ESM EXCLUSIVE: NASCAR Cup Series Driver Corey LaJoie

Geoff Magliocchetti
(Photo: Courtesy Alex Wollman, Azione PR)

The driver of the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford spoke with ESM about the challenges a mid-tier squad faces and the recent changes in NASCAR.

Corey LaJoie’s NASCAR machines have carried some interesting sponsors over the years. He represented all 23 of Dr. Pepper’s flavors when he drove the matching numeral for BK Racing’s Toyota. Last season, he joined the Mystery Inc. gang as classic cartoon characters Scooby-Doo and Shaggy appeared on his car. His current ride of the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford has borne a close-up of his own magnified face, including a masked version at the recent Martinsville event.

As NASCAR’s current schedule presents several sweltering challenges in spring’s final days and summer’s opening, he’s particularly thankful for his latest partnership.

LaJoie recently welcomed in Built Bar to his cause over at Go Fas. The protein and energy bar adorned his vehicle for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier this month and will work with him as an associate for at least the remainder of the 2020 season. As temperatures have soared and weight has been lost inside the cars, which have gone through locales like Martinsville, Virginia and Homestead, Florida, LaJoie was pleased to get some of his calories back when the checkered flag waved.

Lately, LaJoie was caught in the midst of a social media-induced confrontation that involved 2020’s four-time race-winner Denny Hamlin. The two drivers took thinly veiled jabs at each other through Twitter with arguments stemming from the idea of Hamlin owing his success to superior equipment at Joe Gibbs Racing compared to LaJoie’s relatively meager setup at Go Fas. LaJoie recently called an end to the feud this week, remarking that the situation “escalated to a point it shouldn’t have“.

In the midst of a busy schedule, LaJoie took the time to speak with ESM about his current trials and tribulations…

Q: What kind of role can Built Bar play in the continued success of a team like GoFas?

A: I think it’s a unique case for the sport in general because there really hasn’t been a protein bar company to really see the demographics of racing. I think that the assumption of race fans is that they’re kind of old and kind of out-of-shape, but I think when you look at the actual people working on the cars, doing the pit stops, obviously the drivers are fairly in shape just because we have to be, that’s not the case. I think it’ll get some brand recognition out there to people if they’re looking for a great-tasting protein bar and haven’t found one yet.

Just looking back through my social media mentions since we’ve had the partnership, it seems like a lot of people have enjoyed the taste of the bar and a lot of people are supporting the sponsorship.

Q: You’ve had some interesting sponsors over the past few seasons…including your own face! How does Built Bar compare to some of the other partnerships you’ve had?

A: Well, Old Spice was the brand behind the face car. It certainly wasn’t me because that would be some Ricky Bobby-type stuff!

I’ve been lucky enough to have some great partners throughout my whole career. When I first started in the Cup Series, I was sponsored by Dr. Pepper. Then a company called Schluter Systems has been following me for years now. They’ve kept growing their investment because they see the value in the hospitality and bringing customers to the racetrack. It doesn’t really matter what the company is. If we can keep finding the niche and they get the return on investment, they’re all good. For me personally, I like to stay in shape and I’ve got a sweet tooth, so Built Bar checks both of those boxes. The car was great, the new rebranded boxes and wrappers look cool and it was great to unveil. I’m looking forward to doing it in the future.

Q: How does the economic instability facing this country challenge a lower-budget team like GoFas?

A: Most of the company’s payroll is the hardest thing to stomach just because you’re not moving. Our product that we essentially sell is the real estate on the car via the paint scheme and the purse money on the backend. We weren’t racing just like anybody else (in March and April), everybody was inside. We weren’t able to get that purse money to offset payroll’s expense and the sponsorship revenue wasn’t coming in. It was tough times for the team. It’s a tough time for the country and the world to deal with, but luckily my team was able to weather the storm and we were able to sign Built Bar to get them partnered up with us. That was really cool to be able to do. I’m looking forward to building that relationship going into the future.

Q: This is your second year in the No. 32 car. How pleased have you been with the 2020 developments?

A: We’ve had a couple of mechanical failures that we’re trying to clean up because I feel like we should have more strong runs to show for than what we’ve had. But, overall, the speed is a lot better. We’ve got some new, newer to us, Stewart-Haas cars. There are some parts, pieces, engine packages that could be upgraded if sponsorship dollars end up coming in toward the end of the year. I feel like GoFas has always done a great job of doing more with less. But, this year in particular, we got a crew chief in Ryan Sparks. He brings a lot of knowledge to the table. Him and I have been communicating well. So it’s been fun and it’s been fun to race in such a weird manner like we have been with no practice, no qualifying, just going out to battle. I feel like the preparation in the shop has been fairly good and I’m looking forward to getting to some of these race tracks for a second time and applying the notes we’ve gained without it.

