AVONDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 09: Ryan Ellis, driver of the #43 Rolling Plains Construction Chevrolet, walks onstage during driver intros prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Call 811.com Every Dig. Every Time. 200 at Phoenix Raceway on March 09, 2024 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) | Getty Images
AVONDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 09: Ryan Ellis, driver of the #43 Rolling Plains Construction Chevrolet, walks onstage during driver intros prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Call 811.com Every Dig. Every Time. 200 at Phoenix Raceway on March 09, 2024 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Ryan Ellis achieves lifelong dream of being a full-time driver

By Dustin Albino

It wasn’t long ago that Ryan Ellis held multiple full-time jobs in and outside of racing.

For years, he was the public relations manager at Go Fas Racing. Then, he became the marketing director at KlikMarketing, a company with a contract with Our Motorsports for social media and marketing. After that, he left the NASCAR world to become the marketplace coordinator at cbdMD before taking on the lead generation engineer role at LeadCoverage. All the while, he was the director of marketing and communications at Shelby Park to help manage drivers like Ty Majeski and Sage Karam.

Now, Ellis, who considers himself the old soul of Alpha Prime Racing, is finally competing full time at age 34.

“It’s literally my life goal to be full time in NASCAR,” Ellis told Jayski.com recently. “I never thought it would happen, and seeing my name on that Jayski driver chart was a weird thing.”

Ahead of the race weekend at Michigan International Speedway last August, Ellis was the first Xfinity Series driver to announce plans for the 2024 season. That announcement was the culmination of hard work and dedication to combine enough funding to make it happen.

For the better part of three seasons, Ellis has become the anchor driver at Alpha Prime. He ran a third of the schedule during the 2022 season between Alpha Prime and BJ McLeod Motorsports and upped that to missing just two races last season in consecutive weeks at Portland and Sonoma. When Ellis was negotiating his 2024 tenure with Alpha Prime, there was discussion of a multiyear deal.

“Ellis has been a big part of our company,” Tommy Joe Martins, co-owner of Alpha Prime Racing, said. “In 2022, he was the second guy that we signed. He was basically a founding member of this team because we had this deal in the works as we were launching the team.

“It was important for Ellis to get that deal done early last year and have a chance of going into the offseason and plan and prepare for this year. The thing for Ellis was just knowing that he had a home and a team that wanted him to be a part of it.”

The work was just beginning for Ellis. With a marketing background, he appreciates having relationships with partners. Through the opening seven Xfinity races of 2024, five different companies have adorned the No. 43 Chevrolet – all of which sponsored Ellis during the 2023 season.

A variety of sponsors leads to an extensive amount of work for Ellis, who writes his own press releases and helps to host hospitalities. The little things add up too, such as making sure he has the correct firesuit and helmet for the upcoming weekend.

“I probably still have 18 to 20 different primary sponsors, which is a lot of work, but awesome to be able to see so many fresh faces,” Ellis said. “It makes you feel like you have a more stable job in the industry.”

HAMPTON, GEORGIA - FEBRUARY 23: Ryan Ellis, driver of the #43 Classic Collision Chevrolet, drives during qualifying for the NASCAR Xfinity Series King of Tough 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 23, 2024 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images) | Getty Images
(Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images) | Getty Images

To remain relevant, there are times when Ellis must put business first and racing second. As he’s experienced off and on for more than a decade, without those partnerships there is no racing.

“I think he’s the hardest working guy in NASCAR,” Martins stated. “I think the reason he is so good at [marketing] is he has a great way of connecting with sponsors and getting people to understand his story, the expectations and growth that he’s had and this team has had. He’s a really good guy – forget being a salesperson – that people like him and want to root for him and root for us through him.”

Ellis began running partial NASCAR schedules in 2012. His relationships within the sport have helped him stick around. Whether it was by design or not, he refused to give up on his dream of being full time.

“I just kind of got lucky,” he added. “I’m too stubborn to give up and I didn’t know how I was going to get to where I wanted to go. But I kept trusting the process because I’ve gotten lucky enough to stumble into situations that there’s probably a reason that I’m in the position that I’m in.”

Martins believes Ellis has been rewarded for his dedication to start the 2024 season. Despite wrecking out late at Martinsville last weekend, he had four top-25 finishes to start off the season, including the second 11th-place finish of his career. Being in the driver’s seat on a regular basis has helped the Virginia native evolve.

“[Ellis’] feedback has gotten a lot better, his confidence with that feedback has gotten a lot better,” Martins added. “The thing that we’ve had to work with Ellis on is getting him to believe that he’s as good as he really is. Ellis is a self-deprecator; he makes fun of himself and jokes about being the old guy racing all the young guys and they are more fearless than he is. The thing is, he’s a smart racecar driver – probably too smart. He’s conscious of the team and taking care of equipment. What we’ve had to do is spur him to be more aggressive.”

Ellis’ next goal is to crack the top 10 for the first time. Through 105 career NASCAR starts – many of which were start and parks for underfunded teams – he has yet to experience the thrill of a top 10.

“I’m going to lose my mind if I ever don’t,” Ellis said of getting a top 10. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it when you’re bitter after a race. Whether it’s top 10, top five at Talladega or just random races where there’s attrition. It beats you up endlessly.”

Ellis will have his next attempt at a top 10 this weekend at Texas. His 13th-place finish last fall in the Lone Star State is among five or six races that he believes he should have scored a top 10.