The South Bend, Indiana native has clung tenaciously to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since losing his ride with Ganassi Racing a few years ago, fielding his own Sprint Cup entries while courting ownership partners and sponsors to keep the doors open. It’s been an uphill battle every step of the way, and even with the support of a pair of partners, his Inception Motorsports team was forced to start and park in 20 of 28 starts last season.
Running less than the complete distance these days makes one a bit of pariah. There has been no shortage of detractors calling for NASCAR to outlaw teams like Stremme’s, calling them little more than common thieves; though not often to their face. Stremme ignored it all, swallowing his pride and doing whatever it took to keep his undermanned staff paid and the lights turned on.
Now, that effort appears to be paying off.
When the Sprint Cup Series returns to Daytona International Speedway in February of next year, Stremme will fly the colors of a new team, Swan Racing. Led by NASCAR's newest team owner, Brandon Davis, Swan Racing will compete fulltime in 2012, fielding Stremme’s familiar, red No. 30 Toyota. Davis, CEO of independent oil and gas company Swan Energy Inc., and a dirt-modified driver in the United States Modified Touring Series (USMTS), purchased the assets of Inception Racing earlier this year, and says in no uncertain terms that Stremme’s “start and park” days are over.
"Swan Racing is here to race competitively every week,” said Davis. “I am confident that we are putting together the personnel to one day produce a championship contender," said Davis. He wasted little time putting his money where his mouth is, roughly tripling the number of employees and hiring Steve Hmiel to be Swan Racing's new Director of Competition. Hmiel is a veteran of the NASCAR garage area with over 35 years of experience as a crew chief, car chief and competition director, and brings instant legitimacy to the new effort.
He broke into NASCAR with Petty Enterprises, helping Richard Petty win championships in 1975 and 1979. In 1984, he was the crew chief for Terry Labonte's Sprint Cup Series championship. As Mark Martin's crew chief from 1992 to 1996, Hmiel won 13 races with Roush Racing, and in 2005, he won with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at Chicagoland Speedway during a brief run as crew chief with NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver. Most recently, Hmiel served as competition director at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
"Steve is among the best and brightest technical experts in the NASCAR garage area. His experience and expertise will be a crucial part in Swan Racing's success," said Davis.
The team will once again obtain engines from Triad Racing Technologies, and Davis said he is in talks with potential partners and sponsors, with announcements on both fronts expected after the first of the year.
"I have been around racing all my life.” Said Davis, who growing up working on his father's dirt cars until he was old enough to go racing himself. “It is in my blood. I've built cars, I've raced cars and now I'm looking forward to winning at the highest level. I am encouraged by the success of teams like Michael Waltrip Racing and Stewart–Haas Racing in recent years. It says a lot about the competitiveness of the sport and the opportunity small teams have to succeed."
Not bad for a team some would have run out of town years ago.
Photo: Ray Carlin/Icon SMI