Normally when we write about small independent race teams doing the impossible and scoring a big win, it’s a cause exclusively for celebration. At the time it happened, Brandon Brown’s win at Talladega in the Xfinity series truly was one to take notice and admire. While his team, closest supporters, and friends wouldn’t have been surprised, the number 68 Brandonbilt Motorsports Chevy was not your typical winning entry in NASCAR’s grand national series. Working out of Fredericksburg, VA and sponsored by several smaller than typical entities, many from that same region, the 68 car was a bit of a throwback to a community-based effort of race team rather than a large corporate undertaking. Still, feel good stories aside, this small independent race win has somehow turned racing fans in and out of the NASCAR community against each other, and serves as a key talking point in the racing offseason for the worst possible reasons. You don’t need this article to act as a summary of what took place during the post-race interview, or as an explanation to the “Let’s Go Brandon” chant as it sweeps across the American landscape. If you’re reading this article, you’re well aware of what brought all of us to this point. However, in all that noise there have been a few things lost in the shuffle.
In early January of 2022, Brandonbilt Motorsports announced a new full-time sponsor for the 2022 season, a “meme coin” cryptocurrency entitled “LGBCoin,” which was launched in November of 2021. The coin, a purposeful abbreviation of the Let’s Go Brandon chant that NASCAR publicly announced their intent to distance themselves from, was said to have the full approval of NASCAR and was ready to go for the full season. Soon after, NASCAR indicated they made no such approval of the sponsor nor the submitted paint scheme and it was made clear LBGCoin would not be able to feature on the 68 car for the foreseeable future. In a series of moves that looked expertly calculated, LGBCoin, mostly through notable HODLer James Koutoulas, made broad and combative pronouncements that included threats to sue, demands for retribution, and most importantly a claim that Brandon Brown himself was being made a victim through this contentious business deal. While promises to 8 figure non-racing personal appearance contracts to Brandon Brown have been publicized, no such announcements have come about additional or supplementary sponsors to the race car itself. Moreover, LGBCoin made an extremely direct claim in its Change.org petition asking about the fairness of Brandon’s sponsors having “dropped him”after the chant became a divisive issue, a notion that was since removed from the language of the petition as of 1/12/2022.
Could that really have been the case? Have all of Brandonbilt’s previous sponsors simply left him for dead because of a political chant? For a collective so hellbent on accuracy that they threaten to sue writers and publications over the slightest detail, this is a very important factor to investigate. Thankfully, we’ve been able to track down a few of Brandon Brown’s sponsors from 2021 to get their take on the issue and share some personal experiences post Talladega. Just what has become of The Forgotten Sponsors?
Even at the highest levels of NASCAR, small sponsors are still very much a part of the game. While the big corporations get the most airtime, many independent teams rely on small dollar amount sponsors of four or even three figure deals to keep a team going. The Mohawk Foundation, a charity that uses sporting events to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer and ALS research, is an example of a sponsor that small teams might use to think outside the box. Ryne Hoover, Founder and CEO of TMF struck a one race “C-Post” deal with the intention to pursue things beyond that race. “We paid him $1000 for the decals with the idea of raising $6800+ for the charity after that race. Brandon’s team would take a cut from that fundraiser, and we settled on an amount. This deal was 20% of the money we brought in for 2020 so it was a big deal to us.”
After the one-race deal and Brandon’s Talladega win shortly after, Brown became harder to contact. What at first was chalked up to being overwhelmed over such a big win turned into a completely one-sided conversation as the political aspect of the chant shifted to the national focus. “He agreed to do the fundraiser for us, but never did it and now won’t respond to us, and we’ve tried to reach him since all this happened. This could have been more money for the team and for us, but it never happened.” While it should be made clear that no contracts were broken and no additional money was exchanged, TMF made it even more clear that there is no personal animosity against Brandon Brown or the race team. “I don’t hate Brandon at all, he helped me fulfill my lifelong dream of having one of my businesses on a racecar. I just hate how the situation was handled in the long run. If I got a good explanation [from Brandon] I’d consider doing it again.”
Another sponsor that supported Brandon Brown’s 2021 NASCAR campaign is Shenandoah Shine, an apparel company based in the Virginia area. Garrett Delph, the company’s owner speaks positively about their time sponsoring Brown’s 68 car. “My experience with them went well. We were on the car, we got our social media posts, everything in our contract was met. Brandon even helped promote a charity fundraiser for us.”
Despite claims to the contrary, Delph and his company have been open to future projects working with Brown and the race team. As the LGBCoin controversy unfolded, a narrative was introduced most notably by hedge fund manager James Koutoulas suggesting that all support had abandoned the race team. Delph rebuffs this in no uncertain terms.
