Koch, McDonald Motorsports chasing Nationwide success
by Matt Taliaferro
Life can be tough at the top. Or even near it. And in the world of professional auto racing — where speed is not measured in horsepower, but dollars — it can be downright impossible to break through.
Don’t tell Blake Koch, though. The 25 year-old Florida native is attempting to make his mark in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series despite a lack of dollars that equate into miles per hour. Koch and his McDonald Motorsports team are fighting the good fight against the series’ powerhouse teams — think Roush Fenway and Joe Gibbs Racing — and they’re doing it the right way.
Koch has made eight career starts in the Nationwide Series since making the jump from NASCAR’s K&N West Series in 2009 — five this season — and he’s finished every one. In a climate where start and park entries are all but accepted in all three of NASCAR’s touring series, that’s saying something.
“At the beginning of the year I was paying all my own expenses,” Koch said prior to the 300-mile Nationwide race in Nashville. “Now Randy (McDonald, team owner) can help me out, but I still cover 90 percent of my own expenses. There’s no salary, no percentage of race winnings.”
Still, he’s willing to sacrifice now in order to find success later, regardless of the personal expense required.
“It’s difficult for my wife and I, but it’s what we love and we’re going to keep going with it.”
Does he feel some sense of resentment, though? After all, do Cup regulars Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, et al, really need to log Nationwide miles and collect hardware? Those big names attract big money, leaving table scraps for young teams and drivers trying to get a foothold in the sport.
“I don’t think it’s a huge impact for sponsors,” Koch shrugs. “I think it’s big that we can tell our potential sponsors that we’ll be racing against Dale Earnhardt Jr. this weekend or Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards or Trevor Bayne.
“I think it’s an advantage for us to tell them (sponsors) that we’ll be in the same race with those guys. We’re a low-budget team, and those lower-budget companies can get in the same race with the big-budget companies.”
In the meantime, Koch and McDonald have the backing of Daystar Television Network, a media company focusing on religiously-based programming. It’s a partner Koch and McDonald view as more than just a sponsor, but a belief and a way of life.
“Randy McDonald has the same vision we do,” Koch says. “We’re all believers in Christ and we like to take that platform out into the community.”
Still, all the belief and vision in the world won’t make up for a lack of funding, so Koch’s short-term expectations are modest ones.
“My expectations vary,” he says. “Typically, my expectations are to qualify top 25 and finish top 20 — but my goal is to finish top 15. But money buys speed, so … today, I hope to qualify 22nd.”
He just missed that, rolling off 30th in the Nashville 300 and finishing 25th. Still, the team has had its moments, like the 17th-place run in Memphis in 2009 and a 16th at Talladega last weekend. The Talladega race — his first at the superspeedway — was impressive on a number of levels.
“With the weather and trouble in tech, we missed the whole first practice and all but 15 minutes of the second practice,” he explained. “So NASCAR told us we had to get on the track for at least one lap or we couldn’t qualify.
“I’ve never even seen the track or played it on a video game, so I just had to go out there with pure faith and get it done. I didn’t get to bump draft at all (in practice), so come race time, that was the first time I’d been around cars. Luckily, Joey Logano picked us up on the second lap (in a two-car draft) and got us from 30th to 13th in like 28 laps.”
Koch kept his cool the rest of the day in recording his career-best finish. And with his hunger, a committed team and a supportive sponsor, it’s likely those career-best showings will continue to come.