J.D. Byrider and Tony Stewart - Hoosier Enterprises That Outdistance the Competition

Posted 28 February 2017 12:00 AM by J.D. Byrider

In 1979, Hoosier native Jim DeVoe, Sr. founded Auto Credit of Marion, IN. That same year, Hoosier native Tony Stewart won his first race of any kind behind the wheel of a go-kart in Westport, IN. And, both men had history to thank for their beginnings.

The DeVoe family had a background in the auto industry, starting when Paul V. DeVoe opened a DeSoto-Plymouth dealership in Eaton, IN after returning from World War II. He later moved to Marion, IN, where he started DeVoe Chevrolet-Cadillac. Tony Stewart’s father Nelson, who started racing in 1957, passed his love of the sport along to his son. After watching Tony start winning, he did all he could to invest heavily in his success.

Paul DeVoe’s son Jim DeVoe, Sr., graduated from Indiana University with honors, earning his B.S. degree in business finance and management, as well as his MBA. Jim began his career with Continental Bank in Chicago, eventually returning to Marion to help his father with the dealership. He bought the dealership and in 1979, realized that many of the hard- working people in Marion had credit problems and needed financing for reliable transportation in order to get to their jobs. Interest rates were high and credit approval was difficult to get at the time, which meant that many good people with credit challenges could not qualify for a car loan at all. So, DeVoe developed a concept that provided a better car and an in-house financing program.

In order to outpace the competition, Auto Credit evolved into what is now known as J.D. Byrider and the first franchised dealership was sold and opened in 1989. The name J.D. Byrider came from adding his initials “J.D.” for Jim DeVoe in front of the name “Byrider” which was an electric car manufacturer in Cleveland OH from 1907-1910. The trademark had expired and was available nationally.   

In 1989, Tony Stewart was getting more competitive so he transitioned from go-karts to bigger, faster open-wheel machines. And he kept winning. He raced powerful three-quarter midgets in preparation for his move to the United States Auto Club (USAC) Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown series cars.

By 1995 J.D. Byrider had opened 50 dealerships and had sold over 20,000 cars. Tony Stewart was one of the most competitive drivers in the USAC Series. In an exciting, action-packed season, Stewart was the first driver ever to win the USAC “Triple Crown”, capturing the championships in all three divisions in 1995.

In 1996, Stewart made his move to IndyCar racing and true to his competitive form, put his Menard’s Buick V6 on the front row at his first ever Indianapolis 500. Not to be outdone on the competitive front, J.D. Byrider was named by Success Magazine as “one of the top 10 Franchise Opportunities in America”. Stewart went on to win the Indy Racing League (IRL) Championship in 1997. Byrider began earning top accolades as a hot franchise opportunity from Entrepreneur Magazine.

The momentum of these two successful Indiana men had them racing toward a partnership which began near the end of the 1997 racing season. Stewart, despite proving his prowess on the asphalt speedways of the IRL series, still craved racing on dirt. It was part of his fiery competitive heritage. Byrider was turning up the heat in its marketing efforts and was looking for a face that could represent its brand to a mass audience. Stewart had huge blue-collar appeal at the dirt tracks of the Midwest. Byrider served a largely blue collar market that was then concentrated in the Midwest. Stewart kept winning. Byrider kept dusting its competition. The two were a match made in racing heaven.

In the Summer of 1997, Joe Leonard, a marketing representative for one of Byrider’s key franchisees (and not the same guy as the race driver), brought the idea of sponsoring Stewart’s stock dirt late model car to Byrider executives and its advertising agency. Jim England, then Executive Vice President of the ad agency, saw the potential and pushed for a small sponsorship budget. Once funding was approved, J.D. Byrider and Tony Stewart Racing were off to the races, literally.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as well as a successful marketing relationship. Between 1996 and 1998, Stewart’s thirst to race anything and everything took him to the NASCAR Truck and Busch (now Xfinity) stock car series. He raced several races in the 1998 season for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and that led to an offer to drive a NASCAR Winston Cup Series (now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) full-time for JGR in 1999. J.D Byrider continued its sponsorship of Stewart’s stock dirt late model car and Tony raced with a J.D. Byrider logo on the visor of his Cup racing helmet. It’s not certain whether or not these two things were actually good luck but, that year, J.D. Byrider opened its 100th dealership and surpassed the 100,000 vehicle sales mark, while Tony Stewart won NASCAR’s Winston Cup Rookie of the year.

