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Ryan Ellis Takes Unique Path to Full Time Xfinity Racing

Ryan Ellis

(Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Ryan Ellis had over-exhausted himself. After sleepless nights, he’d get out of bed and grab a coffee or energy drink.

He’d open his computer. Send emails, make phone calls, repeat. He needed sponsorship.

But it became unhealthy. Ellis found himself in an emotional battle and went to a doctor for help. All he wanted to do was race.

“I thought I was gonna have a heart attack. Every day over the offseason, I was drinking so much caffeine that I legit had withdrawals,” Ellis told The Podium Finish. “I was just getting all these crazy emotions from just caffeinating myself and working so hard to try to make it full-time this year and getting really close to it.”

Through the struggles, Ellis finally achieved his goal. In August, he announced that he’ll drive for Alpha Prime Racing full-time in 2024 after two partial seasons with the organization.

For the 34-year-old, the sleepless nights are just a microcosm of his whirlwind NASCAR journey. He previously started and parked cars for underfunded teams but never treated it as a career. He never had a full-time ride or earned enough money to make a serious living in the sport. The last time his primary income flow came from racing, he served as a public relations representative for a Cup Series team.

With intermittent Xfinity starts mixed in, Ellis primarily worked for the now-defunct GoFas Racing, handling marketing, PR and travel logistics. Before GoFas, he made a handful of Cup starts with underfunded organizations. It was never a true career. He was moonlighting, more than anything.

When the team shut down after the 2020 season, Ellis started to transition out of the sport. He worked marketing jobs in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, including stints with Klik Marketing, cbdMD and LeadCoverage.

But after making six starts with BJ McLeod Motorsports in 2021, the door got cracked open with APR in 2022. He attempted 12 races, qualifying into 11 of them and finishing as high as 13th twice. In 2023, he came just two races shy of a full-time effort, sitting out a pair of mid-season road course races.

Ryan Ellis heads into Turn 2 at Pocono Raceway in July 2023. (Photo: Sam Draiss | The Podium Finish)

“I was stupid enough to believe it would, and I was just working hard enough to make it happen,” Ellis said when asked if he thought he’d ever drive full-time. “I never thought it was attainable, but I never let myself think that. There was points where I was like, ‘there’s no way, it’s not possible without having family connections or family money.’ I think that I just never really thought of whether or not it was possible when I was just focused on making it happen.

“Without the people that are working for me like Sarah [Handy, director of marketing and sales], Garrett [Miller, client manager] and David Schildhouse [business development] — I wouldn’t be here. I know everybody says that, but I’m just me. There’s no real marketing team there. We’ve got MMI (Motorsports Management International), my management group, but it’s just been grassroots marketing and working on it day by day to get here. That’s what makes it so cool.

“It was just a lot of the sponsorship grind and basically getting my wife’s buy-in — we have a three-year-old daughter now — that the hard work was going to pay off. I feel like I’m somebody that’s like the typical person you see in a movie like, ‘this is the year, this is the year’ and I really wanted this to be a year that proved that there’s a way to get a sustainable job in this sport. Looks like [last] offseason is kind of proving it.”

With his exclusive focus on racing in 2023, Ellis got comfortable behind the wheel for owners Tommy Joe Martins and Caesar Bacarella. Though he fell short of scoring his first career top-10, Ellis recorded nine top-20 finishes and assisted the No. 43 team to a 28th-place finish in owner’s points, second among three APR entries.

The highlight of his season came at Talladega Superspeedway in April, when he finished 11th. A few weeks earlier, he recorded a 15th-place finish at Richmond Raceway.

But overall, Ellis felt that the on-track portion of the 2023 season was plagued by missed opportunities.

Ryan Ellis practices at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May 2023 (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

“There was three or four races that I could have had top 10s, whether it was a driver mistake or some bad luck,” he said. “That kind of sucked. I thought we’re gonna have a couple of top 10s and just didn’t really get that luck, unfortunately.

“The average age dropped a lot in Xfinity and it’s definitely gotten more competitive from a team side. I just have to be more aggressive behind the wheel and take advantage of more spots. We’ve missed a couple of those top 10s because I haven’t made the most of like a free pass or those little things. They add up. It’s really competitive, and I just want to not crash but be right on that ragged edge, which is why we’re all in this sport.”

When it came time to think about 2024, Ellis signed the dotted line well in advance. By announcing his intentions for next season in August, the Ashburn, Virginia native became the first Xfinity Series driver to declare full-time status.

Ellis said that at one point, a two-year deal with APR was on the table.

“I didn’t realize I was the first person to announce it. I used to go to the Jayski page and be like ‘ha, I’m the only guy with a ride,'” Ellis said. “I just had normal desk job and had to use PTO to go to the racetrack. So to be that guy on the other side of it just felt really cool and really surreal.

“We want to continue going in a positive direction and not settle for where we’re at right now by any means. And the sponsorship for helping us get there. I’m really happy to be where we’re at, but it’s hard to not just always look and in front of you and see what everybody else has and want that.”

Ryan Ellis dons a throwback scheme at Darlington Raceway in May 2023. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

When Ellis straps into the car for the first time at Daytona International Speedway in February, it’ll begin a new chapter for the journeyman driver. He’ll race for driver’s points for the first time in his career and be able to take full ownership of his ride. He’ll be able to prioritize racing and drive for an organization that wants and believes in him.

And who knows what could happen if some luck falls on his side.

“[I want] another shot at Daytona because I freaking love that track and it hates me,” he said. “Just getting another shot at some of the road courses because we had just terrible luck at those, and those are the tracks we can shine at. So a little bit of everything. I just want to finish a few more of those plate races and not be on the hook and not be in the care center because that’s where your points are really made.

“I want to enjoy it more and I want to bring the family to more from a sentimental standpoint. I want to get a top 10. I said that all freaking offseason like ‘if I don’t get one, I’m gonna retire’ but no, I’m not retiring. So we’ll see. I just really want to get two or three of them next year … That’s all I can think about every minute, every day.”



Nathan Solomon serves as the managing editor of The Podium Finish. He has been part of the team since 2021 and is accredited by the National Motorsports Press Association. Solomon is a senior in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University. Contact him at

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