Look around the Xfinity Series garage and the Mike Harmon Racing team sticks out. Unlike all of its competitors, the team, which has three full-time employees, brings its cars to the track in a gooseneck trailer.
While the 53-foot trailer is similar in length to the other teams, it certainly isn‘t as glorified. The team‘s cars are also flat black the majority of the time. And that‘s OK.
“I‘ve yet to see any haulers racing on the racetrack,” Harmon said, sitting in the front of his passenger truck that pulls the trailer.
The last two seasons for MHR were career years for the team. After once struggling to qualify into the races and then oftentimes being a start-and-park entry, the Nos. 47 and 74 cars were consistently contending for top-20 finishes. At Kentucky in 2020, Kyle Weatherman earned MHR its first ever top-10 finish in the team‘s 280th start. In the spring 2021 race at Phoenix, Bayley Currey bettered the organization‘s best finish, placing seventh, one year after failing to qualify at the same venue with the same team.
The team, though collectively failed to qualify in six events last year (both cars DNQ‘d at Circuit of The Americas, Charlotte and Road America), was finally hitting its groove, as Harmon had been bringing cars to the track for more than a decade.
“Good thing they were [good years] because that helps us stay in,” Harmon said of 2020 and 2021. “What people don‘t realize is, I have engine builders that I have to pay, body hangers that I have to pay and buying body parts. It all rolls downhill, so if I go out of business, it affects them as well.”
Admittedly, Harmon has never given much thought into shuttering his team. But 2022 has surely tested him.
Prior to the season, Harmon said he had deals in place that fell through with funded drivers. The team entered Gray Gaulding and Tim Viens for Daytona, knowing that getting both of its cars into the race would be a “longshot.” Neither driver qualified for the season opener. Moving forward, Harmon called on veteran Brennan Poole as the primary driver, believing in his qualifying ability.
“[Harmon] called me up in January and they were trying to figure out something for the year,” Poole said. “So I stopped by the shop one day and looked at everything and we talked face-to-face.”
Poole‘s first scheduled start was at Auto Club, but he wasn‘t able to make a qualifying lap because of a mechanical failure. It delayed his debut in the No. 47 Chevrolet until the following week at Las Vegas, where he ran the 33rd-quickest time, a guaranteed starting position. On lap 3, the engine failed.
Of Poole‘s first four starts with the team between Las Vegas and Charlotte, he DNF‘d each time, all because of mechanical failures. In 16 attempts this year, he’s failed to qualify for 11 races, while CARS Late Model Tour champion Bobby McCarty DNQ‘d in his lone attempt at New Hampshire.
“It was a rough go from mechanical failures, which kept us from making the races,” Poole added. “We battled through all of that. We keep fighting on.
“We just have to stay positive and keep working through it. The guys have been doing that, and I believe we‘ll get over the hump here. You‘ve got to keep fighting through with what you‘ve got and help get the program where it needs to be.”
In one-off starts, Ryan Vargas drove the No. 47 Chevrolet at Portland, with Brandon Brown piloting the car at the Indianapolis Road Course. With the No. 47 car having just eight starts this season, it‘s Vargas who scored the team‘s best finish of 23rd.
With the addition of multiple competitive teams to the series in 2022, Harmon knew it could be a tough season. He didn‘t expect his team to miss as many races, however, though some of those have just been unfortunate circumstances like Poole blowing a tire at Pocono.
What really gets under Hamron‘s skin is when a Cup team runs a race to get its drivers experience, despite an Xfinity car driving nothing like a Next Gen chassis. That puts a smaller team, like MHR, in a bind.
“If they want to come practice and use Xfinity as a testbed, I think there should be a couple spots for cars like that, that don‘t get any purse [money],” he said. “If they win the race, the guy that finishes second — if he‘s an Xfinity regular — should get first-place purse. They come in and take our money and it doesn‘t mean anything to them because they‘re spending way more than what they get back. The little bit that the purse is to them is huge to us.
“There are families that live off of these racecars. I think there‘s a better way to do it than the way we‘re doing it.”
When asked if that‘s just part of racing, Harmon said, “It‘s like me taking my car and going to run street stocks, to put it in perspective, and send some of those guys home.”
The team can shed some light on some positives from the year. At Charlotte, Poole qualified 19th, tied for the second best qualifying effort in team history (the team has better starting positions based off the qualifying metric used in 2020 and 2021).
“There‘s been a lot of things we‘ve done this year that have been pretty impressive for what we‘re working with,” Poole said. “When [Harmon] has been in the right situation and had other good drivers in the car and had a little bit of funding behind it, the team has run well.
“I think Mike and his program need a little more financial support and he‘s working on all of that. If we can all muscle through this storm, we can get this [No.] 47 car back in a position where we can have chances to run in the top 20 and [Harmon] can continue to build that program.”
Regardless, Harmon isn‘t going to give up on racing. If he were to do that, he would have done it long ago.
2022, he considers, a bump in the road, though not shying away from how frustrating the year has been.
“It‘s been the toughest year we‘ve had in a long time,” he said. “We‘ve been through tough times before; we‘ll survive.
“When I throw in the towel, I‘m going to be done. But I‘m not going to do that. I haven‘t gotten to where I‘m at by rolling over. I‘m going to fight the fight as long as I‘m healthy.”
Ultimately, Harmon‘s hoping to have some funded drivers in the car for the 2023 season. He‘s been in a similar position before, stating, “I know how to be frugal with a dollar and how to make it work for me and not waste any money. We can do a lot more with a lot less and people in the garage know that.”