Over the past two-plus decades, Bill McAnally has built a motorsports empire on the West Coast, securing 10 regional championships. Sean Woodside, Brendan Gaughan, Todd Gilliland, Hailie Deegan, and Derek Kraus are just a few that have made their names in McAnally’s multi-car organization.
Going into 2021, Bill McAnally Racing will field two cars with Cole Moore and defending ARCA West champion Jesse Love behind the wheel. No question, the teams are gunning for an 11th series title. However, they are also on the cusp of reaching 100 wins.
McAnally also has a greater vision that goes beyond the regional series. This desire is to give drivers of all ages an opportunity to blossom and land in a national division seat.
The name of such a program? The BMR Drivers Academy of course.
BMR Drivers Academy
From March through October, the academy will consist of 14 drivers competing in 40 races at five different venues. The tracks include All American Speedway, Thunderhill Raceway, Sonoma Raceway, Irwindale Speedway, and Kern County Raceway Park.
Five of the 14 drivers are already confirmed. The first three to be promoted are Moore, Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Famer David Smith, and Amber Balcaen. Balcaen is the first Canadian female to win a NASCAR sanctioned race. This accomplishment came at Motor Mile in 2016.
Benefits of BMR Driver Academy
Drivers will be able to learn the ins-and-outs of the sport ranging from media and sponsorship relations and learning to adapt with multiple crew personnel. The latter opportunity will come after eight races or scoring six wins, whichever happens first.
Additionally, any driver who wins one of the 40 races will be entered into a drawing. The opportunity to become Kraus’ NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teammate is on the line. This partnership will come at the finale at Phoenix Raceway.
As an added bonus, the driver leading the championship trail after races 14, 24, and 30 will receive a National ARCA Menards Series gig for one points-paying race. Above all, this is perhaps the biggest incentive of the academy.
Seat Time is Powerful
During Friday’s Zoom conference, Balcaen joined McAnally, Kraus, Brandon Igdalsky, and Ron Drager. The discussion included the significance of the program. One of the biggest goals for the academy is providing incredible seat time. This is why 40 races is an instrumental force compared to ARCA West, which will only have nine races in 2021.
A huge difference indeed in the eyes of the program’s mastermind.
“We’re looking for something to fill the calendar and give young and old drivers some seat time in a full-size ARCA type stock car,” said McAnally. “What they learn in these cars will help them move up to the ARCA Series or Camping World Truck Series. Same chassis and components – 600 horsepower engines.”
Track Time Pays Dividends
McAnally continued, “They’re going to race a lot of great tracks and getting that seat time – 40 races. We’re trying to develop drivers throughout the years, but there was just never enough seat time. Now there’s no doubt they’re going to have plenty of seat time.”
Balcaen, who appeared on the CMT reality show Racing Wives, said it’s crucial having 40 races and it is one of the reasons the BMR Driver Academy appealed to her.
“This is a huge opportunity and honestly the biggest in my career. In the past, I’ve always lacked funding and with Bill doing 40 races for the price that he’s offering, you can’t beat that,” said Balcaen.
“For me to be able to get a sponsor come on board to be able to do a full season with him and develop my skills in this series, it’s just a great opportunity for someone like myself who’s lacking seat time and wants to eventually move up to the higher series of ARCA and really for any driver that needs seat time.”
Attracting Attention From All Divisions
While the main selling point is having drivers run a full 40-race deal, McAnally also confirmed the availability of a 10-race package. This will ensure those who are committed to running different divisions are able to participate in the academy should their heart desire to do so.
“It’s going to allow drivers to come out of their local racing or weekly racing program and run these races with us,” said McAnally. “We’re also going to do a lesser package where a driver can run their late models at their Saturday short track and come get some experience to prepare for the next year.
“I think it’s going to find us a lot of new talent that wants to move forward and give them an opportunity,” McAnally continued. “I heard from a 71-year-old Trans-Am racer that wants to this just because it’s ‘arrive and drive.’ It makes it real easy on him. But I think we’re going to have a great mix of drivers. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Kraus Eyes Kern County
One driver interested in running a few academy races is Kraus. The Truck Series sophomore would be open to running at Sonoma and his personal playground, Kern County. He’s flat out dominated the latter venue in the West division, scoring four wins from 2017-19.
“Bill has helped me since I was 15 years old. Just growing up running ARCA helped a lot,” said Kraus, driver of the No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Toyota Tundra.
