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Salem’s Frahm looks for a second chance in Nationwide Series

  • Salem's Matt Frahm, driver of the Gilchrist Metal Fabrication Toyota chats with a crew member in his garage at NHMS on Friday, July 11, 2014.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

    Salem's Matt Frahm, driver of the Gilchrist Metal Fabrication Toyota chats with a crew member in his garage at NHMS on Friday, July 11, 2014. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

  • Matt Frahm's 44 Toyota rips down the front stretch at NHMS during Friday's practice session for Saturday's Nationwide Sta-Green 200.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

    Matt Frahm's 44 Toyota rips down the front stretch at NHMS during Friday's practice session for Saturday's Nationwide Sta-Green 200. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

  • Salem's Matt Frahm, driver of the Gilchrist Metal Fabrication Toyota chats with a crew member in his garage at NHMS on Friday, July 11, 2014.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
  • Matt Frahm's 44 Toyota rips down the front stretch at NHMS during Friday's practice session for Saturday's Nationwide Sta-Green 200.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

LOUDON – Matt Frahm has seen what it’s like when racing works out. And he’s all too familiar with what it’s like when it doesn’t.

It was only two years ago that the Salem native and Hampstead resident had a growing presence in the Nationwide Series, NASCAR’s top developmental series. He raced three times in 2011 at 21 years old and six times the following year, allowing him to set his sights on more chances in front of a wide audience,

and in front of the kind of people who could advance his career.

But that was before the sponsorship woes. And the dried-up financial backing. And the lack of available rides, resulting in his dropping out of the series and his disappearance from the NASCAR ranks altogether.

Until now, that is. Frahm will be competing in today’s Sta-Green 200, his first Nationwide race since September 2012. He’ll be back on his home track, sharing the track with up-and-comers like Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon and Sprint Cup regulars like Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.

Driving with those names is a perk, no doubt. But Frahm’s journey the past couple of years has taught him that just getting the chance to get in the car is victory enough.

“I’m very, very excited,” said the 24-year-old Frahm, who will be driving a car sponsored by Gilchrist Metal Fabricating for TriStar Motorsports. “It’s been more than tough, so it’s a great opportunity. … Friends and family have been supportive of it, so I’m excited to get behind the wheel, especially on my home track.”

Family was what got Frahm into racing. His father, Dave, owned and sponsored cars in the Busch North Series, now the K&N Pro Series East, and the family spent its time traveling to tracks around the region to follow the local races. Eventually, Frahm got behind the wheel himself, starting with supermodifieds at 14 years old, and he knew right away he didn’t want to give it up.

“We ran a season and won a show and missed the championship by two points, and I said ‘I want to keep doing this. I want to keep rolling with it,’ ” he said. “And (my father) egged me on and helped me out, kept pushing me along.”

Frahm drove three K&N Pro Series East races in 2010, only two years after graduating from Salem High School, then made his Nationwide debut in July 2011. He raced twice more that year, then doubled his load in the following season, posting an average finish of 33.8 and finishing higher than he started in four of his six races.

Frahm’s exposure was improving, but his sponsorship situation wasn’t. The backing finally gave out after 2012, leaving Frahm without a ride and without a plan.

“We kind of just dropped the ball a little bit,” he said. “I wouldn’t say my sponsor-relations manager or my father, it was just kind of me. It was my mind-set. I knew my sponsors were coming to an end … and it just got a little discouraging. I probably should have kept my nose in it and dug a little harder than I did.”

Like someone fresh out of college, Frahm had to hunt for employment. He called sponsors, arranged interviews and flew to meetings, all while driving super late models and wondering if his first chance in NASCAR would be his only one.

“It just got a little discouraging,” he said. “You can’t really put it on the sidelines, hunting for sponsorships. It’s kind of an all-year thing … knocking doors down and just doing whatever we can to bring some sponsorship back to the team.”

Finally, Frahm got a break. TriStar Motorsports was interested, the driver and team agreed to a deal for at least one race, and Frahm found out June 29 that he’d be back in a Nationwide ride – at the track where it all began, no less.

“For someone in my situation, that’s a pretty stout team to be able to drive with and to say you raced with,” he said. “They’ve been really professional from a business standpoint, and I can tell they’re a team that’s going to race. They don’t go through the motions and just go home. They want to race.”

According to crew chief Greg Conners, Frahm’s background and past success enticed TriStar to give him a chance.

“He is a local driver and has seen great success in racing,” he said in an email. “TriStar Motorsports is always looking for new development drivers. He has decent finishes at NHMS, and hopes to continue that (today).”

He’s coming to the right place. The Magic Mile is the only track he’s driven twice, and it was also the site of a season-best 25th-place finish during his 2012 season.

“At first I really didn’t care for the place,” he said. “But now when we race there, my family’s all there, my friends are there, it’s a home track, I think that’s what kind of gets me amped up. I know of all these tracks that I race at or am going to race at, this is where I have the most support.”

While many of the drivers he’ll share the track with will eye the checkered flag, Frahm’s expectations are modest. The focus is not on the afternoon, but on what the afternoon means going forward.

“My goal is to go there, finish the race and basically, honestly, gain kind of a relationship and a rapport with TriStar Motorsports,” he said. “I want to make a good impression. … A top-15, or a top-18 finish for me, that would be a win. I would come out of that race smiling ear to ear.”

Frahm also knows that the grind of working himself back into the NASCAR picture doesn’t end with the start of today’s race. Hunting for sponsorships and rides got him here, and with the length of his TriStar deal not guaranteed beyond today, he’ll need that work ethic in order to stay around.

“We have some open races this season,” Conners said, “but sponsorships play a key role in filling those races. I am sure we will have a successful race at NHMS, and hopefully a sponsor will see that and come on board.”

“The work’s not over after Saturday. It’s just starting,” he said. “Which is fine for me, I like a challenge and I welcome it. I know it’s a tough one, but that’s the way I’m looking at it. … Whether it turns into start-and-park rides, every other week, or every week, or here and there, whatever I can do to keep my face around the garage is key.”

Frahm doesn’t need to be told how important hanging around is. He’s already seen for himself what happens when you don’t.

“ ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is what it is,” he said. “With everything, not just this business.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at abonifant@cmonitor.com or 369-3340 or on Twittter @dbonifant.)

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