There is a banner hanging in the GMS Racing shop acknowledging the company’s first NASCAR national series pole award. The year was 2015, and the track was Daytona International Speedway.
The driver? Ty Dillon.
The banner was a topic of conversation between Dillon and team owner Maury Gallagher as the two came back together recently to put together a new deal. Beginning in 2022, Dillon and GMS Racing will work on having more reason to hang banners as Dillon takes the wheel of the No. 94 Chevrolet for the team’s inaugural season in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“It means the world to get another opportunity,” Dillon told RACER. “I’m pumped.”
It will be a full-time effort for Dillon and the team, who will have an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. The car number is a nod to team president Mike Beam, who worked with Bill Elliott in the late 1990s using that number. The original Bill Elliott Racing shop is a part of the current GMS campus in Statesville, North Carolina.
Sponsorship and team personnel such as a crew chief for Dillon will be announced at a later date. Details on efforts to acquire a charter are also to be announced.
Moving into the Cup Series is the next step forward for GMS Racing, which has fielded entries in both the Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series. The Xfinity Series team operated from 2016-19, while the Truck Series program has been a successful entity since 2013, with driver championships earned in 2016 (Johnny Sauter) and 2020 (Sheldon Creed).
“I started talking with Mike Beam when this deal started manifesting and his passion for racing, his passion for GMS, and Maury, what he’s putting into the sport and what they believe in, is second to none to anyone I’ve spoken with in the past couple of years,” Dillon said. “I am so excited and hopeful, and I think there are going to be great things that come from this. Just being in the building a little bit meeting some of the folks already working on the cars, there’s just an excitement and a passion that you don’t see very often inside a building in the middle of a race season, surrounding a whole race team. That tells you there is good leadership, there is clear communication, and that’s something I’m so excited to be a part of.
“I think when you have those two combined where there is a clear defined plan, and it’s very transparent across the team that they want to go win and perform at the highest level, it’s a recipe for success, and I hope I can be the key to start the engine of that in the Cup Series for those guys.”
GMS is bringing Dillon back to the Cup Series. He’s made 166 starts, but after four full seasons in the series from 2017 to ’20 with Germain Racing, Dillon lost his ride when the organization shut down. The timing was unfortunate as Dillon was left with little to no opportunity of landing somewhere else.
Having run four Cup Series races this season for Gaunt Brothers Racing, the 29-year-old has sat on the sidelines dealing with the emotions of watching events he’s felt capable and deserving to compete in. It was hard to watch at first, even though Dillon tried to lie to himself that he was fine. By the end of the race, however, Dillon found himself grumpy and upset because he missed racing.
“There was a lot of, I guess, anger that I kind of had to work through,” Dillon said. “But then as you go on and you get to see different sides of life not being at the racetrack every weekend, and you get to see a different side of the sport. I’ve continued to work really hard and prepare every week like I was racing because I didn’t really know when the next race was going to come about.”
As weird as it may sound, the flip side of the coin is that it’s been a good time for Dillon not to be racing. He feels he’s grown and matured into seeing things differently, and it’s given him a new passion and burn to show what he can do when back on track. He’s gone from always having the following year’s deal done 12 months ahead of time, running for championships, to wondering if he was ever going to get another chance and what the future looked like.
Dillon doesn’t want to go through any of that again, but he’s grateful for the new perspective such an emotional year has brought.
“It’s only made me better as a person, better as a driver, and I know GMS is going to get the best version of me that anybody’s seen,” Dillon said. “They’re getting a really, really strong driver when I get to come back.”
Believing he’s seen both ends of the spectrum regarding how good and bad teams operate, Dillon hopes that experience will help at his new home. While Beam is an accomplished industry veteran and GMS leader, Dillon’s experience in the Cup Series might be helpful to a rookie team going through growing pains.
Dillon coming back in ’22, and GMS Racing deciding now is the time to go Cup racing is a perfect storm. Next Gen is expected to level the playing field because it’s brand new for everyone. Dillon and GMS will be one of the many teams participating in the two-day organizational test at Charlotte Motor Speedway next week, and he’s already been around the shop asking about the car as it’s been built.
“It’s a good place to be (in), so wide-eyed like everyone is going to be at the test,” Dillon said. “It’s an equal playing field, but there are going to be so many dynamics to this new car that are going to be so unique. … There is so much that’s going to go into it, and I think that’s what’s great about teaming with GMS. Myself and the people we’re building the team around, we want people who are open-minded and humble and ready to work and excited for this new car.”
With the car being such an unknown, it’s too early for Dillon and GMS to set specific goals. But Dillon certainly has things he can do as a driver to take care of business — maximizing pit road and restarts, going unpenalized, and other variables he can control. From there, it’s about building speed in the car and putting together consistency.
“Success and will to win is like an oxygen in that building; you can feel it,” Dillon said. “There is going to be a push to be winners; it’ll be just who we are as GMS.”
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity that it just makes it fun. Every time I get to strap up week after week next year, the reset will be that I’m just grateful that Maury Gallagher and GMS and Mike Beam believing in me and giving me another chance. And that’s freeing. And when I’m free in the race car, I’m the best driver I can be. So, I look forward to having a lot of fun.”