Ryan Ellis is doing a monthly driver diary for Speedway Digest. He currently races the No. 1 and No. 50 trucks for MAKE Motorsports, splitting the rides with former champion Travis Kvapil, along with racing in the Xfinity Series for Rick Ware Racing on a part-time basis.
As the third part of this series, Ellis answered questions from some fans on Twitter about life as a racer. Take a look at what life is like for the 25-year-old Chipotle lover, racer and hockey addict.
If you could pick the number you race, any number, what would it be and why?
Probably either No. 71 or No. 51. I’ve been No. 71 nearly my whole life, racing it from when I was about four years old until I could no longer choose my number. I played hockey from about the same age until I was in college hockey. I wore No. 71 during my inline hockey days and had to choose No. 25 for my ice hockey days in college. Other than that, I’ve worn No. 71 my whole life.
What is your favorite meal at Chipotle?
Steak quesadilla or steak burrito … gotta have that guacamole, though.
What team, if you had to pick, would you drive for in the Sprint Cup Series?
That’s a tough one. I think Hendrick Motorsports or Stewart-Haas Racing. Growing up, I was a huge Jeff Gordon fan and it was always a dream to race for that team. As I grew older, Tony Stewart was definitely someone I tried to model my driving after, so it would be pretty cool to call him a boss at Stewart-Haas.
What’s the weirdest animal to run across a racetrack in front of you?
In front of me? Uh … none as far as I know. My road racing days brought a lot of deer and other animals on the track, but I don’t think I’ve ever hit one.
If Chip Ganassi ever mistook you for Kyle Larson and told you to get in the No. 42 car, would you correct him?
Wouldn’t even think about saying anything.
If given the chance, would you switch lives with Ryan Ellis from the NHL?
Yes. I love hockey, not as much as racing of course, but I absolutely love hockey. I played it my whole life. I wish racing were more like hockey sometimes. Hockey is like most other normal sports, where if you have talent and work hard, you’ll make it. I do love the business side of motorsports, but it’s tough. I wish we did a racing draft much like the NHL or any other sport. Plus, I think there are less politics in hockey. You can say what you mean a bit more without worrying about politics or hurting everyone’s feelings. They’re thicker skinned.
What driver from the past would you want to race against?
Ayrton Senna. He’s a guy you would hate to race against because you knew he was going to go for every gap. Very aggressive, but a guy you look up to for his race craft and lack of fear.
What crew chief from the past would you want to have?
That’s a tough one. I think it would have been cool to work with Steve Letarte honestly. Just from watching what he was able to do last year was pretty amazing. He seems like a great guy and an awesome crew chief.
The craziest wrecks that I’ve been involved in haven’t ended up too badly for me. I’ve been lucky to avoid the big ones at Daytona and Talladega for the most part. The wrecks in the Truck Series the past two years at Daytona have been really close calls for our FDNY Racing No. 28, but we got out of them cleanly.
The worst hits I’ve had have been in road racing. I hit a wall head on at Road Atlanta when I got turned in their very fast ‘esses’ section. That hurt a lot. I caught fire afterward, too. I honestly haven’t had any huge wrecks though, and in NASCAR, I’ve really only had the one incident with Jake Crum at Charlotte. That hit hurt, too, since there was no SAFER Barrier there, but wasn’t too bad visually.
What has been your favorite race in NASCAR thus far?
To watch? That’s a good question. I’m not sure if one sticks out for sure. But I think Darlington, which was very recent of course, was one of the best we’ve seen all year. That rules package is very ‘racey’ and so is Darlington in general. The amount of quality passes and great side-by-side racing we saw was amazing. I wish we could come up with a package that allowed us to race like that in Xfinity and Trucks.
How difficult is it to race on a week-to-week basis?
Hardest thing I’ve ever done. I am just a young kid trying to make it in this sport without the business connections or connections of being in the industry for 20-plus years like some people. If I had the money to go out and buy a NASCAR truck, hauler and do payroll, I would do what Jordan Anderson does. He works his butt off to get to the track every week and people notice it. I just don’t even have the money to start that. I am working a different angle of trying to find the money to race occasionally.
It’s hard to cold-call someone and convince them to give you $20,000 to $25,000 or more, but I have very good testimonials from past sponsors and most of them, if not all, are going to do it again in the future. I think it’s a matter of surviving long enough to develop a reputation as a driver, and a network for sponsorships. I’ve already begun to see my network grow, and with that, it gets a little bit easier. People don’t realize that just getting your foot in the door is the hardest part. Cold calls and random e-mails often don’t work, but if you have a friend of a friend that might know someone in a position of power that you can go and speak with face to face, that can go a long way.
What does it cost to fully fund a race in the Xfinity Series or Camping World Truck Series?
I think you could ask every team in both series and get different answers. In the Truck Series, there are probably less than six drivers that have ran the majority of the season that are not paying to race or bringing a sponsor that has close family ties to the deal. Xfinity has more hired drivers. To run in a lower-funded Xfinity Series car or a truck, the ‘general’ asking price can range from $10,000 to $25,000 depending on the race. If you’re higher experienced, sometimes it’s a matter of finding tire money.
