With NASCAR, there is an uneasy feeling in the air. While anecdotally I feel that the on-track competition is still great, many other aspects of the sport serve as an unavoidable background noise of annoyance. Last time we discussed NASCAR, I made the notion that more “villain” characters like Kyle Busch could help generate interest in both new and old race fans. But while the younger drivers try to figure out who’s going to be the next heel or hero, I want to discuss the business of NASCAR and where we might be headed in 2019.
Even though the Monster Energy Cup Series makes the headlines, one can argue that the true health of the sport can be measured by its other nationally touring xFinity (Grand National) and Camping World Truck Series. Historically, the xFinity series serves as the last great step before the “big time” and gives many younger drivers national exposure to some of the corporate facets of a successful NASCAR career. With this exposure, comes the chance to race against cup level talent on a week-to-week basis. Depending on a varied number of circumstances, Cup series drivers have driven in these “minor leagues” for decades, for countless numbers of teams. For years, this system worked as intended. Cup drivers would share their talents, and in most cases their wallets driving for small time or self-funded teams. Unfortunately, as the xFinity series has become more lucrative, the opportunity for less-known talent has decreased. Larger Cup series teams began investing more money into lower series programs, with more corporate sponsors, and the desire to please said sponsors with as much recognizable talent as possible. Drivers like Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards were becoming household names on Saturdays just much as Sundays, and the less funded race teams suffered even more. With this, came the casualties of unproven drivers competing for fewer, lower quality job opportunities.
One of my favorite NASCAR drivers that was somehow managing to work around this growing problem was Blake Koch. Koch drove for increasingly competitive teams in the early 2010s, and was finally starting to turn heads after joining Kaulig Racing. With Kaulig, Koch scored career best finishes, and made the xFinity series playoffs in both 2016 and 2017. As it looked that he might finally have a realistic shot at a major NASCAR championship, Koch lost his ride with Kaulig before the 2018 season, citing a lack of sponsorship. Without firm financial backing, Koch was forced to sit out the entirety of 2018, and future opportunities may have looked bleak for the 32 year old veteran. While most NASCAR drivers in this situation would search for new sponsorship the old fashioned way, Koch instead began thinking outside of the box.
In 2018 Koch founded his own company, FilterTime, an automatic home delivery service for HVAC air filters. By owning his own business, Koch was finally able to bring his own sponsor to the table when negotiating with race race teams looking for a new driver. For the 2019 xFinity series season, Blake Koch has secured a ride with JD Motorsports, piloting the popular number 4 car, a team that made the playoffs with driver Ross Chastain in 2018. TehBen.com was lucky enough for the chance to ask some questions to Blake Koch, and learn a little more about his fresh idea.
Has starting your own business always been a desire of yours, or did this plan come out of necessity?
I started my first business when I was 16 years old making signs and decals. I then went on to start my own pressure washing company with my step-father, and did that until I was full time in NASCAR. In 2015, I started an apparel company here in Charlotte and did tons of apparel for many teams and drivers. But those businesses were started to keep small and more of a side job and fun businesses. My whole life I have been trying to come up with a business that I could really scale and grow big and when I thought of FilterTime air filter subscription service I immediately knew it was the business I have been looking for my whole life.
Before parting with Kaulig Racing, you were having your career best results. For the NASCAR drivers without firm sponsor backing, what do they have to do to stay in their rides? How much job security comes from actual on-track performance?
Winning is the only way to have job security without a sponsor. But the best thing to do is win and make great relationships and partnerships with your sponsor. You have to do both.
What sacrifices have you made transitioning from “racecar driver” to “businessman-driver?”
Well it’s a whole new mindset. Before when you’re out promoting your sponsor, you’re not really giving it 100% on the marketing side. You kind of do the interviews and appearances you’re supposed to do it and move on. Now, I do everything I possibly can and also go check my analytics after the interview and see how much traffic was on FilterTime.com and how many new customers I got from it. Every possible way to get in front of someone to talk about FilterTime is an opportunity for me to grown and learn my business.
For better or worse, you’ve always been a grinder in the xFinity series, driving for several different teams of varied financial support (I’m actually wearing my Blake Koch #82 SilverSaver shirt as I ask this). Looking back on it, would you have done anything different? Would a more entrepreneurial effort been more beneficial to the younger Blake Koch?
I can honestly look back and say that I did everything I could to be the best driver I could be, especially my last year. It made it easier to deal with the fact that I lost my ride because I knew I gave it my all in every area. I feel like I promoted my sponsors better than any other driver and worked harder than all of them. I was pretty entrepreneurial the whole time and that has helped me get as far as I have.
Who was your favorite driver as a kid? What about them has translated to your career?
I didn’t even watch a race until 2007 so I didn’t really have a favorite growing up. I was more into SuperCross as a kid.
What needs to be done to ensure the best talent possible is on-track on a year-to-year basis? Does it require different thinking from NASCAR? From owners? From drivers?
I would have to say from watching on the sidelines last year that most of the races were very good and exciting. I think the durability of the composite body is good and stage racing is good. I love the sport, man, and I am not the kind of guy that is always trying to figure out how to make it better. I more so just look at all the positives and I know I am entertained when I watch them.
There are countless young (and old) drivers with the passion and desire to make it in stock car racing as developmental talent. What do you think it takes to stand out from the crowd?
It really takes everything. You need to make great relationships and not burn any bridges along the way. No matter how cheated you feel or unfair it seems you have to remain positive and just go to work. Feeling sorry for yourself and blaming “not having any money,” will get you nowhere in racing, and in life. To really shine I believe you have to show determination, passion, and work harder than anyone else. But then again, I don’t really know. Every time I get an opportunity it feels like a miracle from God. Really no explanation or process to get the opportunities.
Blake Koch’s idea is one that should give us hope for NASCAR. His story is one of many that’s shaping stock car racing in a manner that is ready to develop the talent it needs. Combining new conditions that force teams to invest in young talent, and those same young drivers capitalizing on those chances, we are indeed heading in the right direction. One important thing we have to remember, there is nothing to go BACK to, the world doesn’t work like that. Trying to duplicate something that once was, will only leave us disappointed. We can no longer expect to somehow find our last generation’s “Golden Age” of NASCAR.
From now on, we need to make our own.
A huge thanks to Blake Koch for taking the time to answer our questions. Follow Blake on Twitter, and check out his business FilterTime at the following: