By: Sarah Handy, Staff Writer
Leavine, Family Racing owner, Bob Leavine hasn’t always been involved in NASCAR and it wasn’t always a passion, but it was something he and his wife Sharon enjoyed immensely.
After the couple graduated from the University of South Florida, they made the move to South Carolina where they started attending races in Charlotte, Darlington and Rockingham. As Sharon went to work for a Chevrolet Dealership and Leavine at DuPont, racing would get away from the couple for a while.
Fast forward to the year 2000, his wife bought him a driving experience from Team Texas with Mike Starr. Leavine made the trip and drove because he had still watched NASCAR on and off.
“The common denominator is competitive. I played football, basketball, baseball in high school, anything I could play I played, and I was good at it too,” said Leavine. “I was all conference football basketball and baseball. I went to college to play baseball, I’m just competitive.”
In 2002, the Leavine’s bought a condo to entertain their clients from East Texas. Leavine and his wife have owned WRL Construction for the past 40 years, and to this day it remains the largest firm in East Texas.
“I really enjoy that process and that competitiveness of building something from scratch,” Leavine said. “Like building a building, we’re doing some gigantic high schools now, 100 million dollars apiece, and it’s our people that we’ve had for twenty years or more. The machine of really good people that know how to do their job, do it professionally and are really fun to hang around, my daughter runs that company.”
It was during the 2002 season, that Leavine got to know current NASCAR Xfinity Series regular David Starr, who at that time was competing in the Truck Series.
“David is the nephew of Mike Starr, who owned the driving school, and Mike and I became friends,” Leavine said. “He actually fixed up a car for me and I would go out on the weekend and drive in it with his other people that paid, and I just spent the day there. I got about 1,000 laps at Texas Motor Speedway and liked it. There’s no restrictor like there is when they go to those schools, I could go as fast as I could stand it, so that was pretty cool.”
Leavine got to know David (Starr) and he went on to sponsor a couple races for him; learning that Starr was interested in getting involved in Cup Series competition for the first time in his career.
“I talked to several other Cup owners and they couldn’t do anything for him and one day Sharon and I were driving back to East Texas from a lake place up in North Texas, and I said I think I’ll start a team for David,” Leavine said. “This was in October, November of 2010 and in April we ran our first race in Texas, we didn’t know anybody in NASCAR, we didn’t have a shop, we didn’t have a car, we had nothing in October or November and flew up to Charlotte, North Carolina.”
Michael (Leavine), David (Starr) and Leavine himself began speaking with Roush Fenway Racing, as well as, Richard Childress Racing and ended up coming to the decision that it was cheaper to run Fords and made a deal to buy chassis from Roush. In addition, Leavine met with Doug Yates where he would purchase his engines from.
“Scott (Bowen) was my contact there and it dawned on me. ‘You know any Crew Chiefs? I need a Crew Chief.’ He said ‘yeah,’ gave me the name of a guy who worked across the street and still does at RPM (Richard Petty Motorsports), called him from the parking lot, we started dialogue and two weeks later I convinced him to go work for me, no shop, no people, no tools, no nothing, no hauler, had cars coming in March”, Leavine said. “I came and found a little cubby hole back in the back. Rick (Crawford) actually owned this (LFR building) at the time. Truck teams, late models, working all over just to rent the thing out. It was in terrible shape, but we rented it out and, in the back, we could put two cars. Essentially it was between this pole and this pole is yours, okay, with a little office.”
Wally (Rogers) started helping Leavine find people and the first of March 2011 LFR received their first car from Roush. The car was a backup car for David Ragan from the Phoenix race. Leavine and his team started putting all the parts and pieces together with the car, getting registered with NASCAR, and even hiring Sam Bass to do their design work.
Leavine and his team made the first race they attempted the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in April of 2011.
“I told Wally (Rogers) he was my GM and Crew Chief, we may run slow but we’re going to look good doing it, we’re going to look professional, when we back off all our guys are going to look that way like we belong,” Leavine said. “We actually made that first race, there were 47 or 48 cars for 43 spots. We made that first race, it was like holy cow, we made the race. It was the most intimidating thing I’d ever done walking in that garage.”
