NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Brandon Welch discusses his Top Fuel debut and chasing sponsorships in NHRA

Brandon Welch discussed his first season behind the wheel of a Top Fuel dragster after multiple seasons racing in Funny Car and his experience as a team owner in the National Hot Rod Association.
19 Mar 2020
NHRA National Dragster staff




We caught up with Beal Racing Top Fuel dragster racer Brandon Welch following his Top Fuel debut at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest. Welch previously raced in Funny Car but earned his Top Fuel license during preseason testing at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. You can hear his thoughts on earning sponsorships as a team owner, transitioning to Top Fuel and more on the NHRA National Dragster podcast - and read the transcript below. 

Find more episodes of the NHRA National Dragster podcast on Spotify here or on iTunes here.

Brandon Welch: The sponsorship I have for that race and the way I've structured my operation is to be able to go to races as frequently as we can sell sponsorships for. So that race, in particular, we had a sponsor that is a financial advisory firm here in San Diego that happens a ton of clients in the Las Vegas area so they want to do business and have a client event at the races. And, and they envisioned it being completely nontraditional, they're very excited about it. So really, it's just my attendance of the event is, is contingent upon my ability to deliver for them, an exciting, fun client event that clients want to go to. So, I would say that we are racing at that likely the next Vegas race where everybody's comfortable showing up with, you know, 30 to 30 to 70,000 other people and, and having a good time without worrying so, it's hard to say when that's going to be but that race, in particular, that's, that's the that's what we're going to do.

Jacob Sundstrom: So when you're kind of looking at selling a sponsorship, whether it be to you know, kind of a group like that where they're really looking at taking advantage of hospitality or if you're just looking at selling something that you know, you're bettering on a racecar how does that kind of how does that kind of work I mean, is it you reaching out to somebody via, you know, Email phone call whenever are these kind of leveraging business relationships that you already have? Or how does that process work for you?

Brandon Welch: Yeah, for me, I am trying to work as efficiently as possible. So most of my sponsorship development happens by, you know, direct business relationships and referrals. So, you know, we secure a sponsorship, I try like crazy to over-deliver for them. My background previous to my current career, you know, was in full-service marketing consulting, so I tried to deliver a lot beyond just what's in the sponsorship, and then ask for referrals and make a lot of friends and then the cool thing about owning a taco director is there's a lot of people that think what we do is very cool, and they're excited to help in any way they can. And for most of those people, I tell them the way they can help is think of friends, that own businesses that work high up in businesses and facilitate a conversation Just let me meet them and talk about their business. If I can find a way to make them money, then I'll present an opportunity to do that. And sometimes they say yes. And sometimes they say no. But typically it comes through a referral. And then there are some target industries that are always top of mind for me where I can, I know I can deliver a lot of value. So I still have because we were sponsored by Auto Anything, and I have a lot of relationships that that were in that business in 2016 when we had that sponsorships, you know, I can provide things like distribution to companies that sell via e-commerce, auto parts stores. So there's certain direct targeted business development that I do, you know, in certain sectors. But for the most part, it's, it's Who do you know, and what are their business challenges, and maybe I can help.

Jacob Sundstrom: So you've moved moving over the top to this year you kind of started that transition last year now you didn't drive the car last year, but you had kind of Already, you know, ready to go? What was that transition process? like? What does that? What does that look like?

Brandon Welch: Yeah, it's been a big learning experience for us because we've only ever run a natural funny car. I think our family built our first Nitro Funny Car in the early 90s 93, 94 maybe. So I was 11 in 94. And, and so it's always known, it's all I've ever worked on. And I know you know, the, the before we owned this car, I had never touched a Top Fuel dragster. Even walking by one, I'd never sat in one or anything. So it was a learning experience in that we knew we could sell our Funny Car chassis and bodies and things and fun part of the cost to acquire a new dragster chassis, and then we were hoping as many of the parts would, would kind of transfer over as possible to the top of your car, but there's a lot of things you just don't consider. In that in that transition. So you know, things like, you know, it had been three years since we can feel that a nitrile car because my grandfather got sick and ended up passing away and we were, we were kind of down so, you know, just upgrading our clutch controllers and data recorders and, you know, driveline components and move into a six-disc clutch, all of those, all of those things that dragsters like, and, you know, we developed a relationship with Scott Graham so he was kind of like crew chief by telephone from Dayton, Ohio. You know, where he works for Pat Dakin. And so I have a great car chief guy named Bill Tagney that kind of led the charge to build that car and it was, you know, thank God for Scott grant, because he, you know, it was three, four calls a day, every time we were working on the car with new questions, and how do we plumb this and what should we do next, and what parts Should we buy for that? So we learned a ton and it was a lot of fun. learning that and then doing something new. So it really kind of energized all of us, but it was also, on the one hand, Learning expensive experience was also like anything else in Metro racing three times as expensive as I thought it would be. So we had to kind of plan that out and spread out the expenses a little bit. because nobody's sponsoring building a race car people sponsor an operating running race car. So we had to kind of think some, some costs into building the business before we could sell a sponsorship for the racecar. So big transition on the business side, as well as the on the racing side for sure.

