The first 11 months of Clay Rogers’ 2009, like the first 11 months of many other years in the racer’s career, were superb. The two-time USARacin Pro Cup Series Champion was building towards a third throughout the season, securing six wins, including three in the four-race year-end Championship Series to lock down another title to go with his 2004 and 2006 honors. Plus, he and his wife added daughter Ava Quinn to their roster last month.
But then the calendar switched to December, and just as it has in seasons past, Rogers’ accomplishments throughout the year left him without a ride for the following season. Rogers was informed on Friday that his championship-winning JCR3 Racing team, which had also fielded a car for Rogers in select ARCA RE/MAX Series events in 2009, would be shutting its doors, leaving the 29-year-old defending Pro Cup Series without a job for 2010.
“At this point, the only thing I’ve received is a phone call from the crew chief (Kevin Caldwell) Friday afternoon last week that they were going to close the doors and everything’s for sale, effective immediately, at JCR3,” said Rogers. “I don’t have any real rock-solid evidence or explanation of why. Of course, I’m sure there’s a lot of things that play into it with the economy the way it is and everything, but it really caught me off guard.”
This is not the first time that the month of December has been cruel to Rogers, either.
“Unfortunately, I’m kind of getting used to it. We were at the Snowball Derby a couple years ago, getting ready to qualify, when I got the call that the Spears (NASCAR Camping World ) Truck team was shutting down after plans had already been made for the following season. I won the (Pro Cup) championship in 2006 and the Snowball Derby in 2006 with East Coast Motorsports and they decided to close the doors.
“It’s just another December for me, I guess.”
Rogers was admittedly caught off guard by the decision by the JCR3 team to close its doors.
“Last conversation I had with Jimmy Craig with the guys down there that the plan was to run the full Pro Cup deal next year and run about four or five ARCA races,” added Rogers. “Everyone seemed real pumped up and real excited about next year with all the things we accomplished this year. I don’t know what exactly came down the pipeline in such a massive swing for what next year’s plans are going to be.”
While Rogers is left to ponder what to do in 2010, the JCR3 team, owned by Jimmy Craig and his sons Jeff and Jon, who are also the principals of C&C Boiler Sales & Service company in Charlotte, North Carolina, are calling it quits due to the difficult economic climate and the smaller purses offered in the Pro Cup Series from years past.
“We’re shutting down,” Jeff Craig told Speed51.com on Monday morning. “The economy and the boiler business are not good right now. It’s just hard to pay a driver to drive, pay all the expenses, a high-dollar crew chief, all the insurances and everything that goes with it.”
The decision was made by the patriarch of the family, Jimmy Craig, whose team also has fielded cars for drivers such as Jeff Fultz, Chase Pistone and Travis Kittleson over the years.
“Pretty much it was sprung upon me pretty quick,” added Jeff Craig. “I know he (Jimmy) had been wanting to get out of it for a while. This is all a family-run business and a family-run race team, but the fun’s not there anymore. Not when you’re racing when you can’t pay your bills when you win.”
The USARacing Pro Cup Series was kept alive in its post-Hooters affiliation state in 2009 by the Interstate Investment Group of Concord, North Carolina. Purses and point fund distribution dropped after the Hooters restaurant chain, who originally had controlling interest in the series, withdrew from the Pro Cup tour. The smaller payouts, plus the high-cost of touring-series Pro Cup racing on a championship-caliber level helped force the closing of the JCR3 team for the short, and perhaps long, term, according to Jeff Craig.
“The team is for sale. (My dad) told me not to give it away, but to sell it. If someone with some money could take care of the bills, I don’t see a problem with racing. Clay was [being paid] 30 percent of the winnings and the crew chief was $75 (thousand) a year. That’s more than we won. If we had a driver with $250…$300 thousand dollars, I’m sure he’d be glad to go back racing. He loves racing. It’s just a financial thing.”
With a new family, Rogers admits this news hit closer to home than any team closing he had been a part of in the past as he prepares to hit the phone lines hard to find a ride for 2010.
“It’s definitely weighing on my mind a lot more than it would’ve a few years ago. I’m not real sure what’s in store. I’ve had some short conversations with a couple different people, but nothing rock solid. I’ve got hopefully a meeting later this week that I hope turns into something, but not really sure as far as what the future may hold for me.
“But, things happen for a reason and hopefully things will work out for the best and I wish all the best to those guys. I appreciate the opportunity that they gave me, for sure. They brought great equipment and excelently prepared racecars to the track each week and we had a lot of fun and won a lot of races. I don’t regret any of that. The only regret I have is that we can’t keep going forward with it.”