After two years on Patreon, here’s why I’m sticking with it

I’ll never forget sitting in Carl Edwards’ retirement press conference in 2017 when he was trying to explain to a baffled room why he’d walk away from a perfectly good job into an unknown future.

“There’s no life raft I’m jumping onto — I’m just jumping,” he said.

That hit me hard, because I had started to tell my media friends the same day that I was soon going to quit USA Today and start an independent website funded through Patreon.

I related to Edwards in a major way, because at the time, hardly anyone even knew what Patreon was. It was a terrifying leap of faith — a trust in strangers who follow me on Twitter — and I found out later my friends were quite worried about my decision!

It was two years ago today when I actually launched the site. I can remember practically being sick to my stomach, because I knew the next few hours would reveal whether it could work or not.

If it didn’t succeed, I was going to be out of journalism. It was this or bust. But if it worked, it had potential to be the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had.

As it turned out, the past two years have been the best of my life. I’m so incredibly grateful to those who have chosen to support this website and podcast and keep sending me to the racetrack. It probably gets repetitive to hear me say THANK YOU all the time, but that’s honestly how I feel every day, so I can’t help but constantly be appreciative.

That said, I often get asked: How long are you going to do this? And also: If another outlet approached you with an offer, would you quit Patreon?

I can’t predict the future, but as of now, my plan is to keep doing this as long as you’ll have me. I’ve actually had some great offers over the past couple years and thought about those possibilities. But ultimately, I feel such a strong bond with those who have gotten me to this point — and I’m having so much fun doing it — that I feel it would be a mistake to change course.

Patreon has given me the freedom to cover what I want, how I want, when I want — and for who I want. And that connection to my “bosses,” as I call them, is something I really cherish.

I’ll give you an example. During a Southern 500 watch party here in Portland last September — a barbecue with some patrons who attended the Portland Grand Prix earlier that day — I was given a major shock. A group of my patrons had secretly raised more than $6,000 for my baby daughter Liliana’s education fund (which didn’t exist yet!) — and presented me with an oversized check! “Speechless” doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt.

And that wasn’t even the only time the group of “Gluckers” (the nickname they gave themselves) had conspired to do something generous for me and my wife, Sarah.

As you can imagine, things like that are deeply humbling. I certainly don’t think I deserve ANY of this and I constantly wonder why people have decided to be so supportive — through Patreon and beyond. I truly don’t get it, if we’re being frank.

But it certainly makes me want to work harder and stick with this, because I view my role as trying to help entertain and inform people about their favorite sport. If they feel that’s being accomplished, then I’m not about to abandon it.

Anyway, today is the start of Year 3, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to post the link to Patreon if you’re interested in signing up for the first time. This year I’m offering a few more patron-only pieces of content, so you can check out the details there. Plus I had 1,000 stickers made with my cartoon face on them, and if you become a patron by the Daytona 500, I’ll send one your way.

Here’s how you can help support this website and my podcast (and get a sticker!).

Thanks for reading — whether you’re a patron or not — and I’ll talk to you soon.

Chili Bowl Night 6: Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson add another chapter to respectful rivalry

Since it’s 2019 and the world is an angry place, many of us have developed a negative connotation with the word “rivalry.”

When we think of rivals, we think of two people who spew vitriol and trash talk, going against each other not just on the playing field, but in Twitter burns and Instagram-worthy clips.

One has to win and rub it in. The other has to lose and pout or vow revenge. Competing with civility seems like a lost art.

Even when you bring up the word “rivalry” to Christopher Bell — referring to the one he shares with Kyle Larson — Bell momentarily cringes before agreeing on the definition.

“‘Rivalry’ is…well, I guess rivalry is the right term for what we have for what we have going on,” he said. “But we’re acquaintances, we’re friends — we’re each other’s biggest supporters. So it’s a very unique relationship we have.”

There’s nothing in the dictionary definition of rivalry that says the people have to dislike each other, and Bell and Larson clearly don’t. If you thought Bell coming out of nowhere to snatch Larson’s dream trophy away Saturday night at the Chili Bowl might finally change that (guilty as charged), you’d be way wrong.

Even though it has to be tough to swallow losing such a cherished race. to someone who consistently beats you, the only bitterness Larson expressed afterward was toward himself for allowing Bell to catch him.

Did Bell make contact in the process? Yes, Larson said, but nothing unwarranted. He opened the door for it and expected it. Fair game.

