There is nothing sadder than the death of a race dream, symbolized by the fire sale just announced to liquidate the race assets of Kirk Shelmerdine, the former crew chief and Cup competitor.
Yet in a most sorrowful way, the public auction of Shelmerdine's race shop, cars, and other equipment may be the foreshadowing of things to come for many of NASCAR's independent race teams.
Shelmerdine's auction, under the supervision of Iron Horse Auction Company, will be held on Tuesday, September 14th at 11:00 AM on the premises of his race shop in Welcome, North Carolina. Some of the items that will be sold at auction will be three Cup COT cars, a Featherlite car hauler, pit equipment, shop equipment, and vehicle parts, among others.
There is no doubt that Shelmerdine could never have predicted that the end of his independent team and his run as a race car driver would come in a public auction. The driver and team owner cited the lack of sponsorship, as well as the lack of technological support for independent teams as the primary sources of his financial woes.
Shelmerdine certainly has fallen a long way from his perch high atop the rungs of the NASCAR ladder. In the early 1980s, Shelmerdine had it all, crew chiefing for the "Intimidator," Dale Earnhardt himself.
He was the youngest crew chief ever to win a NASCAR race and the youngest crew chief to win a Cup title.
"Kirk understands every facet of this sport better than anyone else I know," Earnhardt once said of his then crew chief. "His hard work and dedication are what sets him apart from the rest."
After reaching the pinnacles of NASCAR achievement, Shelmerdine decided to pack it in as Earnhardt's crew chief. He "retired" in 1992 to pursue his real dream—being a NASCAR Cup driver.
Shelmerdine initially ran in the ARCA Series, in which he visited the victory lane three times. He also ran in all of NASCAR's three divisions, including Cup, Nationwide, and the Truck Series.
Unfortunately, Shelmerdine lagged in the mid to back of the pack in most of the races in which he participated. He started his own Cup team in 2002, however, that really never took off either and he ended up primarily in the field-filler role.
"It's the toughest thing there is," Shelmerdine said of that time in his career. "We're proud to be here, even though we're not competitive at this point."
Even with his savings from his heydey with Earnhardt and Richard Childress Racing, Shelmerdine found it challenging as an independent team to make it with little sponsorship funding and even more sparse race purses.
"We know we're doing the impossible," Shelmerdine said of his attempt to run in the Cup Series. "We may be king of the junk cars but that's something."
"It's hard for others to realize the odds we're up against," Shelmerdine continued. "But we hold our heads up knowing that we're doing what can't be done."
Yet, in spite of all the blood, sweat, and tears, Shelmerdine has succumbed to those odds. The crew chief turned driver and race team owner has reached the end of his independent run, culminating in the auction of everything that he has worked so hard to obtain.
Unfortunately, Shelmerdine may also be the poster child of things to come for other independent teams. And there are many that are struggling at the highest level of NASCAR, the Sprint Cup Series.
Probably one of the most visible in this same category is Robby Gordon, principal of Robby Gordon Motorsports. Gordon's team has struggled mightily, with an average finish of 34th and the omnipresent danger of not making the show.
In addition to those troubles, Gordon has also had financial woes, having to sit out races due to lack of sponsorship. His team's only saving from public auction grace came recently when Kevin Conway split from Front Row Motorsports, bringing himself and sponsor Extenze, to Gordon's team for the rest of the year.
Will independents like Robby Gordon, or Front Row Motorsports for that matter, go the way of Kirk Shelmerdine? Only time, sponsorship dollars, and the state of the economy will tell.
But in the meantime, Shelmerdine will no doubt struggle through the most difficult time in his life, watching all that he has worked so hard to accumulate be auctioned off piece by piece.
In spite of it all, Shelmerdine will close this last chapter in his racing life with his head held high.
"I'm extremely proud of what we've built and accomplished here over the years," Shelmerdine said. "But the time has come for a completely new business model."