Jacob Sundstrom: How did you start that relationship up with Scott Graham?

Brandon Welch: In 2015, we sold the Anything Auto sponsorship for my first two races ever, which is the last two races of 2015. And then they renewed for eight races in 2016. And as we as we were going through the season in 2016, we ran all eight races, basically in the second half of the year. And, and you know, we weren't getting the kind of performance out of the car that we wanted, Chuck. I think at the time was 73 years old. And he was just getting tired running in and out of the trailer supervising the crew, making the tuning decisions, etc. So we had a particularly tough race in Seattle, of 2016. And, you know, he and I had a meeting. And I said, Look, we got to get somebody that does this all the time that makes this look easy. They can at least just come in and consult with us and find ways we can make it faster and better, takes a load off of you in overseeing the assembly of the car.

And so Chuck talked to Wyatt Radke, Scott's brother, who referred us to Scott and Scott was having to fly out in the paddle, he runs the races out east so he was happy to fly out to Vegas that year. And it was just having Scott there was just like night and day. I mean, it's just everything's relaxed with him that you've been you've done it 1000 times before. Nothing is an emergency. Everything is a problem that can be solved. So that whole approach was far less stress and far more fun and, and the car started running a little bit better with some input from him on the setup. And so, you know with, with his help, we always stayed in touch. And just it was universal all the crew guys chalk himself has all agreed after the last week in the Goddess, whatever we can do to work with Scott more we want to do.

So when we decided to run a tribute race at the Winter nationals in 2018. In February, after Chuck had passed away, he called Scott and he agreed to come out and tune it for us. So that was where the whole Genesis the topical idea started was at that race. And, and it continues. I mean, really, in this for you're only as good as your crew chief. So I feel like I've got a cheat code a little bit because you know, he's willing to help a team like ours, that it is in the building stages, which greatly accelerates our ability to get good, really consistent performance very quickly. So, you know, it's a big motivator for us because, you know, because, without a good crew chief, you could spend a lot of years trying and failing at popular racing. So so we feel very lucky to have him.

Jacob Sundstrom: Yeah, I mean, I was there in Vegas when you were going and making your make your licensing runs. And I know that was still a process where you guys were, you know, still trying to get the tune-up of the car, right? Especially given how cold it was there. What was that experience like for you? I know, stressful, I guess would be part of it. But what was that like having a guy like that there that you guys can lean on?

Brandon Welch: Yeah, you know, what we, we figured out early in the weekend. What? What would help us solve our problem there? So first, yes, it was stressful. You know, we, we, you know, I tend to make a goal for myself and burn the ships you know, make it impossible to fail. So You know, that's what I did I sold a sponsorship for the winter national and that's okay we're going to go and we're going to license in the weekend before and that there's nothing else to it so and Scott was adamant going in he's like this is a completely achievable he's not over-promised here this is we're gonna get it done there's no problem. And then we realized pretty early that, you know the weather was a major factor as was you know, we had a clutch in the car that was good for an extra funny car in 2016 when you wanted to run high 390s low for flat, but not great for a Top Fuel dragster and the amount of weight and the amount of clutch flows and everything that you have to get to put at a top you'll tune-up.

So we had a solution to the problem, which was to get to get a beefier clutch we found a beefier clutch, but we couldn't get one there that weekend. So then it became an exercise that was outside of, you know, Scott's normal, normal thing, which was to try to make, you know, parts that we knew We were going to change by the following weekend and none of that tuneup information was going to be relevant for the following weekend. But we just had to get the thing to the finish line pedal it whatever you had to do get it to the finish line get the license done. So then as a team owner you know one Thank God you know, I had a good coochie berry that could they could figure it out and we did it. But as a team of team owner, I don't want to pedal the car more often than I have to because usually bad things happen after you pedal the car you know, typically you're going to be hurting some parts by the finish line and and and we certainly did that. So you know, I'm glad it's over and I hope I never have to do it again.

Jacob Sundstrom: Right. And you know, then going obviously to the Winternationals in Pomona and you know, really making your career debut although obviously or top you having plenty of experience in a funny car. What was that experience like? You know, having some runs in your under your belt at that point.

Brandon Welch: It was it It was a lot of fun one, it's my home race, you know, everybody that knows me, you know, a defining characteristic about me is that I am a drag racer. And, and, and so to be able to share that with all those people super fun, it's also it adds stress to the weekend for sure because I want to make sure everybody's having a good time and taking care of and feels at home and, and to everybody and all that 50 100 people that were there to watch me everybody's having their experience as a racist and their experience interacting with me one person at a time, whereas I'm interacting with 100 people maybe throughout the day, I got to make sure everybody's experiences are positive in my interaction with each person taken in a vacuum is positive.

