? And he said, ‘Well boy, that’s what it says on my birth certificate and that’s what my mommy told me, so, that’s what I’m going with.’ I just cracked up. I thought I was talking to Robert Duvall in Days Of Thunder.”
“I said, well, I’m calling about Kevin Conway and he said, ‘Well, that’s a good boy. That boy can drive a car. I trained him well and know him well, but, Jim boy, you don’t understand. Without an engine Kevin’s not going anywhere and without a suspension system that engine and that kid aren’t going anywhere. And if you put him on the wrong tire and go around the track 4 times you’ll burn them up, so, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in this NASCAR game and you’ve got to have all the links in the chains to make it work.’ Then he said, ‘By the way, who is going to make that engine, anyway?’ and I said well, Joe Gibbs Racing. There was this silence. Then all of a sudden he said, “And just when did God come down and take you by the hand?”
“I said, pardon me, what? And he said, ‘Jim, nobody gets into Joe Gibbs Racing. You just don’t get into Joe Gibbs Racing. How did all of this happen?’ So, I told him, I’m not sure how this all happened, but, he told me to get that contract and sign it as fast as I can because there is a whole slew of people that want to get into Joe Gibbs Racing. So, I thanked him and told him I would see him at the track. And he said, ‘Oh no, you won’t see me at the track. It’s kind of like an alcoholic, if I go out to the track I’m going to see a car. I’m going to want to drive the car because I know I can beat those kids in that car. And then if I can’t get a car, I’m going to have to buy a car. Then if I buy a car, I’m probably going to have to go through a divorce, so, I can’t afford it. I’ve just got to stay away from the track.’ I laughed and thought he sure is a character.”
“Z-Line Designs has got some great products, but, we’ve never really marketed ourselves directly to the public. You can buy our product at Circuit City, or Staples or whatever, so, a lot of people know our products and we looked at this NASCAR information with 75 million fans and we thought maybe this is the best way to get a bang for our buck and go directly to that fan base. Kevin seems to know everyone (in NASCAR racing) and everyone seems to know Kevin. He’s such a legitimate, nice guy and very smart. We have our own marketing team, but, Kevin is coming up with ideas we’ve never even thought about. We have a Z-Line Design Make A Wish car in the Rolex Series and we’re going to be doing the same thing with the NASCAR car. This just looked like a very smart move on our part to get in to NASCAR and Kevin just looked like a very smart guy to go with it. We’re excited and we think this is going to be a great relationship. We really enjoy Kevin and think of him as part of the family. It’s going to be fun. We know we have good equipment with Joe Gibbs Racing, so, we think we have a winning combination and I think we’ll do really well this year.”
Before this opportunity came along, Conway could easily have taken a fabricating job with any number of teams or a marketing position, being intricately involved with the marketing firm he started with partners Jim Phillips and Ashley Tyson, Exclaim Racing , but, racing was his personal goal and he just couldn’t quit on himself or his passion. That’s a good thing because he has finally made it. Anytime any driver lands at JGR it is big, BIG news. These kinds of opportunities for young drivers with no family name or family history in racing, like Conway, happen so seldom, so, with this news comes hope for the future generation of drivers. His advice to them all is this, “When you have a dream or a passion, just pursue it. So may people are willing to settle for a life of mediocrity because they gave up, they didn’t pursue that passion. As cheesy as it sounds it’s like the Survivor song “Eye Of The Tiger.” It says it’s too easy to trade you dreams of glory for the “normal” life. That’s so true, but, you need to go for it. Pursue those dreams with a relentless abandonment.”
Conway is an amazing young talent. I’ve known him for 4 years and from the first time we spoke I knew he would, someday, have a quality opportunity. This young man is genuine and very grateful to all the people who have supported and helped him along this road, mentioning his parents, mentor Ernie Irvin, Humpy Wheeler, Lake Speed, Darrell Waltrip and so many others. He’s proud of the support he’s been given, remembers the tough times when it may have been easier to give up his dream. He is excited, and yet, remains humble.
Kevin’s own words best state his realistic goals for 2007, “This equipment is capable of winning races as long as I do my part and we have good communication with the crew. At the end of the day you have to have racing luck. If all of those things work together, there’s no reason we can’t go out there and win races. I can’t wait to win Bristol, as crazy as that sounds, but, at this point, nothing sounds crazy to me.”
That doesn’t sound crazy to me either, Kevin. I can’t wait to say I told you so. No one could have written a more amazing script to portray a young racer’s determination, personal beliefs, guts and stamina. Welcome to the “big league”. It is fanatastic to see you get this chance. You’ve earned it, old school style. Now go get ’em and, literally, GOD Speed.
When asked what he thought about Kevin’s exciting news, Catchfence.com’s NASCAR Busch Series Editor and long time friend of Conway’s, Chris Knight, had this to say:
“To have a friend like Kevin is amazing. He told me several months before the announcement, “Chris I’ve got something working, if it works, it’s going to be huge.” Time pressed on. I didn’t want to ask Kevin about the deal, because I didn’t want him to think I was being a pest. Lord knows I would rather see him inside a racecar then sitting behind a computer and locked in conference rooms for Exclaim Racing.
Then, in early January, Kevin called me and said “Its a done deal.” I asked for more details, but Kevin’s got a good way of keeping you on the edge of your seat, he wouldn’t tell me at first, I think he did it to make me mad, because he knows how I am. Then he fired away and said “I’m driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.” My mouth dropped — for once in my life I was speechless.
How cool is it for such a talented person all the way around to have an opportunity of a lifetime? Of course you can call me bias if you want, but when you pick the brains of racecar drivers, you sit and talk with them. You find out amazing things, things you never would imagine.
For Kevin, racing is everything. Everything. He’s gone every route to try to prove himself. Good opportunities have crumbled around him thanks to stupid technicalities, but now the horizon appears endless for the former ARCA RE/MAX Series driver.
It’s a new beginning for Conway, a new opportunity for his sponsor Z-Line Designs and one I’m sure they’ll grasp and forbid to let go. Conway will shine. Guaranteed. Best of luck to a friend and mentor that has taught me that dreams do come true, if you want them bad enough,” concluded Knight.
There you have it, so, racefans keep an eye on this combination! With Joe Gibbs Racing, Z-Line Designs and Kevin Conway as the driver, the Busch Series looks even more exciting than ever! Congratulations! We’ll be watching and cheering you on.
Kevin’s new official website www.kevinconway.net will be operational very soon, so, be sure to stop by soon and often. Also be sure to check out Z-Line Designs . And, of course, to get all the latest news on all of Joe Gibbs’ drivers please visit www.joegibbsracing.com
Views expressed by the writers are not necessarily the views of Catchfence
Article Tags: Kevin Conway, Racing Perspectives