The partnership was definitely working for both entities. Also, Stewart attempted his first “double duty” – racing both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. He posted two top 10 finishes, coming in ninth at Indy and fourth at Charlotte. All this exposure created extra interest for both Tony Stewart and the J.D. Byrider brand. Stewart posted his first win in the J.D. Byrider #20 stock dirt late model at the Terre Haute Action Track in the summer. Additionally, Steve Barnett, driver of the #89 J.D. Byrider-sponsored stock dirt late model racecar, won the Northern All Stars Series Championship. Another highlight for the dirt late model team occurred when both Barnett and Tony Stewart raced at the 1/3 mile, high banked red clay Talladega Short Track the night before Winston 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway. Stewart, who finished sixth in the Winston 500, had also appeared at the Anniston, AL J.D. Byrider dealership for an autograph signing the previous Thursday evening. The event drew a crowd of over 600 eager fans.In the spring of 2000, while filming TV commercials and infomercials for Byrider, Stewart and England had a conversation about how to continue the relationship (which was set to expire at the end of the year). Tony revealed that he was planning to field a World of Outlaws Sprint Car team in the 2001 season and that he was looking for a primary sponsor for the team. “I know enough about racing to be dangerous”, said England who had become President of the JD. Byrider Advertising Group, Inc. “How are you going to run the 38 race Cup schedule, do the dirt late model stuff you’ve been doing AND run over 100 races in the Outlaws series?” Stewart’s smile turned to a wide grin, then into laughter. “I’M not going to race the Outlaws car.” “Well, then, who is?”, England asked. “Danny Lasoski”, Stewart replied, as though he’d just revealed that A.J. Foyt would be the driver. “Who’s that?”, England asked. Stewart smiled and said, “He’s one of the best and he’ll be a great choice for our team.” It was time to produce advertising, so the two left the conversation for another day.

That day came in May when Stewart and England were, again, together to produce some J.D. Byrider TV commercials. They made arrangements to meet with Lasoski at the Terre Haute Action Track. There was good chemistry and by July, a sponsorship program had been developed. In November of 2000, at the finale to the World of Outlaws season in Las Vegas, Tony Stewart announced that he’d be fielding a team in the 2001 season with J.D. Byrider as the primary sponsor and the relationship continued to prove more than potent. The team was highly competitive, winning the famed Knoxville Nationals and the World of Outlaws Championship their first year out. Additionally, both Stewart and Lasoski competed in the popular International Race Of Champions (IROC) series, garnering even more exposure for themselves and the J.D. Byrider brand. The IROC series was typically comprised of four races throughout the season and featured drivers from some of the top racing series (IndyCar, NASCAR, sports car racing, WoW and NHRA). Each driver competes in an equally prepared car prepared by a single team so that the emphasis is solely on driver ability. Stewart won the third of four races in that series. On the dirt late model front, Steve Barnett was champion of the Northern All Stars Series in both 2000 and 2001. Byrider had stepped up its overall marketing efforts and the popular brand surpassed the 200,000 vehicles sold mark.

2002 provided even greater growth for J.D. Byrider and Stewart turned in his best NASCAR Winston Cup Series performance yet, winning his first championship for Joe Gibbs Racing. Stewart and Lasoski continued to be two of the 12 top drivers from various series chosen to race in the IROC Series. Stewart won the famed “Chili Bowl Midget Nationals”, an indoor midget car racing event that takes place at the Tulsa Expo Center each year two weeks after Christmas. NASCAR calls it the “biggest midget race of the year”. Lasoski piloted the TSR/J.D. Byrider #20 World of Outlaws sprint car to second place in that championship.  Barnett again won the Northern All Stars Championship.

2003 proved significant in the growth of both Tony Stewart and J.D. Byrider. Danny Lasoski drove the TSR/JDB sponsored sprint car to victory at the Knoxville Nationals and another second place finish in the WoO Championship. Lasoski continued to sport his J.D. Byrider firesuit in the IROC series. And, in an effort to begin giving back, Stewart launched the Tony Stewart Foundation which focused on assisting charities for children, animals and injured race drivers. In a similar move, J.D. Byrider began working with the American Heart Association. Steve Barnett won another Northern All Stars Series championship. Byrider sales shot past the 300,000 mark, ending the year at nearly 350,000 vehicles sold.

