Legacy Motor Club CEO Says Chevrolet Gave the NASCAR Cup Team ‘Tier Three’ Treatment

Jackson Wheeler
9 Min Read

  • Cal Wells, the CEO of Legacy Motor Club NASCAR Cup team, says LMC never really had a chance to be championship contender as a ‘third tier’ partner with Chevrolet.
  • This year, the team moves to Toyota and to what Wells calls a ‘tier one’ deal.
  • Last season, LMC was winless and finished 12th in the NASCAR Cup team points standings.

Cal Wells III has never been one to shy away from a racing challenge, and he’d probably say he’s seen it all in his 40-plus years of leading racing programs ranging from off-road race teams to competitive teams in CART and NASCAR.

This year, the 68-year-old Wells enters his first full season as the CEO of the Legacy Motor Club NASCAR Cup Series team. It’s a team whose ownership group has no shortage of championships in their personal trophy cases—co-owner Maury Gallagher’s teams have won multiple NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series titles, and co-owner Jimmie Johnson is a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion.

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Cal Wells spent a good part of the 1990s as co-owner of the Arciero Wells Precision Preparation, Inc. team in the CART Indy car series.

Alex Garcia//Getty Images

Add in team ambassador Richard Petty—he of the seven Cup championships and a record 200 career Cup Series wins who sold his assets in the Cup team to Gallagher for a reported $19 million after the 2021 season—and this a group that defines winning in NASCAR.

Despite all the star power and racing pedigree, however, the team has struggled. Last season, LMC was winless and finished 12th in the team points standings.

This year, due in part to Wells’ leadership and connections, the team is ripping up its old playbook and starting down a different path as LMC moves from its association with Chevrolet and General Motors to a new deal with Toyota. Moving to the Toyota factory stable raised plenty of eyebrows, especially considering Johnson’s and Petty’s long and unparalleled history with General Motors.

Wells came on board at LMC last summer and quickly saw that the team wasn’t where it needed to be on the GM pecking order. LMC wasn’t, Wells insisted, racing with the same “tier one” relationship with its manufacturer as the other GM teams in the NASCAR stable.

Wells, who has had a relationship with Toyota going back to 1982, believes that Toyota will give LMC the attention and technical support the team was lacking with GM.

Wells said in a recent interview as part of EPARTRADE’s Race Industry Week series that Toyota will give Legacy Motor Club the “tier one” status it needs to compete on a different, make that more competitive, level.

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Richard Petty, Jimmie Johnson and Maury Gallagher of Legacy Motorsports.

Chris Graythen//Getty Images

“One of the things that Jimmie (Johnson) and Maury (Gallagher) realized very early, is that they needed to be what is termed in NASCAR vernacular as tier one—a team being supported as a tier one member of Chevrolet, Ford, or Toyota. And those are very sought after and coveted positions within NASCAR.

“Penske (Racing) and Roush Fenway Keselowski, and Stewart Haas are tier one for Ford. And Chevy, there’s Mr. (Rick) Hendrick—which is tier one-plus—and then the Trackhouses of the world, and Richard Childress Racing and others.

“And so when you when you look at that ecosystem, it was tough for Jimmie—even though he had won seven championships for General Motors. This will always surprise me (that) there wasn’t (more of ) a focus on (LMC). And Maury winning multiple trucks championships for Chevrolet, you would just think that General Motors would say, ‘Jimmie, Maury, look at what we can do. Let’s move them up to be more independent and call them a true tier one.’

“Unfortunately (GM) just didn’t feel that way. And they left (LMC) at what I would consider a tier three, where the information was very limited and intentional. I mean, this isn’t to say that (Vice President, GM Performance and Motorsports) Jim Campbell and (Executive Director GM Motorsports) Eric Warren didn’t pay a lot of attention to Gallagher Motorsports and then Jimmie and then Richard Petty, and then how it continued to evolve into Legacy, because they did. But they had tier one teams that they had made huge investments in and they were wanting to appropriately support their other true key partner teams.

“If you take technology. As you expand that circle of trust, you inadvertently share incremental technologies and you can lose the tight reign around it that you want. So, as you add another team and another team or another team, NDAs are great, but it becomes a real challenge for folks like Chevrolet that are already oversubscribed. In other words, they have a plethora of tier one teams. So just from their seat on the bus, it really didn’t make any sense.

“Toyota on the other hand, it did make sense. And so through a series of meetings—at that time I had my TRD hat firmly on—Jimmie filled the voids that weren’t had in his operation as it related to sponsorship development, as it related to certain other relationships that Jimmy could bring, and it ended up the view was it would be the perfect marriage. You’ve got individuals that are really really good in their own swim lane, and now you could build a crossover. That’s that’s how it came about.”

In 2024, the team will field drivers Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek. LMC will join Toyota mainstays Joe Gibbs Racing and the Denny Hamilin and Michael Jordan-owned 23XI Racing.

Wells marvels at what Gallagher and Johnson have pulled off in the short time from their first races in 2022 as Petty GMS Motorsports to buying Richard Petty Motorsports’ two-car charter and rebranding as Legacy Motor Club in 2023.

“They literally went from a bare floor with no cars to saying, ‘Hey, I think we’re going to run seven races as an as a non-charter or independent non-franchised (Cup) car’ to ‘Hey, we’re going to run one car,’ to ‘Hey, we bought RPM and we’re gonna run two cars.

“It was just months to get it ready. It was a miracle what they pulled off, particularly when you’re trying to combine a GMS culture, a Richard Petty culture and then a Jimmie Johnson culture.”

Headshot of Mike Pryson

Mike Pryson covered auto racing for the Jackson (Mich.) Citizen Patriot and MLive Media Group from 1991 until joining Autoweek in 2011. He won several Michigan Associated Press and national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for auto racing coverage and was named the 2000 Michigan Auto Racing Fan Club’s Michigan Motorsports Writer of the Year. A Michigan native, Mike spent three years after college working in southwest Florida before realizing that the land of Disney and endless summer was no match for the challenge of freezing rain, potholes and long, cold winters in the Motor City.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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