Q: What have been your thoughts on NASCAR’s navigation through these trying times?

A: Our sport is unique in the way that, when we’re competing, we’re not doing it body-to-body. We’re separated, we’re sitting in the racecars and you’re not getting that up-close, you don’t have to get that up-close contact. NASCAR is putting in a lot of protocol to separate the drivers, separate even the pit crews and stuff like that. Social distancing, wearing facemasks, stuff like that, to adhere to any sort of guideline. They’re going through and they’re being very thorough with this process, which is cool because I think you have to be, that way you’re not reckless when you get back to the racetrack.

Overall, I think NASCAR has done a great job with getting us and our partners back on the racetrack, as well as getting race teams back on and getting that purse money put back. Our sport has its own economy within itself. You’re so dependent on the league distributing TV money to the teams. If the network pays the league, the league pays the team per event on a weekly basis. If the league’s not getting paid, the teams aren’t getting and paid, and if the team’s not getting paid, the guys aren’t getting paid. It all trickles down from the top. Obviously NASCAR knew the imperative need to just figure out how to get the cars back on the racetrack and they’ve done that by doing above and beyond what needs to be done. In these times, I’d rather be way more cautious than reckless and getting shut down because we are being too careless. That’s not the case, and I’m looking forward to more fans being back at the track soon.

It is a little bit deflating when you don’t see any fans at the racetrack. You don’t get to sign any autographs. But, hopefully, that returns to normal here soon. It may not be this year where what we’re used to comes back but, hopefully, it will look somewhat normal in the next couple of months.

Q: How do you feel NASCAR has responded to the current events in our nation?

A: I like the effort NASCAR has been putting in because they are well aware of the stigma that NASCAR was a southeastern, southern sport. There have been opinions, even that the sport has made with alliances they’ve made with people in politics in the past, that they have to recover from or even repair the image. I do applaud NASCAR for being on the forefront of this movement. We have to be there. We can’t just sit back and let everyone else do it for us. I’m glad to be a part of it in a small sense. I’ve been trying to educate myself. I’ve had people on my podcast, Sunday Money, to talk about it. We had the pit crew coach from Chip Ganassi Racing on last week and we had some great conversations.

I’m trying to use my platform to impact and if it changes a couple of race fans’ point of view toward what other people are going through, ones that might not look like them, that’s what we’re all called to do. Overall, I’m really happy to be part of the sport and the direction it’s going.

Q: What can you say about NASCAR’s Confederate flag ban?

A: NASCAR made a call several years ago for several tracks that Confederate flags weren’t going to be allowed. I hadn’t really seen a whole lot, you’d see one every now and then. We need to not allow that banner to be at the racetrack, personally. I don’t really care how you can justify what it means. I think, if anything, you can justify it as being insensitive to people it offends. This might not be a practical analogy, but if my brother is definitely allergic to peanuts and I love peanuts, I’m not going to eat peanuts in front of him, right? Just because it has the possibility to hurt him, physically. If there’s something that I consciously do to offend somebody emotionally, I wouldn’t choose to do that, even if I enjoy eating peanuts.

If race fans think that they have some southern tradition to upkeep with the Confederate flag, do that in the privacy of your own home. But when it comes to supporting our sport, we need to have everybody feel welcome. No one should feel offended by anything, no signage, no opinions by anybody. Really, we’re one community trying to entertain people and that’s what we love and what show up 36 weekends a year to do. We don’t want to exclude anybody, we want everybody to feel welcome coming to the NASCAR track.

Q: You’re one of several legacy drivers in the sport, your father Randy having won in the NASCAR Busch Series. What’s the best piece of advice he has given you?

A: Dad always lets me figure it out myself and then yell at me and let me learn, take care of it afterward. My dad has been a supporter of mine for my whole career and is my biggest fan. He might not verbalize it toward me as often, but I think that, growing up, he wanted me to branch out and form relationships with other guys because he knew he’d always be there if I needed something. Rather than him critiquing everything I did, he’d be like “hey, man, go down there and ask Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, what those guys are doing”. Whatever comes out of your dad’s mouth, you really don’t believe, but if Jimmie Johnson says the exact same thing he says, you’ll go “oh yeah, that makes sense now”. That’s kind of what it was.

There’s been a lot of things that I’ve learned the hard way. Those stick a little bit more than someone just telling you. Dad has had a great relationship with the guys in the garage and that kind of trickled down to me. It’s cool to be able to carry the LaJoie flag on Sundays for sure. When Dad was at his peak in the mid-90s, he passed up several opportunities to go Cup racing on Sunday because he knew the time commitment that it was. He’d stay home with me and my brother, invest some time into us. It’s cool to see that investment pay off for him.

(Special thanks to Azione PR for arranging this interview, which was held in mid-June)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags