NASCAR’s return to the Milwaukee Mile in August was filled with mixed emotions for Grant Enfinger.
That Sunday afternoon at the historic track went about as perfect as possible for Enfinger. He put his No. 23 Champion Power Equipment Chevrolet prepared by GMS Racing on pole for the Clean Harbors 175, which saw Enfinger lead a race-high 95 laps and clinch a spot in the next round of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series playoffs.
The victory helped Enfinger and his crew enjoy a moment of levity amidst an uncertain reality, as they found out earlier in the weekend that GMS Racing would cease operations at the end of the 2023 season, ending a successful partnership Enfinger had periodically shared with the organization over the past decade.
Enfinger has spent the past few weeks minimizing the distractions associated with GMS Racing’s impending closure and is determined to give them one more championship to close out their stellar legacy in stock car racing.
“Nobody wanted to get that news, but with the way everything’s been handled, I don’t think anybody could rightfully complain about it,” Enfinger said. “We’re pretty resilient as a team, and if anything, this has given us extra motivation. I’m disappointed, but everyone wants to take advantage of the situation we’re in right now.”
Moving to GMS Racing midway through the 2014 ARCA Menards Series season was a key turning point in Enfinger’s career.
Already an established name due to his success on short tracks, Enfinger opened that season by winning the first three races with car owner Howard Bixman, cementing himself as a favorite for the title. When funding issues began to afflict Bixman’s team, Enfinger needed a lifeline to keep his championship aspirations alive.
Spencer Gallagher, who now co-owns GMS Racing with his father Maury, stepped in by having Enfinger drive his car for the remainder of the year. The partnership between Enfinger and what was then Gallagher Motorsports immediately paid off, as Enfinger tallied two more wins before finishing second to Mason Mitchell in the point standings.
Even though Enfinger and Gallagher came from different backgrounds, the two bonded over their shared desire to make it in the top levels of NASCAR. A strong end to 2014 that also saw Spencer get his first ARCA Menards Series victory at Kansas Speedway only gave the duo more confidence toward accomplishing their goals the next year.
Reflecting on his first year with GMS Racing, Enfinger knew the team’s path to the top would require a tremendous amount of effort and patience.
“Back then, [GMS Racing] was nothing like it is now,” Enfinger said. “When I got there, they were in Joey Coulter’s family shop in Huntersville. It wasn’t a mess by any means, but you would recognize very little of it. Things were scattered with a lot of different stuff getting worked on. It was a free-for-all from an organizational standpoint.”
One crucial component that kept GMS Racing in front of other teams in the ARCA Menards Series garage despite their limited resources were the reliable people already in the shop and those who were brought in to bolster the consistency of burgeoning team.
The most important of these hires was Mike Beam, who was brought in to be GMS Racing’s competition director in December 2014.
Beam, who has been a race-winning crew chief for drivers like Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Bill Elliott and many more, saw the potential of Maury’s program. But he said keeping both the ARCA Menards Series and Truck Series teams competitive required restructuring at nearly every level.
Fewer than two months ahead of Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, Beam began to put his plan into action.
“I knew I had a lot of work to do to make this a winning operation,” Beam said. “They had just started their relationship with GM, so I was trying to put an engineering staff together, along with technical directors and crew chiefs. Thankfully we hired some very good people, and we grew from there.
“It worked out well, for sure.”
Beam instantly saw GMS Racing make strides at the beginning of 2015. Just like he did the year before, Enfinger started the season by winning the opening three events, which set a commanding tone for the rest of the full-time ARCA Menards Series competitors.
Enfinger’s efficient, six-win campaign allowed him to deliver GMS Racing their first championship as an organization before the final checkered flag waved at Kansas Speedway. The gap between Enfinger and Austin Wayne Self in the ARCA Menards Series standings that year was 445 points.
Beam introducing a more streamlined work environment and holding everyone accountable are two factors Enfinger believes made GMS Racing so strong in 2015. Enfinger added that the milestone laid the foundation for where he and GMS Racing currently are today.
“The championship was huge,” Enfinger said. “To get an opportunity to race in ARCA was a dream for me, to win a race was a dream come true, but capturing a championship in the way we did it was something truly special. You’re expected to win championships with GMS Racing today, but that was the beginning of us becoming a structured organization.”
GMS Racing continued to bring in accomplishments after their maiden title. They claimed two championships in the Truck Series with Johnny Sauter and Sheldon Creed while simultaneously tacking on two ARCA Menards Series East titles, both of which were won by Sam Mayer.
ARCA Menards Series president Ron Drager felt gratified to have the Gallaghers invest a copious amount of time and energy into the platform for so many years. He always admired the professionalism GMS Racing brought to each event and how it always translated into on-track performance.
“A lot of people came through [GMS Racing] from a lot of different avenues and experienced success,” Drager said. “When you look at what they accomplished with us, their success speaks for itself. GMS is a perfect example of a team that capitalized on participating in our series and were able to move forward.”
As GMS Racing has grown from 20 employees to 140, Beam has taken a lot of pride in all the organization’s accomplishments from the past several years. He is also thrilled that GMS Racing remains one of the top teams in the Truck Series even as they approach their final races.
Beam is keeping everyone focused on the championship in front of them, but he admitted to feeling melancholic about the current circumstances knowing he will bid farewell to the hard-working employees of GMS Racing, some of which have been there since his first day in 2014.
Although he is not sure of the long-standing impact GMS Racing will have on NASCAR in the coming years, Beam knows every employee helped the organization reach its full potential.
“We did make a difference at GMS Racing,” Beam said. “We’ve won so many races and have the championship banners to prove what we did. Everything was done the right way, but just like everything else, it ran its course, and it’s time for everyone to move on.”
Drager already sees the legacy of GMS Racing not only in the ARCA Menards Series garage, but throughout NASCAR, as well.
Along with GMS Racing alumni like Mayer and Creed finding successful rides in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the Gallaghers are staying involved in the industry through Legacy Motor Club, of which Maury co-owns with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champions Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty.
Drager knows everyone at GMS Racing will find sustainable positions elsewhere in the industry because of the winning mindset they abided by during their time with the company. As they prepare to make their respective transitions, Drager hopes those team members always cherish everything that made GMS Racing a top-tier organization.
“For those [GMS Racing] employees who were a part of that culture and are able to stay involved in the sport, I want them to look back and feel good about what they accomplished,” Drager said. “Everything that team accomplished was very special.”
The dream Maury had for GMS Racing stemmed from his commitment to the sport following the sudden passing of West Series competitor Spencer Clark in a highway accident back in 2006.
Maury brought his company Allegiant Air on Clark’s car during the mid-2000s as he attempted to make his way toward the Cup Series. To honor Clark’s memory, Maury regularly used the No. 23 with his teams, which is the same number Enfinger used to win his first ARCA Menards Series title and the same number he uses now.
Enfinger considers himself fortunate the Gallaghers gave him a chance to be part of their vision that now includes five championships and 71 combined victories. Joining GMS Racing provided Enfinger a fresh perspective on efficiency in motorsports and he plans to embody those winning characteristics no matter where he ends up in 2024.
“It’s been a good run,” Enfinger said. “When I first went to GMS Racing in 2014, I knew we were there to win races. That’s always been the culture and mentality here, and I’ve been lucky enough to be part of it. Before 2014, it was about doing the best with what I had, but these guys were always willing to do whatever it takes to win.
“I will always appreciate that culture.”
Even as GMS Racing prepares to close shop, Enfinger is still within striking distance of his first Truck Series championship. Two races remain for Enfinger to further solidify GMS Racing’s status as one of the best programs in recent ARCA and NASCAR history.