A dispute developed during January’s ARCA tests at Daytona International Speedway between a group of drivers and an owner, and now the group is seeking legal action. According to driver Kevin Fontana, driver Russell Henderson told multiple drivers that he would have a couple of cars ready for Daytona testing. However, upon arrival to the speedway, Fontana says that the drivers found that Henderson had, in fact, failed to bring any equipment for testing despite the drivers already paying him for the opportunity to drive.
Fontana alleges that he had found an ad that Henderson had posted for Daytona testing and contacted him in hopes of getting his ARCA license. In order to get approved for the superspeedways, Fontana had to test at Daytona. After exchanging information with Henderson via email, Fontana stated that he learned about the equipment that Henderson had, where he claimed to have two race-ready Chevrolets with SB2 engines. Henderson further claimed that one of the cars had won at Daytona two years ago and the other car had been purchased from GMS Racing, a championship organization in the ARCA racing series, having won the 2015 championship with Grant Enfinger as well as nine ARCA victories overall.
Fontana went on to say that Henderson further backed up his claim by sending him photos of the equipment. Following this exchange, he did some research into Henderson, and everything came back positive. Fontana said that he then sent Henderson $2,500 to secure his seat for testing at Daytona.
“Next,” Fontana told me, “I began to ask questions about the seat and car set up, and so on. “At this point, I started to get varied responses. Instead of the cars being [Henderson’s], it now changed and he said he was partnering with Mike Affarano whose shop is in Spencer, North Carolina, and that I needed to contact him about seeing the cars.”
“I contacted Affarano about the cars, and [Affarano] told me to contact his crew chief, Dave McClure,” he added. “[McClure] then told me that the cars were being worked on in Concord, North Carolina, which is where my residence is. I visited the shop where the cars were being worked on, where I saw that instead of two well-built Chevrolets there was only one Dodge Charger without a seat or a drive train. I asked Chris [Lafferty], who was at the shop, about the two Chevys Henderson was talking about, and he had no idea what I was talking about. He said that this was the car that he was told to get ready but he was still waiting on payment.”
“I was never told that Russell had contracted a third person to get the cars ready.”
According to a press release by Affarano, Henderson had contacted Affarano via Facebook back in November in order to determine the cost to rent a vehicle as he was interested in gathering a team of drivers to test at Daytona in January. Henderson was told by Affarano’s shop that they would have to update their vehicle by ARCA’s standards, and that they would require a total of $10,000 from him, with the majority of the money going into making sure that the vehicle was able to meet safety measures and requirements as enforced by ARCA and that they wouldn’t begin work until the payment was received. Furthermore, since the majority of the money was going into parts and labor in preparing the vehicle, it was to be non-refundable. According to Affarano, Henderson agreed to these terms.
Affarano confirmed that the first payment from Henderson totaled $2,200 and wasn’t received until December 28, 2016. After repeated attempts to contact Henderson for the remaining balance due of $7,800, Henderson sent another $2,200 on January 5, a week before Daytona testing. Affarano’s team continued to try and obtain the outstanding balance from Henderson, however, according to Affarano’s statement, they determined that either he had already spent the money he had received from the drivers or failed to obtain the remaining $5,600 needed to finish the car.
Fontana later contacted Henderson about the cars and attests that Henderson began changing his answers again and started blaming Affarano and Lafferty, saying that he had paid them to have the cars ready and that they should have been ready.
Fontana was able to contact another driver who was supposed to test for Henderson at Daytona, DL Wilson, and asserts that the two exchanged information about what they had been told. They established that they had been told the same story regarding equipment and both had done research on Henderson that had yielded positive feedback, including a call to ARCA headquarters. According to Wilson, he too had received photos of the same Chevy race cars and was unaware of any other parties in the deal with Henderson.
According to both Fontana and Wilson, at this point, they felt that it seemed unlikely that Henderson would be providing any cars to test at Daytona. Considering they had already paid and made arrangements for their Daytona trip, they could only hope Henderson would somehow make things right.