“Being able to have the opportunity…to run in the academy, racing 40 times in one year, that’s huge for a driver to get as much seat time as you’re available to get…
“Being able to repeat at Roseville, learning things there that you can take to Kern. Then you got the road courses too. So, there’s a lot of great race tracks that Bill is going to,” Kraus added. “Being able to be a young driver to run 40 races in one year would be huge. I feel like it’s a great opportunity. When I was younger, I wished I had been able to be in the academy.”
The 2019 West champion spent time with the aspiring drivers at All American Speedway in Roseville, California last month where they ran fully prepared cars. He drove three cars and said he was really impressed with both the car and competitors that participated at the short track.
“That was a cool experience to be with those guys. There were a lot of drivers out there. To be honest, it went way better than what I expected,” said Kraus. “The crew was really smooth and all the drivers were really fast. That was really good and it shows how good the people on the West Coast prepare the cars.
After testing three cars, Kraus noted, “It felt the exact same and pretty much were the same lap times. Everything that went on there was really good and it was really impressive to be out there.”
Cost and Competition is Crucial
Obviously, cost is crucial in all levels of motorsports. It often defines the road to the top for a driver and team.
McAnally said while trying to give drivers the opportunity to climb the racing ladder through NASCAR and ARCA the past 20 years, the cost is around $800,000 (annually) to field a fully competitive program.
With a participant fee of $268,500, McAnally is adamant it is worth every penny. He feels it will give competitors tremendous growth on-and-off the track.
“We’ve done everything we can utilizing the assets around us to make this affordable,” said McAnally. “Forty races and off-track training is a $268K price tag for the full program. You can earn three ARCA races or you can earn a Truck race too. When you factor all that in, I don’t think you can get a bang for your buck out there.”
Balcaen aspires to join Deegan and Gracie Trotter as McAnally drivers who’ve crossed the line in first place. However, her mindset is focusing on the races she will run and building her progress. When she acquired sponsorship from ICON Direct at the last minute, this became even more true.
Balcaen said the deal took three weeks to fully materialize. In fact, it was the RV product supplier who reached out to her via LinkedIn after discovering her sponsorship pitch video.
This is nothing new for the Canadian. She knew at 10 years old, she had to things on her own. The third-generation racer does not have the mass-funding like Deegan, Riley Herbst, and Austin Dillon.
The underdog mentality has kept her motivated, grinding her way into finding sponsorships the old fashion way. Now with this opportunity, Balcaen is excited to have a group that resonates with her story and brings some notoriety along the way.
ICON Direct Backing
“Racing is my ultimate dream and I spent 8-12 hours a day just finding sponsors. Constantly, reaching out to people and networking. Finally, one stuck,” Balcaen reflected.
“I had a lot of sponsors I was able to get, then they would fall through last minute. (ICON Direct) stuck and they’re really excited backing someone from home providence (Winnipeg, Manitoba). They had a budget in mind, and this fit their budget. I really hope they want to continue to grow with me.
“This is the absolute perfect opportunity for me to get a lot of seat time. Being on SPEED SPORT TV, it brings them great exposure that they need at a lot lesser price. For (ICON Direct) to have that budget, (McAnally) having something super similar to that, but even more races and still being televised, it was a great opportunity for all of us.”
Long term, McAnally is fully aware of the Cup Series moving to the NextGen car in 2022. It means Gen6 chassis will be available. It goes without saying, McAnally is already in talks with teams on getting some of those in his Roseville shop. McAnally estimated nearly 700 cars could end up useless.
Looking ahead, he would love to get solid equipment for his drivers in the future. For now, McAnally and NASCAR are in it for the long haul. Both announced Wednesday that BMR Drivers Academy will be a part of NASCAR’s development program.
As NASCAR Executive Vice Present & Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell stated, it should boost interest for drivers on the West Coast. Maybe someday, one of the drivers could join the likes of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, the Busch brother (Kurt and Kyle), and Kevin Harvick, all accomplished NASCAR champions who represented the region.
“NASCAR and the ARCA Menards Series are fully committed to strengthening stock car racing on the West Coast,” said O’Donnell. “We believe the BMR Drivers Academy will amplify our West Coast efforts and develop future NASCAR and ARCA Menards Series drivers through a competitive environment that will sharpen their skills with real-world racing experience.”
Watch & Follow
The inaugural season will kick off March 26 at All American Speedway. Additionally, every BMR Drivers Academy race will be streamed live on SPEED SPORT TV.