“Brandon’s sponsors didn’t abandon him like Koutoulas claims – they were forced out. These guys sit on the Internet and play victim all day. They aren’t victims. They’re bullies. Koutoulas is a shill using all this publicity for his own selfish gain, and it breaks my heart that Brandon has to live through the consequences.“
In just about any picture you’ve seen of Brandon Brown’s famous Talladega win, one sponsor is in plain view: Larry’s Hard Lemonade. Larry’s, a Veteran owned and operated business out of Virginia was the primary sponsor on the 68 for the Talladega win and was a supporter throughout 2021. Owner and VP Vic Reynolds considered Brandon Brown a personal friend and their shared accomplishment seemed like a dream come true.
“What most people don’t know is Brandon Brown called me in 2021 and told me he was concerned that if more sponsors didn’t step up he might have to shut down the team. There was no way I was going to let that happen. My company decided to risk it all to keep my friend in that race car.
When he won that race, I honestly got super emotional. When Brandon and I finally got an opportunity to FaceTime we were both speechless. The dream had become a reality.”
After LGBCoin’s direct statements claiming that all sponsors “dropped” the Brandonbilt team after the fallout, Vic on behalf of his company took some of the first public action following the ordeal, posting a video statement on social media. Days later, Vic describes how he came to learn about Brandonbilt’s new deal:
“I found out about the new sponsorship on social media, like most people did. I honestly went from confusion to feeling betrayed. After all, our company helped keep this kid in that race car so he could realize his dream, and now we’re being accused of abandoning him. It’s ridiculous.”
When new sponsors make bold claims like LGBCoin did, public reaction is likely to be clouded and potentially toxic. After all, with Larry’s Hard Lemonade logos front and center on the race winning car, this was the business likely to take the most heat, which indeed seems to be the case as Vic describes:
“The backlash has been harsh. But mostly from people who don’t know the facts. Brandon could fix this if he would man up and go on camera and explain what really happened. Sometimes I wonder if the kid is actually speaking for himself.”
Despite NASCAR’s large corporate reach, much of Brandon Brown’s story is one of a personal nature. My last question to Vic was to ask how he feels about Brandon Brown himself after all of this transpired:
“Part of me is really grateful. BrandonBilt Motor Sports was paid to get my company into the eye of the public. So that mission was accomplished and he did his job well. Brandon wasn’t responsible for what happened after the race. Nor is he responsible for what it turned in to.
My team was actually working on a plan to turn the messaging in to something unifying and positive. Unfortunately, Brandon met “coin boy” and the rest is history.
I will say this. Brandon Brown has sat at my table and been a part of my family and stayed in my home. What stings the most is he hasn’t defended me or my company and hasn’t set the record straight on this abandonment issue. That would go a long way in repairing the damage he’s done to the family. Until then, see you at the races Brandon.”
If multiple partners, including a primary race winning sponsor didn’t drop or abandon Brandon Brown or his race team, what could LGBCoin possibly have meant by their statements? To me, it’s become obvious. The main idea of the exclusive sponsorship deal was to inject the notion that this one company would be the only entity in the whole wide world that would dare to break the mold and sponsor poor Brandon Brown in his hour of need. Despite that being proven as patently false, and the quiet rewriting of the petition literature, this misinformation has already spread like wildfire to the NASCAR and greater racing communities at large. Heck, even the race team itself looks to be attempting to change the narrative put forth by its notable investor as either a measure of damage control or as a sudden attack of conscience on 1/12.
Any potential misunderstanding between NASCAR and LGBCoin’s people did nothing to help the situation, but there’s very little doubt that the cryptocurrency’s representation has acted in all manner of bad faith. Those who actually want to be a part of racing do not immediately turn into keyboard warriors the moment there’s any adversity. Some of those that claim to champion honesty, integrity and accountability in their political and personal ideals have been the first to throw facts and nuance aside at the prospect of feeling like a crusader against misused “woke-ism” or what ever BS they feel will help confirm their predisposed beliefs.
LGBCoin was contacted via email for comment but has yet to respond.
Myself, much like the subjects interviewed in this piece, wish nothing but success for Brandon Brown on a personal level. The Talladega win should have been a dream long realized, not one turned into a nightmare of shady looking business dealings and a divided fanbase. I hope he and the race team most of us came to love in recent years can find a way to weather the storm. NASCAR needs more of what they were, and perhaps less of what they represent right now. Daytona is right around the corner, let’s get back to racing.
UPDATE: Approximately three hours after this article was published on 1/13/2022, Brandon Brown issued the below statement on Twitter:
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