Both Fontana and Wilson stress that they continued to make calls to Henderson, who told them that of the five drivers scheduled to test for him, only they (Wilson and Fontana) had paid and that the money was given to Affarano to get the car ready. Affarano, on the other hand, told them that he couldn’t finish the car until Henderson paid him the remaining balance.
Fontana and Wilson both state that considering that the original agreement reached was with Henderson, with no third parties specified and Henderson initially claiming that he owned the cars, they decided to deal directly with Henderson who began telling them that he would do what he could to get them in a car for Daytona. He then told them that they would be able to test with Hixson Motorsports and Andy Hillenburg, a claim that was later proven false after Fontana and Wilson made calls to both organizations.
Upon arriving in Daytona, Wilson and Fontana stated that they were able to find two other drivers at the driver’s meeting that were scheduled to test for Henderson. The other two drivers claimed to have been given similar information to what Wilson and Fontana were given, including the same picture of the two Chevrolets. Fontana discovered that the other two drivers had no idea of how the situation with Henderson was panning out and that they were surprised there was no car waiting for them in the garage.
According to Wilson and Fontana, they also found out that although Henderson had said they were the only two to pay, the other drivers had paid months before. Fontana ascertained that all the drivers had paid a total of $10,500, yet they were without a team or a car. Fontana also stated that when Henderson showed up, however, he asked the drivers to pay the $300 test fee. Fontana further alleges that when an ARCA official asked the drivers what the car number was and who the owner was, it became clear that Henderson had not even registered the car or paid the fee. Meanwhile, a fifth driver had shown up, but upon learning there was no car, quickly left.
Wilson and Fontana, despite Henderson promising to get them in a car, confirmed that he soon left the drivers and tried to avoid them. Fontana and their group notified ARCA of what was happening since they (ARCA) had vouched for Henderson on at least two separate occasions.
“After the testing session was over, our group spoke with Joe Wells (Director of Race Operations and Administration for ARCA), who made a call to Henderson later that night to try and make things right,” said Fontana. “[Henderson] instead left the speedway, although he maintained an active presence on Facebook in the days to follow, posting several pictures of his family vacation in Daytona.”
Fontana said that he wasn’t able to set foot in a racecar during testing, but Wilson stated that he was able to log enough laps with Andy Hillenburg’s team to earn his license. A third driver originally scheduled to test for Henderson, Jeffery MacZink, was able to test for Mullins Racing to get his speedway license, according to Wilson. Meanwhile, Henderson couldn’t be reached for comment.
“Considering Henderson is already a convicted felon, I wish we would have found out about that sooner, or that ARCA would have been vetting these people,” said Fontana’s wife, Michelle. Henderson has previously faced charges ranging from burglary and forgery to criminal trespass and assault, according to court records. “That way, convicted felons wouldn’t be allowed to compete in the sport.”
Although ARCA isn’t able to do much, as owners are listed as independent contractors, ARCA president Ron Drager said that recent incidents such as this most recent one at Daytona as well as with Roger Carter in 2015 and Bobby Hamilton Jr. in 2016 could lead to the sanctioning body getting involved.
“We certainly don’t condone anything that ends up having a result that’s less than positive,” said Drager. “So we’re certainly aware of this and it’s something we’re going to look into and see if there’s anything we can do and help with and go forward.”
“We always encourage people who are considering entering into [ARCA] to communicate with us and to give us an opportunity to give them a sense of if they want to vet something or check into the history of an existing team or sponsor or anything like that; we’ll do our best,” he added. “Our goal is to have people come in here and have a positive experience, and it does no one any good to come in here and have a less-than-positive experience.”
Meanwhile, Wilson, who is a Law Enforcement Officer in Texas, confirmed that Henderson now has a Felony Theft warrant for his arrest in Texas, with North Carolina and Michigan soon to follow on behalf of the affected drivers.