See if this story sounds familiar.

You find something you love. Before you know it, it's in your blood. What you love isn't just what you do -- it's who you are.

So out of necessity, you've worn every hat. You work in the business, you work on the business... in order to live your dream, you fully embrace the motto "If it is to be, it's up to me," and all the effort and determination and sacrifice.

And then you realize that your child has that same passion -- and your priorities change. You still love what you do, but now you want to make your son's dreams possible... and because he's your son, you will sacrifice just about anything to make that happen.

Maybe you can relate to that story. Or maybe, like long-time NASCAR driver and team owner Joe Nemechek of NEMCO Motorsports, you are living that story.

Joe has won races, won championships, and over the years made a decent living in the sport, but he has invested nearly everything he and his wife have into their son, John Hunter Nemechek, a multi-time race winner voted by fans as the Most Popular Driver in the Camping World Truck Series in 2015.

As Joe says, "the future is about John Hunter," but that future requires money -- lots more money than a family business can afford.

Or, really, that any business can afford.

NEMCO is a scrappy, under-funded and over-achieving team with results disproportionate to its resources. At the other end of the financial spectrum are teams like Kyle Busch Motorsports and Brad Keselowski Racing -- but even their organizations don't generate sufficient revenue to cover expenses.

Keselowski says his truck team loses around $1 million per year. (Do the math and that's tens of thousands of dollars per race.)

Kyle Busch says it costs his team $3.2 million to run a full season, a figure which has required him to pour some of his own money into the organization. Keselowski says it costs approximately $4.5 million to run a full season.

NEMCO operates on a fraction of those budgets.

"It's obviously very tough," Joe says, "to be competitive with the 'mega teams' that have basically unlimited funding compared to us. But we're proud of how well we perform while running on less than half the budget of some of the other teams."

How? NEMCO's operation is extremely lean. Joe's sister is in charge of accounting; his brother runs a machine shop next door. And unlike most drivers, John Hunter spends every day working in the shop: welding, fabricating parts, creating CAD drawings, cleaning the hauler and trucks...whatever needs to be done. "I grew up in a machine shop," John Hunter says, "and everyone in the family knows how to run a mill or a lathe. If you can dream it, we can make it."

Working in the shop has benefited John Hunter in a number of ways. "Some drivers complain about their equipment and get mad at their crew," he says, "but I have a different perspective since I help work on my own stuff. If the truck isn't fast, I can't blame anyone but myself. That makes me respect my equipment more, makes me more of a team player... it's definitely sped up my learning curve. And it's good to be constantly reminded there is so much that I don't know -- at least not yet."

Joe has also benefited from working in his business. Finding the next improvement is "the story of my life," he says. He loves being around machinery and equipment and has a knack for looking at something and making it better: Stronger, lighter, more flexible, etc.

And he also has a knack for sifting through multiple variables to find the one factor that will make the biggest difference. "The model we use for our business," Joe says, "is that we only work on things we know are truly important. We don't have the money to work on unimportant things. That also applies to the racetrack: Walk around a racetrack and you can say, 'This is the most important part of the track. If you can get this figured out, that's what will make you fast.'

"Our crew chief and I have years of experience, and we know what's most important on the tracks and on the trucks, we know where we have to work really hard... and that's how we've been successful running on a small budget."

But arguably the hardest work goes into finding sponsors. No matter how lean the operation, race winnings only cover a fraction of a team's budget. For example, John Hunter and Joe finished fourth and fifth respectively at Daytona, yet their race winnings didn't even cover the team's engine bill.

"Compared to building great trucks," Joe says, "generating sponsor dollars is so much harder. Constantly searching for partners, following up with all the people we meet, making connections to try to fund our operations.... Racing isn't a business where you make money. Whatever money we get we pour it right back into our operation. As a business it doesn't make sense -- but it's what I do, it's what I'm good at, and it's what John Hunter wants to do. That's why we do this."

To Joe, landing a sponsor means more than simply putting a logo on a truck -- even though that exposure is increasingly valuable since Truck Series television ratings are up significantly, especially among millennials. "We're a family owned and operated business. To us, it's all about relationships, and we treat our sponsors the same way. We work hard to help our sponsors build B2B relationships with other companies, we take care of their customers at the racetrack, we take them behind the scenes and make them feel like not just a part of our race team but also of our family."

Ultimately, that's what every family business is about. The business itself is just a way for a family to spend more time together, to help each other succeed, to help each other achieve their goals and live out their dreams...

"My goal is to be the best I can be," John Hunter says. "I want to be a champion one day. That means one day driving for a major team. Dad has invested everything he has to get my career jump-started, and I can't thank him enough for that, but our ultimate goal is to get me to a big team where I can run up front and win championships.

"He's not trying to shoo me away," John Hunter says, laughing, "but he is ready for me to move on and be even more successful."

After all, that's what parents do. The greatest hope of parents -- especially parents whose children are involved in the family business -- is that their children will be successful and happy. Many hope the family business will serve as a springboard for their children's success and happiness.

And sometimes, in the process, a family business can be a way for parent-child relationships to come full circle.

"I've always asked my dad questions about running different racetracks," John Hunter says, "and this year at Martinsville he was asking me questions about the track. He was struggling and he wanted my advice. It was pretty cool to know that he respects me that way."

Later, when I told Joe what John Hunter had said, he was quiet for a few moments. "I didn't realize that," he finally said. "He's right. I do respect him. He's such a good driver.

"You know, I am proud of him as a driver," he adds, "but we're even prouder of the young man he's become."

I told you this story would sound familiar.

Published on: Jun 7, 2017