2004 saw J.D. Byrider step up its efforts with the American Heart Association by becoming involved with the Heart Walk in Indianapolis. This provided the opportunity for Byrider to encourage its associates to start getting exercise by walking. Walking is the least expensive form of exercise, not requiring expensive equipment or the need to join a gym or health club. It also has the lowest dropout rate among all forms of exercise and is a great way for co-workers to support one another. Heart health was also a great message for company employees and Byrider customers because it encourages a healthier lifestyle. 80 percent of all heart disease is preventable through a simple program of diet and exercise. Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in America and unexpected medical expenses are also one of the leading causes of financial problems that lead to poor credit. By encouraging associates and customers to be heart healthy, Byrider sent the message that it cares about the wellbeing of both groups. In an effort to create further benefits for its customers, Byrider also enacted new, higher standards regarding the inspection, testing, servicing, reconditioning and warranties of the vehicles it sells. This resulted in J.D. Byrider being a better choice than its competitors because customers could get better cars, affordable payments and better car care. Byrider also initiated a new customer satisfaction measurement process that provided closer contact with customers and increased overall satisfaction with both the sales and service sides of the business. Vehicle sales surpassed 400,000. On the racing front, Lasoski won his first race in the IROC series, again won the Knoxville Nationals and finished second in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car series. Stewart continued driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, leading 98 laps and finishing second in the Daytona 500. He won races at Chicagoland and Watkins Glen. In November, he purchased the legendary Eldora Speedway, a historic dirt track in western Ohio. Barnett won yet another Northern All Stars Championship.

Highlights of 2005 included Stewart winning his first Brickyard 400 and his second NASCAR Nextel Cup series championship. The latter landed Stewart on the cover of Sports Illustrated and yes, there on his helmet was the J.D. Byrider logo. Byrider Chairman and Founder, Jim DeVoe, Sr., said in a conversation with England, “I guess you know you’ve made it when your company lands on the cover of Sports Illustrated”. Lasoski again competed in the IROC series. Steve Barnett won the Northern All Stars Series Championship again. J.D. Byrider continued to improve its sales, financing and auto service products and enacting customer service follow-up protocol and becoming a major sponsor of the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk.

Tragedy struck J.D. Byrider in 2006 when Founder/CEO Jim DeVoe, Sr., and former Byrider President Steele Gudal, were killed in a private airplane crash in Florida. The company underwent organizational changes which resulted in Jim DeVoe, Jr. taking the helm as CEO and Steve Wedding taking over as CFO. England remained President of the J.D. Byrider Advertising Group, Inc., responsible for all branding, marketing and managing the relationship with Tony Stewart. The TSR/JDB World of Outlaws team also underwent a change with Paul McMahan taking over for Danny Lasoski as the driver of their #20 sprint car. McMahan got his first win for the team in Phoenix. Stewart returned to the IROC series, winning the second and third of the four-race series, as well as finishing first in the championship. Barnett won his eighth straight Northern All Stars Championship. J.D. Byrider transitioned from its “Good to Go” themed advertising campaign to a more upbeat “JD to the Rescue” theme, using a customized version of the rock & roll classic, “Jim Dandy”. By the end of the year, their vehicle sales number had climbed to nearly 550,000.

2007 saw Byrider stepping up its efforts to sell franchises in order to provide more people with a better buy here pay here car sales option. The “JD to the Rescue” campaign continued. Stewart won his second Chili Bowl Midget Nationals title followed by winning the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona and finishing first in his qualifying race. He also won his second Brickyard 400. McMahan continued as driver for the TSR/JDB WoO Sprint Car team, grabbing a key win at Eldora Speedway. Byrider sales topped the 600,000 number. One very sad note: Joe Leonard died unexpectedly at an Indianapolis hospital while undergoing tests for a condition that had yet to be identified. The Byrider community mourned.

Tony Stewart Racing and J.D. Byrider changed its lineup with the World of Outlaws Sprint Car team again in 2008, naming Kraig Kinser driver of the TSR/Bass Pro Shops/JD Byrider #20 Chevrolet. TSR also announced that it was fielding a second WoO entry that year, the #15 Armor All/Parker Store Chevrolet (which also carried a J.D. Byrider decal as an associate sponsor) driven by Donny Schatz. 1997 WoO Rookie of the Year as well as 2006 and 2007 WoO Champion, Schatz went on to win the Knoxville Nationals and his third WoO Championship. In the summer of 2008, Stewart announced that he’d be leaving JGR in order to start Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in a partnership with car owner Gene Haas. J.D. Byrider announced that it would continue its sponsorship relationship with TSR, gaining brand exposure through their WoO teams, USAC teams, stock dirt late model teams with cars driven by Tony Stewart and champion racer Steve Barnett. Byrider also signed a personal services contract with Tony that included appearances in and on advertising materials and at dealerships. Byrider also continued to improve its customer satisfaction measurement program, stressing its over 95 percent Sales Satisfaction results.