Highly funded teams like JR Motorsports can ask for as much as $6 million for a season, even from a highly experienced guy. Of course, the Cup guys that are driving in Xfinity are a different deal. But when you are an up and coming guy, that’s about what you are expected to bring ($120,000 to 200,000 or more a race). Some people just write a check with their own (or family) money, some own family businesses which they get the money from, but there certainly aren’t many young guys in the top rides who aren’t bringing money in some way shape or form. For mid-level truck or Xfinity rides, some drivers are bringing about $250,000 to $350,000 for a full season, and some are bringing over a million. It depends on the equipment, engine contract, pit crew, and so much more. Sometimes, the team will subsidize the cost using its own money or a sponsor that helps them out.
Ryan Ellis will be doing a driver diary for Speedway Digest on a monthly basis. He currently races the No. 1 Chevrolet for MAKE Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
As the second part of this series, the 25-year-old breaks down what it is like to break into the world of NASCAR, and just how perfect a driver has to be in everything they have to do. Take a look at his perspective of what life is like when the odds are against an up and coming driver.
"Not going to lie, I struggled a bit on the topic of this blog. In fact, as I’m typing this right now, I still don’t know where it’s going to go. I had a blog written on why certain drivers take certain opportunities and how those opportunities come about. But I’ve learned a lesson on shutting my mouth sometimes in this industry, and I’m going to do my best to do that.
That blog would probably be very interesting to everyone and would make everyone understand why certain drivers are where they are. For some reason, every fan wants to know the inside of the industry, but when I talk about it, there are always 10 percent of the people who think I am complaining. I’m not, I promise.
The industry is the way it is, and it’s up to us drivers to adapt. In fact, the business side of this sport interests me very much, and that’s why I like sharing it so much. Maybe one day, I’ll publish that, and it’s not even condescending to anyone, but I don’t want anyone to take it the wrong way. If I’ve learned anything about being a “public figure,” it’s that, if there is an opportunity to take something wrong, somebody will find it. I digress.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND BEING IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Social media. I think the best way to put it is:
- It can boost your career 5 percent -10 percent, but it can kill your career 100 percent.
- You can send 500,000 tweets that help your career. One bad tweet misconceived can cost you your career.
There is a high risk, with a low reward. But it is a necessity as an up-and-coming driver? Absolutely.
I just finished watching Tony Stewart’s periscope. I only caught the last part. For as scary as Twitter is for a driver, Periscope should scare influential figures a million times more. Not that many people say borderline things, but you have to be on guard every minute of every day. It’s not uncommon for people to just walk up Periscoping without any notice. I guess the lesson is … always pretend you’re on camera.
I love social media. If you don’t know that, you obviously don’t follow me on Twitter. The cool thing about Twitter is you can communicate with anyone and everyone. I’ve met a ton of cool celebrities through Twitter, and I don’t know if that was ever possible before it came about. I guess that’s about all I have to say on that.
Editor’s note: Ellis has over 16,000 followers on Twitter, and over 1,700 likes on Facebook.
TIPS FOR UP AND COMING DRIVERS
This is a question I get quite a lot. What advice do you have for other drivers? I can only speak for the reasons that I made it to this level. Everyone has a different story, but these are the things I have learned:
- If you’re not doing something to better your career every day, you’re doing it wrong. It doesn’t matter if you send one text message inquiring about a sponsor or 15 proposals to potential sponsors. You should do at least one thing every day to further yourself.
- Leave your house in real life or virtually. Go to your local go-kart track. Go on Twitter and communicate with fans or drivers you look up to. The more people that know your name and respect you, the more likely you’ll come across someone who can help your career.
- This goes with the last point, but put yourself out there every single way. I cannot reiterate this enough, put yourself out there in any way possible. I’ve met people coaching at local go-kart tracks, at charity functions or being friends of friends. The bigger your network is, the more likely you’ll have success. If you’re not personally wealthy, this is your biggest asset – networking.
- Be thankful for every opportunity you get. Shake hands with every single person who helps you. Make sure people know you are thankful. People like helping people who appreciate their opportunities. Plus, it’s the right thing to do no matter what field you are in.
- Study hard. No, my parents or your parents aren’t telling me to say this. Put school first. I’m one of the few guys in NASCAR that went to college that I know of. The sport has changed. Understand the business side of the sport and not only will you be a bigger asset to yourself, but you’ll be a bigger asset to teams who need help finding sponsorship and the sponsors themselves. If racing doesn’t work out, you’ll have an education and can work within the industry doing a million other fun jobs.
- Help yourself.
Chris Rock once said, “I’d always end up broken down on the highway. When I stood there trying to flag someone down, nobody stopped. But when I pushed my own car, other drivers would get out and push with me. If you want help, help yourself—people like to see that.”
If you’re not putting in hard work, how can you expect someone else to help you?
Whatever you do, do well, and may success attend your efforts.
Don’t do anything without your full effort in this industry. Commit. Show how much it means to you. Make it happen.
- Have fun. Smile. A lot of people within this industry could be making more money doing something else. We love what we do. If people aren’t having fun working with you or if they don’t like you, they won’t work with you. Have fun, be easy to work with. If people like you, you’ll make it one way or another."