WATKINS GLEN – It is hard these days for any NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team to exist in what has become a very expensive and corporate racing world. Even the large multi-car operations with seemingly unlimited resources struggle at times to find funding and ways to survive.
For Lockport native Mike Hillman Sr. it has been all about keeping his smaller independent team afloat but in a very family-oriented way.
As NSCS teams both large and small prepared this weekend and competed in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen, Hillman Sr. was very busy overseeing his Hillman Racing team, which fielded the No. 40 Newtown Building Supplies Chevrolet driven by Landon Cassill. The team also has a partnership arrangement with Circle K Racing, which fielded the No. 33 MediaCAST Chevrolet driven by Alex Kennedy.
The Hillman team also enjoyed the assistance at The Glen of Hillman’s sons, Mike Hillman Jr. and crew chief Mark Hillman, on the No. 40 car. Cassill drove to a 29th place finish Sunday, one lap behind the leader. Kennedy placed 33rd, suffering a hard crash four laps from the end.
“I’m pretty happy,” Hillman Sr. said. “We were in a position to get the lucky dog pass a time or two and we performed well on pit road today and Landon did a good job so we’ll roll out of here and head to Michigan.”
Cassill had an exciting moment during the race, one he didn’t need when the violent wreck involving Ryan Newman and Michael McDowell happened in front of him, forcing Cassill to take evasive action to keep clear of the lap 55 melee.
“I saw cars going everywhere,” Cassill said. “It’s definitely a blind corner and when there’s a wreck you really don’t know where you’re supposed to go so you just pick a spot and hope.”
This season, Cassill has not recorded a single top-10 result and had a season-best finish of 11th at Talladega. The team did not qualify at Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Hillman Sr. was formerly with Germain Racing but departed there three years ago to start his own team. He is slowly trying to grow his current operation into a larger, much more competitive group.
“I started this team back in 2012 so this is the third year we’re doing it,” said Hillman Sr. “This is the first full year of competing in the Cup Series with Landon driving. We started running the No. 40 car at Indianapolis last year and Watkins Glen was the third race for it and we’ve been at all of them so far this year and from Watkins Glen on last year so it’s been about a year now.”
Additional team owners will be allowed to join the RTA provided they attempted to qualify for at least 95 percent of the NSCS races held over the last two seasons.
Hillman Racing does not fit the criteria to join the RTA at this time but Hillman Sr., still sees an upside to the RTA organization.
“When we become eligible one day for the RTA, I’ll look at it,” said Hillman Sr.. “But for right now we’ll still reap the benefits of what they’re doing anyway because we compete every week and we’re in the loop of what’s going on.
“We don’t have $30 million or $20 million a year to race with. If we had $5 million we could compete at a better level and hopefully we’ll get $5 million and eventually go to $10 million and someday we’ll get there. Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush all started out where Landon and I are today.”
He later returned to The Glen for Sunday’s race. Living in North Carolina and running a NSCS team does not allow him much time to come back home.
“I can’t wait to get to Lockport this afternoon,” Hillman said here Saturday morning. “I can’t wait to give my mom a big hug. I haven’t seen her in six months.”
Sunday morning, prior to the race, Hillman Sr. was surrounded by family members at The Glen and said that he did indeed deliver that hug to his mom on Saturday. It is just further proof that no matter where Hillman’s NASCAR future takes him, family will always be at the top of his list.