As a cloud of confetti surrounded Bell, Larson stood 50 feet away and stared blankly at the celebration stage for several long minutes. It’s been well documented the Chili Bowl is the race Larson wants to win more than any other, based on his dirt upbringing and the importance of the race — both personally and in the midget world.

Larson’s parents still sit in the same seats they did when they came as fans, before Kyle even started racing in the event. And Mike Larson, Kyle’s dad, was technically the car owner for the Chili Bowl this year — meaning father and son could have celebrated together in victory lane at a place they both hold so dear.

And it looked like it was going to finally happen, as Larson dominated the race and had a sizable lead in the final laps. But that all disappeared when Larson slipped up coming to the white flag, allowing Bell to gain ground, then made another bobble in Turn 1 of the final lap.

Bell scooted underneath and muscled his way by on the backstretch as Larson tried in vain to fend him off in the final turns.

The sold-out crowd exploded, Bell exulted at his third straight Chili Bowl win and Larson was left shocked at another Golden Driller that got away — and ended up in Bell’s hands, again.

You couldn’t blame Larson in the slightest if that turned into resentment rather than respect for his opponent. But that’s not what happened.

After composing himself and letting Bell do a victory lane interview, Larson strode toward the younger driver and offered an outstretched hand. They shook, then later entered the media center together and posed for the traditional podium photos. Larson even forced a smile as to not ruin the picture.

That’s not to say Larson was OK with losing — far from it. He was so devastated, he could barely raise his voice enough to be heard. But unlike many people in his position, Larson didn’t point the finger at anyone else and accepted responsibility for the outcome.

Meanwhile, Bell refrained from bragging about his own skills, humbly describing the method he used to catch Larson and expressing surprise he had the opportunity to win.

“It was very easy to slip, but he is the most talented race car driver a lot of us have ever seen,” Bell said later, after Larson had left the room. “So yeah, it’s pretty surprising he did slip.”

And so goes another chapter in the rivalry, which has now extended across years and various disciplines (midgets, sprints and stock cars) and even countries (they raced each other several times in New Zealand last month).

The two texted each other this week and expressed how remarkable it was that they always seem to finish 1-2 — in some order — when they’re on the same track. It’s already happened at least four times since the NASCAR season ended in November.

But no matter who wins or what the circumstances are, they always seem to remain on good terms.

That fact, as much as their talent itself, deserves applause in today’s day and age. Hey parents, want a good example of sportsmanship and class? Watch how Larson and Bell treat each other — and what they say about each other — even in the greatest moments of disappointment.

The 2019 Chili Bowl will be remembered as a great finish, but it will ultimately be just another addition to the Larson and Bell highlight reel. And the best is yet to come, when Bell finally graduates to the Cup Series and can go head-to-head with Larson on a weekly basis.

It’s a rivalry without animosity or hate, and you know what? That’s just fine. The world could use more like it.


Other Chili Bowl coverage this week:

— Night 1When anyone can enter Chili Bowl — even you! — it can be sketchy for top drivers

— Night 2Kyle Larson shines once again, setting up long-anticipated rematch with rival

— Night 3Cole Bodine is the best story of the Chili Bowl so far

— Night 4Christopher Bell impresses everyone but himself

— Night 5: After shop accident, Brad Loyet finishes career on own terms

Post-race podcast with Blake Anderson

Chili Bowl Night 5: Brad Loyet’s determination lets him finish career on own terms

When Brad Loyet was sitting in the hospital less than a year ago, right wrist shattered and his hand just hanging on as decoration, he knew he’d never race again. Loyet told his family as much at the time.

But as this year’s Chili Bowl approached, the 31-year-old made what he called a “selfish” decision: He called officials in Tulsa and told them he was getting back into a car one last time.

“If I would have known last year was my last race, then so be it,” said Loyet, who has five career Chili Bowl A-Main appearances. “But I wasn’t given that opportunity to say, ‘OK, I’m finished racing.’”

The thing is, Loyet still isn’t 100 percent recovered from his fluke accident last year. Actually, he’s not even close to healed.

Loyet had been inflating a tire in his team’s race shop last February when the wheel suddenly exploded and broke Loyet’s arm in multiple places. Two plates were placed into his arm, but the surgeon promised a full recovery — and Loyet was optimistic that would be the case. (Graphic photos of his arm are here, if you choose to look.)