2009 saw the beginning of Stewart-Haas Racing, with Tony behind the wheel of the #14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet and Ryan Newman piloting the #39 US Army Chevrolet. Stewart finished second in his Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying race, establishing that the new team was a force with which to be reckoned. It was a very successful first year as Stewart finished sixth in points in the Sprint Cup Championship. Schatz, again, won both the Knoxville Nationals and the WoO Championship. Byrider continued touting 95 percent customer satisfaction, continued to improve on overall customer relations and cracked the 700,000 total vehicles sold number. An even greater involvement with the American Heart Association saw Jim England take over as Chairman of the Indianapolis Heart Walk, which resulted in a show of force by Byrider associates with a walk team of over 30 people and exposure in the local and regional media throughout the year.

In 2010, Byrider began actively looking to sell controlling interest of the company to an outside investor as the DeVoe family expressed interest in getting out of the day-to-day ownership. One of the goals was to find a buyer who appreciated the opportunity to continue serving those customers with whom the company had been working and also develop even more programs that could help people get back on their feet while enjoying reliable transportation. By the end of the year, the search had been narrowed to a couple of companies that were truly interested in the further development of the brand and maximizing customer service. There was again, heavy involvement with AHA and total vehicles sold passed the 800,000 mark. Meanwhile, Stewart continued with Office Depot and Old Spice as primary sponsors on his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and J.D. Byrider riding on the visor of his helmet. Steve Kinser, 20-time World of Outlaws Champion, replaced his son Kraig as driver of the second TSR WoO sprint car, the #11 TSR/Bass Pro Shops/JD Byrider Chevrolet. Kinser finished third in points while Donny Schatz finished second – an extremely strong showing by the team.

April 2011 saw the sale of J.D. Byrider to Altamont Capital Partners, a private equity firm from Palo Alto, California. Altamont was committed to the further development of the J.D. Byrider brand through even greater improvements to the customer experience. Work began on streamlining the financing approval process, as well as dealership operations and marketing. Byrider continued to boast a 95 percent Sales Satisfaction record and the Service Satisfaction number climbed to over 9. These were truly exceptional marks in the used car industry. 2011 also saw Tony Stewart capture his third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship with an impressive five wins in the 10 race Chase for the Championship, including an exciting win in the final race of the season. Donny Schatz won his fifth Knoxville Nationals title and again finished second in the overall World of Outlaws Championship. Steve Kinser won nine WoO races in the 2011 season and finished third in points. Steve Barnett won another dirt late model racing title. All drivers carried J.D. Byrider logos into battle.

J.D. Byrider continued its efforts to provide more service and a better product to its prospective customers in 2012. Sales of new franchises increased which resulted in more open locations and better choices for buy here pay here customers. The goal was to make sure that customers had a better choice than what they typically were offered. Total vehicles sold passed 900,000. Extensive customer research would result in the development of a more targeted marketing strategy and the refinement of additional services that would make financing approval, payment and vehicle service even smoother and easier. Once again, Byrider was aiming to make the approval process fast and easy, offer better warranty-backed vehicles, service departments that featured ASA Certified Technicians and support that would allow customers to take an active role in improving their credit, so they could move on to a better life. Sporting J.D. Byrider logos on their haulers, cars and fire suits, the Tony Stewart Racing teams took to their respective circuits. Donny Schatz won both the Knoxville Nationals and World of Outlaws Championships. Steve Kinser posted his 31st top five finish in the WoO points standings. And, Tony Stewart won three Cup races, finishing ninth in points. He also won the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Richmond, VA, in a #14 Chevy sponsored by J.D. Byrider. Tony led the majority of the laps and every time the TV coverage returned from a commercial break prior to a race restart, there was the black #14 with the giant orange and blue J.D. Byrider logo on its hood running out front and filling up the screen.

