BJ McLeod pursues his dream by competing as an owner-driver at the highest level of NASCAR

For BJ McLeod, things started with a pressing question from the owner of his car: “What do you want to do?

At 26, McLeod had just won the 2010 World Series of Asphalt at New Smyrna Speedway, the latest in a string of super late model triumphs across the Southeast. But career-wise, the Wauchula, Florida native was in a tough spot: In his mid-twenties, he was probably too old to be “discovered” and end up with a contract to eventually drive a luxury car. High-flying cut. But he had always dreamed of racing in NASCAR – and if he had never done anything else in his life, he wanted to run at least one NASCAR race.

So he went to North Carolina, started working for Germain Racing’s Truck Series team, and by October had prepared his own truck to race at Martinsville Speedway – beginning a career worthy of creating his own opportunities.

“I knew for a long time that I had to be a team owner so that I could have a chance to be extremely successful in the sport. And then I also didn’t want to give up driving because I felt like I had the right gear that I can compete,” McLeod told CBS Sports. “I’m still working to prove it and I’m still on this path, but we’ve definitely made a lot of progress and the dream is still alive.”

Now 38, McLeod is the driver and co-owner of Live Fast Motorsports, which will field the No. 78 Ford in the Cup series, as well as the owner of his own racing team which will field several cars in the series. Xfinity. Although there are other people involved with the team – McLeod’s business partner is Matt Tifft, who raced for the Rookie Cup of the Year in 2019 before epilepsy forced him out of the driver’s seat – McLeod is as much a throwback to the days of independence of racers who owned the very cars they drove and did what they could with the money they had.

Most weeks, McLeod runs around the back and does what he can. For him and his team, beating the cars they can beat is a good day. A top 20 is exceptional. Anything beyond that — like when McLeod finished ninth at Daytona last August — is practically a win.

But what McLeod hasn’t accumulated in terms of raw stats, he has in terms of reputation and credibility throughout the garage. Some of NASCAR’s top drivers have spoken of how much they love and respect McLeod. And NASCAR itself greatly appreciates his contribution, with COO Steve O’Donnell recently saying Athleticism that McLeod has “some of the best ideas I’ve heard” when it comes to cost-cutting measures and other issues that matter to sports car owners.

For McLeod, these kinds of statements are a major compliment, and also very important to what he wants to achieve as he seeks to advance a sport he loves for as long as he can.

“I try to do my best to advance our sport because that’s what I want to do while I’m here,” McLeod said. “…It was just important to me that people like Steve say things at this level. And I just work to try to improve my teams, try to make myself more successful in the sport, and then do what I can help the sport be more successful, because that’s what I want at the end of the day.”

What makes McLeod’s perspective so valuable and appreciated is the depth of his experiences both inside and outside the sport. McLeod has helped with his family business, which has done everything from picking and hauling oranges to digging and building, since he was a kid. He then went into business at 19, building his own race cars and his own career from there.

“I’ve done everything except snag the bodies when we’ve been using very late models. I’ve had a lot of people helping me – a lot of great people – but I’ve always had to go out there and build my own cars “McLeod said. “And I think all of those things together put me in a position where I was in 2010 when I was working at Germain, just doing what they told me to do. I swept the floors, I helped assembling (the future series champion) Todd Bodine’s trucks that year, everything I was told to do, I did.

“Just having that experience and building networks like that, knowing the ins and outs of the sport in all positions – I’ve been an observer, I’ve coached drivers, I’ve done all sorts of things. I think that I’ve literally been in almost every position in this sport. I’ve gotten to a really good position to be able to look back and see where we are right now and see where we are. I want to go out there and try to help achieve this goal.”

As Year 2 draws to a close for Live Fast Motorsports, McLeod’s vision for the future of his team is practical: to continue building and generating sponsorships, and to continue building a program that has already made modest progress in course of two seasons and increasing its level of sponsorship for 2023.

“We’re probably 34-36 in sprint right now on average, but we’ve had some really good runs. We’ve had some great finishes this year. We’re definitely a lot closer – the delta between us and the leaders is a lot less than last year,” McLeod said. “There are a lot of positives. The new car has helped us a lot to try to be a bit more on a level playing field with everyone else.”

“It’s just that we’re only in the second year of a team that is playing against people who have been here for 40 years, so it’s very difficult for us to get the results as quickly as we want. But the plan for the future is we have to continue to be on the circuit every week. We have to continue to improve in terms of speed and performance on the track. And at the same time we have to build and prove to our partners that we let’s do the good work for them to be able to continue to generate more dollars so that we can improve our program year after year.”

McLeod’s best result this season has been 19th twice, and he also scored his fourth top-25 finish last weekend at Michigan. He has also occasionally put on his car-owner hat and lets others drive his car, such as road racers Scott Heckert, Andy Lally, and Kyle Tilley, as well as Xfinity Series driver Josh Williams.

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