It didn’t turn out that way. Six weeks after the surgery, Loyet still couldn’t even feel his hand. A specialist in St. Louis told him further surgery might only do more damage and suggested Loyet just learn to live with his handicap.

“I told myself, ‘Let’s just make the best of life at this point,’” Loyet said.

But Loyet ran into Tony Stewart at a race in Kansas early last summer, and Stewart asked how he was doing. Loyet told him doctors said he wouldn’t get any better; Stewart replied, “That’s bullshit.”

“I want you to go see one of my guys,” Stewart told him.

So with Stewart’s help, Loyet got in to see a specialist in Indianapolis — who promptly discovered the bones were not only still broken in Loyet’s arm, but the plate holding them all together was flexing and about to break.

Loyet had additional surgery on July 5, where doctors used a bone from his hip to strengthen the arm. And while it’s helped stabilize his wrist, Loyet still can’t bend it and thus has no grip strength in his right hand; he’s scheduled for another appointment next month, where the prospect of additional surgery looms.

With Loyet still dealing with the fallout from the shop incident in his daily life, the decision to stop racing was pretty obvious.

“I’m at the point where I have a wife and a kid and another on the way,” he said. “I’ve been a race car driver for more than half my life. It’s hard to walk away, but there are better things in life I need to focus my attention on.”

But three weeks ago, Loyet decided he didn’t want his driving career to end without a proper goodbye. So there he was Friday night, strapping into a car for his heat race at the world’s most prestigious midget race.

Loyet started seventh and finished third in the heat, then started at the front of a B-Main and nearly won it. His arm ached badly with every lap, and he mostly just rested it on the wheel rather than use it to steer.

“Every time my heart beats, I feel my hand take a hit,” he said.

Despite that, the mere fact Loyet made it to the A-Main was a victory. More than 70 cars were entered on Friday night, and a one-armed driver who hadn’t raced in a year made it to the top 24.

“Not too shabby,” Loyet said.

Now, regardless of how he does in today’s Chili Bowl Nationals, Loyet gets to leave racing on his own terms. He starts 10th in an E-Main today, but that’s more than he could have hoped for last February.

“There’s one thing I don’t do, and it’s give up,” he said. “Life throws you curves and you’ve got to figure it out. That’s just part of the game.”

Stewart, standing in the infield, was impressed as he watched Loyet race.

“That shows you how big of guts he’s got,” Stewart said. “He picked the toughest race of the year, where’s no spot on this racetrack to take a break.

“He was sweating like a pig when he was done, but I asked him, ‘Are you having fun?’ He said yeah, so that was pretty cool.”


Other Chili Bowl coverage this week:

— Night 1When anyone can enter Chili Bowl — even you! — it can be sketchy for top drivers

— Night 2Kyle Larson shines once again, setting up long-anticipated rematch with rival

— Night 3Cole Bodine is the best story of the Chili Bowl so far

Night 4: Christopher Bell impresses everyone but himself

Chili Bowl Night 4: Christopher Bell impresses everyone — except himself

If the Big Grin Emoji existed in human form — a giant smiley head, just with legs and arms — that would usually describe Christopher Bell at the Chili Bowl. Bell is in his element here, at his cherished home state race, exuding joy with every step he takes at the River Spirit Expo Center.

Bell gets to live his dream of racing against the best midget drivers in the world — in a race that means everything to him — and usually kick their asses in the process.

He did it again Thursday night in the Chili Bowl prelims, winning the A-Main to put himself in great position for Saturday while wowing both the crowd and his competitors in the process.

He’s unreal,” Shane Golobic said after finishing second. “He’s the best there is, hands down. I was pretty proud to be able to race with him.”

“He makes everybody better,” third-place finisher C.J. Leary said. “His car control is out of this world. A lot of guys are really good, but Christopher is on top right now.”

But one person wasn’t impressed with Bell’s performance: Bell himself. The human Big Grin Emoji was gone, replaced by a Worried Face Emoji who could barely force a smile in the postrace media session.

As it turns out, Bell didn’t have the feel he was used to on Thursday. He managed to win anyway, but the two-time defending Chili Bowl champion isn’t optimistic about his chances on Saturday.

He used words like “shaken” to describe himself after discovering he felt “rusty” on the track. He cited his Keith Kunz Motorsports teammates’ relatively easy wins in their prelims earlier in the week and openly fretted about not being able to hang with them.

