When Brandon Brown is behind the wheel, he’s got a familiar face riding shotgun: the head Chanticleer, Chauncey.
Thanks to a partnership with Coastal Carolina University, the CCU student is accompanied by the university mascot every time he takes a spin as a NASCAR driver.
As the Woodbridge, Va., native prepares to embark on his fifth year as a part-time driver in NASCAR, Brown will once again have a teal-and-white paint job featuring Chauncey on his No. 86 Chevrolet as he attempts to qualify for the XFINITY Series’ PowerShares QQQ 300 on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.
“Coastal on board is just a huge plus,” Brown said this week. “The teal really stands out in the field. It’s helping some fans relate to us.”
Coincidentally, a moment when teal stood out ultimately led to the partnership. A couple years ago, Brown caught the university’s attention with an Instagram post in which he was wearing a Chanticleers hat while in town to compete in a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Intrigued, Coastal officials arranged a meeting with Brown, a new student, and soon a deal was in place for the university to sponsor him. Now, CCU markings are found all over his racecar.
“It pieced together very perfectly,” Brown said.
Brown, 24, began racing at the age of 10, starting with go-karts before moving up to Late Models at 16 and then later getting his big start in the Camping World Trucks Series at 20.
“I had always been intrigued with cars and driving and everything as a very young child,” said Brown, whose team Brandonbilt Motorsports is family-owned.
Getting started in go-karts proved to be a life-changing endeavor.
“I fell in love with it,” Brown said. “I never saw myself doing anything else other than racing after that point.”
Soon after graduating high school, though, Brown learned that getting into big-time racing wasn’t a sure thing. He said he learned the hard way that he’d need a backup plan.
That led him to Coastal Carolina, where some of his friends had been attending classes.
“I came down here and I fell in love with this campus,” Brown said. “I fell in love with the class sizes and the student body. I felt very at home here when I visited, so I was super excited when I heard I got in.”
After starting classes in Conway, Brown realized he had made the right choice. A university with a big feel but small classroom sizes allowed him the kind of atmosphere he needed in order to focus on school – and racing.
“Instead of being a student ID number, I was a student the teachers knew,” Brown said.
Now, he’s on pace to graduate with a degree in communication and marketing in December.
First, though, there’s plenty to do on the track.
Being a small, one-car team, Brown and Co. will need to qualify just to get into Saturday’s race.
“It puts a little pressure added on heading into the weekend,” said Brown, whose team will attempt to qualify Saturday morning ahead of the afternoon's 2:30 p.m. race. “It’s just been something that I’ve been looking forward to this whole offseason. Don’t get me wrong, I love hanging out with everybody, but I have the itch and I’ve got to get back behind the wheel.”
A successful weekend would be a good start to the season, in which Brown plans to participate in at least nine XFINITY races while leaving the door open for truck opportunities as well.
“Finding speed is going to be key right off the trailer – as they say right as you unload – and really focusing on the goal of qualifying in,” Brown said. “And once we get in – hopefully – then we can focus on trying to keep the nose clean, run the pack and really and truly just try to avoid the big [wreck].”
This weekend Brown will be debuting a new sponsor, CONO (cono.io), a cryptocurrency, on his hood. Still, though, Chauncey and CCU will be displayed prominently with the familiar teal-and-white color scheme.
“It’s an incredible feeling knowing that everybody around us at the track and everybody around us in the stands and all the fans, they get to see my college and my home on my car,” Brown said. “It’s really an awesome opportunity to show them off, to give Teal Nation someone to root for and to kind of get the college-age crowd back into NASCAR and watching. It’s been really rewarding having Coastal on board.”
This will be Brown’s third time racing at Daytona, including his second during the weekend of the Monster Energy Cup’s signature Daytona 500. He posted a top-five finish in his only trip there in a truck and raced there once in the XFINITY Series during a July stop.
“It’s pretty crazy down there because there’s a lot of fans who come out for this. It’s a huge weekend event. It’s NASCAR’s Super Bowl, as they say,” Brown said. “It’s definitely a very exciting event. A lot of the fans are super thrilled that are there. Fans that watch on TV see that racing’s back. Social media’s been blowing up about it, which has been really good.”
This weekend officially begins the home stretch of the balancing act that is racing and education for Brown, but he is used to it by now.
“It’s been quite the juggling act being both a student, a driver, marketing guy, a little bit of everything. I’ve got my hand in a little bit of everything,” Brown said with a laugh. “It does take a lot of time, but it’s very rewarding. It makes it all worth it in the very end when I get to go racing. Balancing it all out you lose a lot of social time or sleep time. It’s a give-and-take kind of thing, but definitely doable.”
With the “backup plan” nearing completion, Brown’s drive for his main goal will only get more serious.
“The cost to [race] is rather steep, so we really have to pick and choose where we go now, and then especially with me trying to get a degree,” he said. “Once I finish with school, I believe, that’s when we’ll be able to go full season for a whole year in 2019.”
What: NASCAR XFINITY Series PowerShares QQQ 300 qualifying
When: 9:35 a.m.
Where: Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway
What: NASCAR XFINITY Series Powershares QQQ 300
When: 2:30 p.m.
Where: Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway