Weatherford driver closing fast on NASCAR bid

Winning in NASCAR means the same thing to Ted Minor as everyone else — crossing the finish line first, smoking the tires in front of the grandstand and driving to Victory Lane.

But he doesn’t have to have that.

He just needs to get on the track.

For the 40-year-old driver from Weatherford, trying for 10 years to make it into a race in NASCAR and now closer than ever with a do-it-yourself truck team, getting on the track would be the victory in itself.

“It’s been 10 years. It is extremely difficult to become a NASCAR driver,” he said.

But he is as close as ever.

Minor’s team, put together last year when three lower-series teams combined resources and secured funding from a California real estate developer, got to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville, Va., in March.

Minor put his truck on the track for practice, but an engine problem kept him from a chance to attempt qualifying.

Still, it was the experience he had been dreaming of.

“It was almost surreal, strapping into the truck, getting ready for the first practice,” he said. “Looking out the window, watching other drivers who I have only ever watched on TV getting in their trucks, as well.”

It was eye-opening for a driver who did not grow up in racing, who did not come from a family of racers, who taught himself to race on the dirt at Kennedale’s Speedway Park and Cowtown Speedway, who had to teach himself to drive on the asphalt and concrete tracks NASCAR uses.

“I never had to dig so deep or put so much on the line and hang it out on the edge so much,” he said. “Driving at that level of the sport is absolutely the most challenging and hardest racing I have ever attempted.”

And that was just practice.

So Minor knows he and the Cefalia Racing team have a long way to go. Their next attempt to qualify will be for the June 14 race at Gateway Park in St. Louis. Then they’ll try at Iowa Speedway in July. If things go well there, the Mineral Wells native and his team will shoot for the November race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Things would have to go just right. But Minor believes in his plan, and more important, so does team owner Joey Cefalia, the primary investor.

“Very conscientious, very methodical, dedicated to whatever he’s doing,” Cefalia said, describing the driver he has put his money behind. “He’s not doing this on a shotgun approach. He’d been looking at the business a good 10 years before we even engaged each other about it three years ago.”

Cefalia doesn’t have a racing background, either. He bought a rental property Minor was managing for his day job, and that’s how they got to know each other.

“It’s a new business for me,” Cefalia said. “Let’s face it — I’m not going to make any money. These are a group of guys who want to race. That’s what I would like to see.”

That group of guys, right now, is entirely volunteer labor.

“We combined three teams to make one,” said crew chief Garry Stephens, a short-track racer himself. “Every member of our team was a driver at one point or another. Every one of us had a dream that we could do this. All the guys have jobs during the day. We work on the truck at night and weekends, when the wives will let us.”

The team, based in Oklahoma City, bought a used chassis from one of the best race teams in NASCAR, Kyle Busch Motorsports.

It secured a used engine from Hendrick Motorsports, another top NASCAR garage.

“We’re learning how to do the bodies ourselves,” Stephens said. “A guy in North Carolina gets our bodies and gets them prepared so we can go through the inspection line.”

It gets fire suits and equipment from second-hand shops, trade catalogs and online dealers.

It has a used Peterbilt hauler.

Finally equipped to compete, the team is also learning to compete.

“My son Wayne is the rear tire changer, and when he goes to the races, he talks to the guys next to us — the good teams — about what can I do to get better,” Stephens said. “They’ll tell him, ‘Get this piece of equipment,’ or, ‘Cord your hose up this way.’

“In the series we’re in now, we don’t do the quick pit stops — we do them back in the garage. We’re getting better and better. It’s a work in progress, especially with volunteer guys who have never done it before.”

Minor, who worked in telecommunications and then real estate management after an Air Force career, estimates he has spent $100,000 of his own money over the last 10 years. The NASCAR driver application is free, but he has paid for his own track time and driving schools. (Anyone can show up to any NASCAR race in the country and race, provided the driver is certified for the track and the car passes inspection). He visited other racing teams on his own and made his own contacts.

“Since I tend to enjoy business and entrepreneurship, developing a NASCAR team was right up my alley,” he said. “The problem was, like most local racers, I had no idea how to make this happen.”

Now the process that began with an idea in his head in 2001 is almost there.

“I don’t know that I necessarily had a time frame in my mind,” he said. “I knew it was a difficult process. That it would take time. Most people get into NASCAR as a driver. I kind of had to build a career — a business — first.”

Minor got some of what he was looking for at Martinsville. He got on the track. He heard some cheers. He is getting closer.

“We’re the common man’s team, so to speak,” he said. “It seemed the fans at Martinsville appreciated that and gave us a great reception. They can relate to us as ‘one of them.’ ”

One of them who has gotten this far.

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