At one point late in the race, he inadvertently popped a wheelie down the frontstretch and said he had flashes of leaving the building in an ambulance.

This wasn’t some sort of false show of humility or an attempt to be a perfectionist; Bell was seriously, legitimately concerned about how he ran, and it was written all over his face as he spoke. His confidence, he said, had taken a hit.

“The longer you’re on top, the harder it is to stay there,” Bell said. “I’m going to do my best to figure out why I didn’t feel as good as I normally do and why I didn’t run as good of a race as I normally do.”

Bell knows his chief rival, Kyle Larson, is “hungry” for a first Golden Driller trophy. The race means just as much to Larson, but he’s never won it.

Then there’s KKM teammates Rico Abreu — a two-time champ himself — and Logan Seavey, the defending USAC National Midget champion. Not to mention a host of other drivers who don’t happen to be in the same equipment as Bell but feel they can pull off an upset.

Bell might be the favorite in many minds heading into Saturday, but it’s no sure thing in his own head.


Other Chili Bowl coverage this week:

— Night 1When anyone can enter Chili Bowl — even you! — it can be sketchy for top drivers

— Night 2Kyle Larson shines once again, setting up long-anticipated rematch with rival

— Night 3: Cole Bodine is the best story of the Chili Bowl so far

 

Chili Bowl Night 3: Cole Bodine seizes opportunity, delivers for Clauson Marshall Racing

Tim Clauson was sitting in his office at the Clauson Marshall Racing shop in the fall of 2017 when a teenager named Cole Bodine walked in.

“Me and my dad race micros, but that’s about as far as we can get financially,” Bodine said. “What does someone like me have to do to get an opportunity?”

The answer was something no driver would ever want to hear: Give up racing for a year, work without pay in the team’s shop and see what happened — with no assurances of anything.

“I’m not going to promise you a ride,” Clauson told him. “But I can promise you a lot of knowledge and experience, and if you do your job right, you’re going to meet a lot of good people. And from there, hopefully things will happen for you.”

As it turned out, that seemingly unattractive offer was actually the first step toward what has been the best story of the 2019 Chili Bowl so far.

Bodine was seeking opportunity — not guarantees — so he accepted Clauson’s proposal and started wrenching on the cars without complaint. For six months, the Indiana native “worked his ass off,” as Clauson put it, and never once asked about driving.

“I didn’t know if it was going to work out,’” Bodine said. “The only thing I could do was put my head down and keep digging.”

Clauson, the father of the late Bryan Clauson, was paying close attention. Eventually, he found room for an extra car in two midget races and gave Bodine a chance to drive.

Bodine charged from 20th to seventh in his second start, showing he had ability — but it looked like that would be the only shot he might get. In the meantime, Bodine went back to wrenching on the cars.

“People were like, ‘Man, that’s awesome. You got a job at Clauson Marshall,’” Bodine said. “But I let people know: I work here, but that’s not my end goal. I’m here to be a race car driver.”

Opportunity knocked again last June, when Zeb Wise — the team’s promising young racer — got hurt while sitting third in the USAC Midget standings.

Clauson compiled a list of available replacement drivers. Bodine’s name made the list, but it was at the bottom.

Three people met to decide who would drive the car: Clauson, Wise and co-owner Richard Marshall. They each wrote a name on a piece of paper, then flipped it over to reveal their votes.

All three picked Bodine.

“I thought I was going to be the only one of three,” Clauson said with a laugh.

Bodine had impressed everyone with his work ethic, and those around him thought he should be rewarded with the opportunity. And he delivered, finishing second to USAC champion Logan Seavey in just the sixth midget start of Bodine’s career.

Then, when Justin Grant parted ways with the team last fall, it was sponsor NOS Energy Drink who suggested Bodine should get the chance to drive the car again.

Fast forward to the Chili Bowl, where Bodine, 20, has been working all week on the fleet of his teammates’ cars. He was allowed a reprieve on Wednesday, though — because that was Bodine’s prelim night.

Incredibly — and beyond even Clauson and Marshall’s expectations — Bodine ended up winning his qualifier race, got the pole for the evening’s A-Main and finished third to two-time Chili Bowl champion Rico Abreu and World of Outlaws driver David Gravel.

Now Bodine will head into Saturday night’s Nationals at the front of the B-Main, with the chance to achieve a once-unlikely goal of making it to the big show.