Leavine Family Racing went on to make the first four races they attempted during the 2011 season but failed to make the final four on the Cup schedule. The teams best finish that season with Starr behind the wheel of the No.95 Ford was a 27th place result at Bristol Motor Speedway in August.
Leavine went on to hire Scott Speed for the 2012 season with 15 races planned in NASCAR’s premiere series with Wally Rogers back as the Crew Chief on the No. 95 box. The season concluded with the team posting a best finish of 17th at Watkins Glen. Speed returned for the 2013 season making 12 of the 14 races attempted that season and earned a best finish of 9th at Talladega Superspeedway that May.
With Speed and Leavine parting ways following the 2013 season, the team went on to hire Michael McDowell from the 2014 season through 2017 competing in 66 races posting one top-five and four top-10s through out that time span.
Kasey Kahne was brought on for the 2018 season running 25 of the 36 scheduled events. Kahne earned one top-five and one top-ten that season but announced in October of that year he would miss the rest of the season due to lingering medical conditions. Regan Smith took over the driving duties for the remaining races that season in the No. 95.
Leavine went on to sign Matt DiBenedetto to drive for the 2019 season and has seen great improvements and success this season. Heading into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, DiBenedetto has three top-five, and seven top-ten finishes with season best finishes of fourth coming at Sonoma and second at Bristol Motor Speedway this past summer.
“That was a solid race (Sonoma), everybody performed well, the pit crew, the calls on the box, obviously Matt (DiBenedetto) and driving. That was exceptionally rewarding. I was elated,” Leavine said.
“Three goals when we got into it. A venue for our family if they wanted to race, meeting some really nice people in NASCAR and making a difference while having fun. You don’t always get them at the same time.”
Leavine has become a fan favorite on social media in 2019, specifically on the social media platform Twitter. It’s not every day you see an owner of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team interacting with fans on a daily basis and answering a multitude of different questions thrown his way.
However, the whole thing was really by accident. Leavine had tried for some time to get his family to set him up with a Twitter account and when that didn’t pan out, he took it upon himself to set his own up in January.
“(The) 26th of January I had used it a little bit, just followed, retweeted some things, I didn’t write anything,” Leavine said. “I didn’t know who was going to see it, I didn’t know anything about it. Sharon’s birthday, we were at our place in Oklahoma, I don’t know what happened, but somebody sent me a question.I didn’t know anything about the format. It was a learning process, about saying anything. It wasn’t until a little later, little by little I realized I can do this, and it just developed.”
Twitter has developed into part of Leavine’s daily routine, he enjoys interacting with the race fans and knows how knowledgeable they really are.
“Our fans are very knowledgeable about racing, it’s complicated, it’s not like stick and ball or soccer. Our fans, the dynamic of everything, the rule changes, I can’t even keep up with it,” Leavine said. “The more I can tell them the better off, they’ll be better fans. That was kind of being courteous when they ask a question, it just developed. If I can do it, I’m going to do it and mornings are easy, I read the news, Jayski’s and then I go to Twitter and at night, the same way.”
Twitter is the same place that many fans hinted at Christopher Bell moving to the Cup Series with Leavine Family Racing in 2020. It was a question that came up often. The rumors never stopped swirling until it was officially announced in late September that Bell would join the Cup Series and LFR full-time next season.
When it became public, the question turned to what Bell can bring to the table for LFR in 2020?
Leavine said he knows Bell has exceptional talent. However, in addition to talent, Bell is bringing sponsorship – a key to keeping the program competitive, especially in NASCAR’s premiere series.
Procore will return to the No. 95 in 2020. And Bell will also bring Rheem, in addition to several other sponsors.
“He brings that (sponsorship), track record proven, he’s won. Some say, ‘Oh, it’s just Xfinity.’ Well, that’s all he’s been in, he’s won,” said Leavine. “He won trucks. That was all he had been in. He was still winning in sprints, so what else do you want him to do to prove himself that he can drive?
“All he wants to do is win. Whatever it takes to win. He’s dedicated and there’s people that come along with exceptional talent, which you know, he’s out there today, we’re racing against them. Not everyone is the same, you can get the cars the same, but not everyone drives the same and they’re not going to finish the same. I think he has ‘it.’ What is ‘it?’ People have a different opinion, but he’s a student of the game.”
Photo By: SaJorden Miller / Kickin’ the Tires