gettyimages-1370999127.jpg
Getty Images

For B.J. McLeod, things began with a pressing question from his car owner: "What do you want to do?" 

At 26 years old, McLeod had just won the 2010 World Series of Asphalt at New Smyrna Speedway, the latest in a series of triumphs racing super late models across the southeast. But career-wise, the Wauchula, Fla.  native was in a predicament: In his mid-twenties, he was probably too old to get "discovered" and end up with a deal to eventually drive a top-flight Cup car. But he had always dreamed of racing in NASCAR -- and if he never did anything else in his life, he wanted to run at least one NASCAR race.

So he went up to North Carolina, began working for Germain Racing's Truck Series team, and by October he'd prepared a truck of his own to race at Martinsville Speedway -- beginning a career's worth of making his own opportunities.

"I knew for long-term I had to be a team owner to be able to have a shot to be extremely successful in the sport. And then I also didn't want to give up on driving because I feel like in the right equipment that I can compete," McLeod told CBS Sports. "I'm still working to prove that and I'm still on that path, but we've definitely made a lot of headway and the dream's still alive."

Now 38 years old, McLeod is the driver and co-owner of Live Fast Motorsports, which fields the No. 78 Ford in the Cup Series, as well as the owner of his own race team that fields multiple cars in the Xfinity Series. While there are others involved in the team -- McLeod's business partner is Matt Tifft, who ran for Cup Rookie of the Year in 2019 before epilepsy forced him out of the driver's seat -- McLeod is as much of a throwback to the days of independent racers who owned the very cars they drove and did what they could with the money they had.

Most weeks, McLeod runs at the back and does what he can. For him and his team, beating the cars they're capable of beating constitutes a good day. A top 20 is outstanding. Anything beyond that -- like when McLeod finished ninth at Daytona last August -- is practically a win.

But what McLeod hasn't accumulated in terms of raw stats, he has in terms of his reputation and credibility throughout the garage area. Some of the top drivers in NASCAR have spoken of how much they like and respect McLeod. And NASCAR itself values his input enormously, with chief operating officer Steve O'Donnell recently telling The Athletic that McLeod has "some of the best ideas I've heard" when it comes to cost-cutting measures and other issues that matter to the sport's car owners.

For McLeod, those sorts of statements are a major compliment, and also very important toward what he wants to achieve as he seeks to push a sport he loves forward as long as he is able.

"I try to do my best to help move our sport forward, because it's what I want to do as long as I'm here," McLeod said. "... It was just important to me that people like Steve would say stuff to that level. And I'm just working towards trying to make my teams better, trying to make myself more successful inside the sport, and then do what I can to help the sport be more successful, because that's what I ultimately want."

What makes McLeod's perspective so valuable and so valued is the sheer depth of his experiences both inside and outside of the sport. McLeod helped with his family business, which did everything from orange picking and hauling to excavation and construction, from the time he was a child. He then went out into business on his own at 19, building his own race cars and his own career from there.

"I did everything but hang the bodies when we ran super late models. I had plenty of people that helped me – lots of great people – but I always had to get in there and build my own cars," McLeod said. "And I think all of those things together have put me in a position to be able to be in a spot where I was in 2010 when I was working at Germain, just doing whatever they told me to do. I swept floors, I helped put (eventual series champion) Todd Bodine's trucks together that year, whatever I was told to do I did.

"Just having that background and building networks like that, knowing ins-and-outs of the sport from every position – I've been a spotter, I've driver-coached, I've done all kinds of stuff. I think that I've literally been a part of every position in this sport almost. It has made it to where I have a really good position to be able to look at the past and look at where we're at right now and look at where we want to go and try to help achieve that."

Near the end of Year 2 for Live Fast Motorsports, McLeod's vision for the future of his team is a practical one: Continue to build and generate sponsorship, and continue to build a program that has already made modest progress through two seasons and is increasing its level of sponsorship for 2023.

"We're probably 34th-36th on speed right now on average, but we've had a couple of really good runs. We've had some great finishes this year. We're definitely a lot closer – the delta between us and the leaders is much less than it was last year," McLeod said. "There's a lot of positives. The new car has helped us a ton with trying to get on a little bit more of an equal playing field to everyone else out there.

"It's just we're only in Year 2 of a team that is competing against some people that have been here for 40 years. So it's very difficult for us to get the results as quick as we want. But the plan for the future is we have to keep being at the racetrack every week. We have to keep making progress on speed and performance on track. And at the same time, we have to build and prove to our partners that we're doing the right job for them to be able to keep generating more dollars to be able to make our program better year after year."

McLeod's best finish this season has been 19th on two different occasions, and he also scored his fourth finish inside the top 25 this past weekend at Michigan. He has also occasionally put on his car owner hat and lets others drive his car, such as road course racers Scott Heckert, Andy Lally and Kyle Tilley, as well as Xfinity Series driver Josh Williams.