Name: Travis Carter
Hometown: Ellerbe, NC
Resides: Denver, NC
Marital status: Married, wife Linda; son Matthew, daughter Kim
Racing Involvement: Co-owner, with Carl Haas, of Haas-Carter Motorsports in NASCAR Winston Cup Series; crew chief for Benny Parsons' 1973 Winston Cup championship; worked as crew chief for legendary car owner Junior Johnson; helped Hal Needham form Skoal Bandit team in 1980s before becoming a team owner in 1989.
Travis Carter entered 2002 prepared to field the No. 26 and No. 66 Fords for drivers Joe Nemechek and Todd Bodine. But Haas-Carter Motorsports was sent into a tailspin when sponsor Kmart filed for bankruptcy in January and discontinued sponsorship of the two cars. Here Carter talks about the new sponsor that brought new life to his racing career.
SCR: How tough has this year been on you personally, with everything that has gone on?
Carter: Given the last few years when we've been in pretty good shape and been able to move forward, then all of a sudden to have the rug pulled out from under us before the first race, that turns everything upside down. We had a new driver on board and had brought in new people to try and improve the quality of the team and the quality of the people here. It was a big setback. It's not the first time I've faced that situation, and for me it's just created the desire to rise to the challenge and overcome it and beat it. That's the biggest thing for me personally-to try and survive and overcome that adversity.
SCR: Were you totally blindsided by the situation with Kmart?
Carter: Pretty much. I think, realistically, there were some indicators by the end of last year that raised concern for us. Obviously our questions were answered that there was no reason for concern, no reason to change; but still you're skeptical. You can't ignore what you hear on the national news.
Although its workforce had...
Although its workforce had been trimmed from approximately 70 to 25 people, Haas-Carter Motorsports made every race during the first half of the season--an indication of the team's talent.
SCR: In midsummer you landed a deal with Discover, but how does that program look for next season?
Carter: Obviously, we would like to continue with Discover, but we don't know that we'll be able to. I think there's realistically some opportunity to do that. They've set forth a test plan and what we do is a big part of that plan, and what they can do with the associated programs is a big piece of the puzzle. I think they're in a perfect position to keep this thing moving forward, and certainly we want to help them enhance that opportunity.
SCR: Considering the many components that go into a team, how tough is it to make it in Winston Cup?
Carter: Well, running a racing business is not really a widely profitable situation. I mean, you can have good sponsors and you can keep the thing in the black. From my observation, the people who make the most money are the people who do additional marketing, the bigger merchandise sellers, and things like that. Those are the ways where a lot more of the revenue is made. Those teams that aren't big merchandisers aren't going to make a lot of money. But with the whole thing you're vulnerable to the point that you're depending on that commercial sponsorship dollar, and you're only as good as your existing contract.
SCR: You've worked with some of the biggest names in the sport. Who has had the most influence on you, personally and professionally?
Carter: That's a hard question. A lot of people have influenced me. Roger Penske had a real strong influence. Junior Johnson did also, and I think as highly of Hal Needham as anyone I've ever been associated with, for a lot of reasons. He was a competitor, and he's really a good person. Driver-wise, I was young enough at the time that I learned a lot from Benny Parsons, but I also learned a lot from Bobby Allison just in a short period of time. People like that are big influences.
SCR: You've been racing for 31 years. During that time, what has been the biggest development in the sport, discounting RJR coming into NASCAR?
Carter: Obviously, R.J. Reynolds' involvement is the biggest thing. Discounting that, the biggest development has been commercial sponsors in general coming in, with the change that has brought in the sport. What you see happen a lot is typical with any growth, in that it's like fighting wars, with the grunts coming in and doing the work. You look through the history of this thing and see people who invested everything they had into it, and a lot of them didn't leave with very much. But the business has grown, and as the business grows you see stronger, more affluent people want to step in and take advantage of what the other people have built. That's not in a negative way, but I see it that way a little bit. Those people weren't there to help build it. They didn't invest in it to get it going, but now they can come in and take advantage of it because it's bigger, it's popular, and revenues are up. It makes for a great opportunity.