2013 saw J.D. Byrider embarking on a new and very different marketing direction. Armed with a totally rebuilt and redesigned customer-friendly website and a completely revamped advertising campaign that featured animation, new music and all new promotional materials in the dealerships, Byrider took on the competition as it never had before. The new campaign actually broke at the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, a night race at Richmond International Raceway that featured Tony Stewart in a J.D. Byrider firesuit and brightly-decaled J.D. Byrider sponsored car. Later in the spring, the company sold its 1 millionth vehicle to a customer in South Attleboro, MA. Byrider celebrated by awarding the vehicle to the customer who had made the purchase…a young lady from the area. At a special ceremony in May 2013, Byrider CEO Steve Wedding, along with franchisee Lance Vachon, presented the keys, title and a check representing a refund of the down payment to the customer who had purchased the 1 millionth vehicle sold by Byrider. “On behalf of our 147 dealerships across the country”, said Wedding, “I’m pleased to present the keys and title to the one millionth vehicle we’ve sold. Thank you for shopping at J.D. Byrider and may you be well on your way to good credit and a good life. Way to GO!” Vachon added, “Yes, thank you Katelyn. We’re VERY pleased to be the J.D. Byrider dealership that sold the one millionth vehicle, and we’re glad to put you on the road in a dependable car.” Jim England added, “I’ve worked with JD Byrider since 1996…this one millionth sale is truly an accomplishment with which I’m proud to be affiliated. Congratulations to all Byrider associates, franchisees and customers.”

On the Tony Stewart Racing/J.D. Byrider Racing side, 2013 had lots of excitement combined with some not so good news. The World of Outlaws team of Donny Schatz again won the famed Knoxville Nationals, with Kinser finishing 11th. Schatz finished second in the WoO points championship by the narrowest margin in history, just 14 points. Kinser finished eighth in points with two wins. The most controversial season was turned in by Stewart, who broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg in a sprint car race at Oskaloosa, Iowa. That injury ended his racing season but the #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy got lots of attention as SHR enlisted the help of several substitute drivers to get through the season. That list included Max Papis, Austin Dillon and Mark Martin.

J.D. Byrider continued its relationship with Tony Stewart in 2014, as well as its push of the new “The Way to GO!” marketing campaign and the focus on increased franchise sales. With the ‘1,000,000’ sold vehicles mark in their rear view mirror, the Byrider sales teams across the country worked hard to match even more people with the cars and financing they needed. Schatz won both Knoxville Nationals and the WoO Championship. Kinser again finished eighth in the WoO championship. 2014 also saw a couple of sad things occur: it was Steve Kinser’s last year of full-time competition in the World of Outlaws Championship and the summer was marred by the tragic death of Kevin Ward, Jr., who was fatally injured in an accident with Tony Stewart at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York. Stewart missed the next three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races and ultimately, missed the Chase. He did, however, score a sprint car win at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Auburn, MI. At the end of the year, J.D. Byrider announced that it would continue its sponsorship relationship with TSR and Tony Stewart for two more years.

2015 saw some changes at the J.D. Byrider corporate level as Jim England retired at the end March, replaced by new Chief Marketing Officer D.J. Sprague. England continues working as a marketing consultant to Byrider and other clients and Sprague has taken the marketing efforts to a new level of sophistication, especially in the digital media and analytics aspects of the business. TSR driver Donny Schatz continued his amazing run, winning a record 31 races, the Knoxville Nationals and the WoO Championship. Tony Stewart struggled a bit on the NASCAR circuit and in September, announced that 2016 would be his last season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. At Sprague’s suggestion, J.D. Byrider produced and uploaded to YouTube a Tribute Video to Stewart.

2016 marked the final year of the J.D. Byrider/Tony Stewart/TSR/WoO/USAC relationship. Stewart appeared at the J.D. Byrider dealership on Shadeland Avenue in Indianapolis to sign autographs for about 500 happy fans. “It was hard to top working with you,” Tony said, “Good times”, he added. Later that month, Stewart won his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway in California, passing Denny Hamlin on the final lap. On the TSR team, Donny Schatz won the Knoxville Nationals at the famed Knoxville Raceway in Iowa and the King’s Royal at legendary Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.

J.D. Byrider and Tony Stewart will continue their winning ways because both enterprises are driven to succeed. National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) ranked Stewart in the top 10 drivers of all-time in performance, his influence on the sport and his compassion supported by the Tony Stewart Foundation. He will continue to head up Stewart-Haas Racing, fielding four cars driven by Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch.

Tony Stewart Racing will continue to compete in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series with Donny Schatz, one of the winningest drivers ever to compete in the series, and the USAC Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown Series. And, Tony will be back behind the wheel of a sprint car himself.

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