Larry McReynolds, the well-respected former NASCAR crew chief and now Fox television commentator, had seen and heard of a lot of rich men who wanted to talk about starting a race team, but had quickly faded from the scene.
Talk is, as the saying goes, cheap. Owning a race team isn't.
So, when a man named Alex Meshkin approached him, wanting to talk about starting a race team, McReynolds wasn't really interested.
"I thought it was just another one of those people," McReynolds said.
When McReynolds learned Meshkin, a Maryland native, was 23, well, you can imagine.
"When I found out how old he was, it discouraged me even more," McReynolds said. "I'm 44. I'm old enough to be his father."
But there was something about Meshkin - who made his fortune through day trading and Internet ventures - and as the two of them talked about a Busch Series team that would eventually move up to Winston Cup, McReynolds caught sight of Meshkin's determination, commitment and dedication.
Eventually, the two found their way into a meeting with Toyota, and last month they announced themselves partners in a venture called Bang Racing, which will race Toyota's Tundra trucks in the Craftsman Truck Series this season.
Toyota is moving into NASCAR for the first time in 2004 with four teams. Meshkin/McReynolds will field a two-truck team as Bang Racing. Innovative Motorsports, owned by George deBidart, and Bill Davis Racing will also each field two trucks. Waltrip Racing, owned by Darrell Waltrip, will field one truck.
Though Waltrip may have the best-known name in the new Toyota stable, no one comes with more expertise than Bang Racing.
McReynolds, who is listed as the team's chief architect, is in charge of educating Meshkin and building the team from scratch. In the drivers' seats will be veteran Mike Skinner, 46, who won the Craftsman Truck title in 1995, the series' first year of existence, and Travis Kvapil, 27, who won the title this past season.
None of the successful veterans, all traditionalists before meeting Meshkin, seems put off by the fact that they will be involved with a foreign manufacturer entering NASCAR-sanctioned racing, the previously all-American variety of auto racing.
"If people are bothered, they're not very educated," Skinner said. "If they knew how many parts are foreign-made on their Fords and Chevys, they'd think differently."
Meshkin is from Glenwood, a community 15 minutes west of Columbia. His parents still live there. His father works for Johnson & Johnson, and his mother is an educator who also works in real estate. She has written a book on spiritual matters, and she is helping her son with the marketing side of his new business.
Though it all sounds like a normal existence, it is safe to say Meshkin is not your normal 23-year-old. Before he was even a student at Glenelg High School, he was advising his parents on investment opportunities that worked out just fine.
When he was 12, he sold candy to raise $2,000 to buy his first computer. What an investment that was.
At age 18, he said, he took his college fund and instead of going to school, proceeded to day-trade on the Internet for considerable profit.
He followed that at 19 by starting an Internet auction company with his brother. Since selling that company, Meshkin said, he has gone into wireless technology and software development.
Now, he has established Bang Racing, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bang LLC, a global operating company that is designed to create long-term value by focusing on building and acquiring motor sports-related companies and technology-related assets.
Meshkin believes his biggest selling point to sponsors is bringing a patented interactive marketing solution to the sport that will allow the sponsor and the fans to interact. One way that will be facilitated is through the start up of a new dot.com during the coming season that will be racing-specific.
"A touch-point online," Meshkin calls it.
His history is to stay with a new business from a year to 18 months, but he said getting into the racing business is different.
"This company is my ultimate end business," he said. "By 2005, definitely expect to see us full time in Busch and very likely [full time] in Cup."
Meshkin obviously has millions in the bank and is willing to risk some of them on his love for motor sports. A top truck sponsorship is generally budgeted at about $4.5 million, and one gets the idea he's not skimping.
"In business, you under-promise and over-deliver," he said. "In racing, it is usually just the opposite. But I think we have the ability to win every race. We're not going to, but if we don't compete for the championship, I'll be very disappointed."
He says his passion goes back - oh, so far - to his childhood. He grew up a fan of the late seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, and he even tried his hand at driving a race car in the Barber Dodge Series when he was 17.
"It was the kind of series where you come with a checkbook," he said. "You learn about cars in the series. I definitely believed I had a talent, but I lacked financial backing."
When he decided to pursue his racing dream as a team owner, he said he knew his business success would help, but wouldn't get him far without joining forces with the right people. Knowing Toyota was looking to field a number of new teams in the truck series, Meshkin called the company to present his ideas.
"Out of 80 applicants, he survived the cut because of the personnel he brought," said Gary Reed, senior manager for special racing projects in Toyota's Racing Development Program.
Meshkin asked whether Toyota would be interested if he could bring McReynolds, Skinner and Rick Ren, a veteran crew chief, another top driver and adequate financial backing.
"The answer was we were not really interested in working with a startup team," Reed said. "But then he called back. He had Larry signed. Then he called again. Rick had signed. Then Skinner.
"We knew we were dealing with a 23-year-old, but he is definitely a seasoned business veteran, and the players he put together and served up made and make him a very, very competitive player."