“It was a dream just to make it into the prelim A-Main; to make the Saturday A-Main would be unbelievable,” he said. “Hopefully, this is just the first step of many, where you work your way up the totem pole the old-fashioned way and talent and hard work gets you to where you want to be.”

After seeing what Bodine has accomplished so far, Clauson wouldn’t be shocked if it happened.

“I could argue this has the pressure of the Indy 500 when you roll out and you’re in this fishbowl with 10,000 people,” Clauson said. “To come here with a kid like Cole, you don’t know where it’s going to go. You just hope he has a good showing. So far, he’s had a magnificent showing.”


Other Chili Bowl coverage this week:

— Night 1When anyone can enter Chili Bowl — even you! — it can be sketchy for top drivers

— Night 2: Kyle Larson shines once again, setting up long-anticipated rematch with rival

Chili Bowl Night 2: Kyle Larson dominates, but matchup with rival Bell looms

Let’s start out by acknowledging here that Kyle Larson is one of the great American racing talents ever to strap into a car.

Hyperbole? Nah. At age 26, Larson is already a winning NASCAR driver, one of the top sprint car drivers and the second-best midget racer in the world. That’s a combination few can claim.

Of course, he’d prefer to be the best in a midget — and he was probably on that path until Christopher Bell showed up and started beating him regularly. Now Larson has found himself in the unusual position of trying to raise his game instead of simply relying on his natural abilities.

Bell has pushed Larson to be better in a midget, and Larson is ready to push back.

“I’ve worked really hard to become a smarter racer and make better decisions — in a way, think like he might think — so instead of being a step behind, maybe be at his level,” Larson said. “You have to always work on your game and try to get better, because he’s getting better and better every race.”

Larson certainly didn’t look like he had much competition Tuesday, when he waxed the field on his prelim night for the Chili Bowl Nationals. It was Larson’s fifth career prelim win.

But Bell — his Keith Kunz Motorsports teammate — hasn’t run his prelims yet. They did race together in the Race of Champions on Tuesday, but it wasn’t a true head-to-head test — Bell started 15th by random draw and Larson started fourth. Even so, Bell only finished one spot behind Larson.

The true showdown, widely anticipated for a year now, is shaping up to take place once again in Saturday night’s 55-lap A-Main. That’s assuming Bell doesn’t have trouble making the big race — though that would be a shock, considering he’s the back-to-back Chili Bowl champion.

Larson had no problem with declaring Bell as the driver to beat again.

“I’ve got zero (Golden) Drillers in my trophy case,” Larson said. “You just look at his track record — not just in this building, but any racetrack in a midget — and his win percentage is crazy over the last four or five years. I would definitely say he’s the favorite anywhere he goes in a midget right now.”

That said, Larson actually got the better of the two when they raced midgets recently in New Zealand. It was Bell who finished second to Larson on a couple nights rather than the other way around.

Larson suggested it was because they were in different equipment, but added: “Maybe I’m just making excuses for him.”

“It’d been a long time since I beat Christopher in anything — at least on dirt — so that was good,” he said.

The question is: Can Larson do it again?

SPONSOR WOES IN OFFSEASON

Larson’s firesuit at the Chili Bowl is still sporting a DC Solar patch, though the company won’t be on his NASCAR ride this season after an FBI raid on its headquarters. When it became clear the funding was gone, Chip Ganassi Racing had to shut down its Xfinity team — which was going to be fully sponsored by DC Solar — and is scrambling to find a new sponsor for Larson’s Cup car (DC Solar was the primary sponsor for 12 races last season).

Larson said going to race in New Zealand when the news came out was a helpful distraction to the sponsor troubles.

“It’s nice to go to New Zealand because I don’t talk to anybody in the States, really,” he said. “I kind of get away from everything that’s going on here. I don’t even really know what all has gone on or how the future is going to look.

“Unfortunate that it happened. (DC Solar owners) Jeff and Paulette Carpoff have been nothing but great to myself, so I hate that it all happened. I know my team is probably working really hard to fill those races — because it’s a lot of races they were on the car — but I don’t get into NASCAR mode until Sunday (after the Chili Bowl). So I’m still not really thinking or worrying about it yet.”

Kyle Larson is interviewed by Ralph Sheheen after winning Night 2 of the Chili Bowl Nationals. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

Other Chili Bowl coverage this week:

Night 1: When anyone can enter Chili Bowl — even you! — it can be sketchy for top drivers