So it was you know, that adds a lot to the management to the day. You know, the fact that we had heard some parts that we can before meant we were kind of maintaining some parts during the weekend which added a lot of work but it In terms of, you know, being at the track we put a great first rundown. Our incremental our first run on Friday was identical through the eighth-mile as I think it was Clay Millican's 3.77. We were super happy with that, though obviously we weren't happy that we blew up a motor and made the highlight reels for the wrong reason. But, but in terms of how the weekend goes, all in all, it did was just completely energized us for you know, it was the payoff for a year's very hard work. And all that toiling that happens in the shop, you know, in, in darkness, essentially, with nobody watching. This is great to be out there. And you know, all of it. Everybody on my crew, myself included, we just want to race as much as possible. So it's just an opportunity to go do what we love again. And you can't beat that.

Jacob Sundstrom: Where is your shop based?

Brandon Welch: We're in a city called Spring Valley that's outside of San Diego.

Jacob Sundstrom: Got it. And so, you know, while you guys are not at the races, how much work are you guys doing in the shop? Especially at this point? I mean, really, at any point you guys have, you know, more downtime than some of these other big teams that are going to, you know, call 24 races.

Brandon Welch: Yeah, yeah. So we, you know, what we, we try to be, we try to understand that it's not the most of our crew guys, it's not their full-time job for all of our crew guys. It's not their full-time job. And many of our crew guys have families. So, you know, we try to concentrate our work on the best we can. So, you know, we I think maybe what's different about us is, I still do a lot of the maintenance work, you know, I helped build short blocks and, and, you know, help the clutch guy, you know, prep the clutches and configure the clutch hats and all those types of maintenance issues.

And then we have kind of a core group of a few guys that do a lot of maintenance work and then we that group expands so the guys that maybe can't afford to do multiple nights a week and all day Saturday, but they're great pants you know when you need to service a car quickly so we have our mixer guys and I would just say we do the same amount of work between races we just have maybe the privilege of being able to spread it out a little bit.

Jacob Sundstrom: Right got it and so what else is there for you guys to what do we say is the next step for you guys as far as you know, upgrading your program or getting to that next place? What are the next like kind of plateau for you guys as you continue to upgrade and improve your program moving forward? 

Brandon Welch: I think that we, we, we are implementing to new to us. clutches from we bought from Kalitta. So, you know, we're upgrading the clutch department we had been talking about Scott coming through in the clutch and, and pat Dakin, for that matter, scotch ripped out his backup his spare clutch from Pat's car for the winter nationals just so we'd have a clutch to use for that race. And, and so you know, once that race was done we got the two clutches from Florida so we will be upgrading there that's going to make a big difference you know, the clutches and the clutch levers and these cars are our, you know, are the, probably the biggest determinants of performance that we can have.

So right now, you know, we're fixing a couple of short blocks, but as far as the inventory of parts, we have good parts and a lot of them it's just a matter of kind of making strategic upgrades. I haven't started running the stage seven Allen Johnson cylinder heads yet I still haven't saved sixes but the car is showing us the ability to run you know a mid 370 so you know my plan there so to run these you can get like six sets of them and we've got plenty so run these you know probably for the year and run our 372 to 370 The Nine is kind of the range we want to be in and then you know as the sponsorships expand then you know then we can make the transition there. But other than that, I mean you know, it's more of like an inventory question so you know I I've got a new injector coming so we'll have to complete blowers and dig manholes injectors, assembled ready to change trying to prevent any one thing breaking from really ruining our weekend or making us have to ask to borrow something we really shouldn't be borrowing. So you know, things like that we're just adding to the inventory but otherwise, you know, the car is in the position to run competitively and that's all I can ask

Jacob Sundstrom: I know the next race we're targeting on our schedule right now is the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Spring Nationals, but for you guys and your schedule, what are you guys targeting as the next race?

Brandon Welch: Yeah, probably Sonoma and or Seattle would be where we were looking, I hope you guys run the race because I intend to go in Houston, I should say, I intend to go and I've got some, I've got some great sponsorship opportunities in Houston, but I need to have the people at the racetrack with me. So I'm rooting for our ability to get it done to get the race done.

But beyond that, you know, I set up the program so that we can stay present enough this year to continue to sell sponsorships and build, you know, I feel like, you know, six-ish races is enough. You know, even if they're only on the west coast, I can spread them out so that we're relevant. We're providing interesting content to the fans, and I still have something to talk about with sponsors about our potential. So So Sonoma, hopefully, the adult, I've got an opportunity to run. I've got to get the sponsor to commit but, but then beyond that, we'll be back in likely in Vegas and kimono.

Jacob Sundstrom: Got it. Yeah. And how much So of that strategy is being on the west coast is because of your location. Is that something that plays into mind for you? The travel costs, things like that.

Brandon Welch: Yeah, that's 100% of it right now. Yeah, I mean, and the fact that my business network is largely Western, you know it but But that said, you know, it makes a big difference in the cost to, to keep the truck within a day's drive, or two days drive maximum and we're at a disadvantage out here for sure. You know, because the number of races that are within a day's drive is far lower than if we were in Indy or Charlotte.

Jacob Sundstrom: Understood. All right, man. Well, hey, well, I appreciate you taking the time. We look forward to seeing you back out of the race soon.

Brandon Welch: Thanks for the opportunity to talk.