Ryan Ellis made his NASCAR debut in the Xfinity Series in 2012. Ten years, nearly 100 races, and a lot of hard work later, Ellis is being recognized like many of the other top stars in the sport.
The local product and Capitals fan landed in Panini’s 2022 Donruss Racing trading card set. Emblazoned by Donruss’s iconic “Rated Rookie” logo, Ellis is photographed wearing his Rich Mar Florist Racing suit walking to his car. On the back, Ellis, a third-generation driver, speaks about his long fight in racing and what he wants his legacy to be.
“At a very deep level, I want to show my daughter and whatever future kids I have that you should live and pursue your dream,” Ellis is quoted as saying.
Boxes of the Donruss Racing cards, featuring 2021 series champion Kyle Larson, have been a popular buy this summer, flying off the shelves and selling briskly on the open market. Rookie cards of Ellis can be found and individually purchased on reselling sites like eBay.
And that’s not the only set Ellis will appear in. He will be featured in Panini’s upcoming Chronicles Racing (available on August 26) and National Treasures releases as well.
The Ashburn, VA native also had his first official diecast race car hit the market over the summer. It’s one of two diecast Ryan Ellis race cars that are available for purchase and they both include RMNB on the side.
Recently, I sat down with Ryan and asked him about how this all came together and what impact it’s having on his career. Below is our conversation, edited for clarity and length.
What does it mean to you to finally have your first trading card? Now you’re finally like some of the big-name drivers you’ve raced against for years.
Ryan Ellis: It’s really cool! Growing up, I had collected a ton of racing and hockey trading cards and it was always a side-dream of mine to have one of my own. I started racing in 1993 when I was four years old and it’s really crazy to know that these are out there circulating now!
How have your family, friends, and fans reacted to it?
Ryan Ellis: I know my mom has been very excited. My sponsors too, specifically Jon Morrissey from Rich Mar Florist since he is a huge memorabilia collector. I know Tom and TJ Keen of CorvetteParts.net love having these types of memorabilia and collectors’ items out there as well. I don’t think my wife even knows yet.
Where is the photo from?
Ryan Ellis: The first trading card photo is from Road America (Elkhart Lake, WI) in 2021. Not our greatest race honestly. [Laughs] Car had a lot of mechanical failures – got stuck in reverse after qualifying and lost brakes every couple of laps. We had a fast racecar but it was just not meant to be our day. Eventually lost brakes completely with a few laps to go and crashed.
Why do you have two water bottles in the picture? You look cool and, I guess, very hydrated but that part is kinda odd to me.
Ryan Ellis: I always have two bottles because one is usually a hydration mix or a pre-workout/hydration mix while the other is just water. I literally have two drinks at every meal, too.
Some of the signed editions of these Donruss cards have been going for big money. Like $10-$20 on eBay.
Ryan Ellis: That’s more than the hockey Ryan Ellis!
How does a trading card help your career? If Upper Deck had an insert for Hockey Media and chose us, I’d consider that one of the highlights of my life. I’d be insufferable and never stop tweeting about it. You are more humble than me.
Ryan Ellis: I think things like trading cards, diecasts, and other merch all add up to legitimizing what we’re doing. Sponsors love it and if sponsors love it, it helps me a ton. To have something with their name and logo on something that fans want helps brand their business. The happier they are and the more they’re able to sell, the more we’re able to race. As a lot of fans know, our ability to race doesn’t hinge as much on on-track success as it does the success of our sponsorship/marketing of our sponsors.
Our sponsors are happier than ever this year because we’re able to do more like this. This season marks the fourth time I’ve been in 10 or more in Xfinity races in a single year. We’re finishing well too for where our equipment should run (finished a career-high 13th twice), we’re earning TV time, making pre-race segments, and just catching eyes from around the industry for outperforming as a team/operation. It’s really felt like a dream season because I’ve been doing this for 10 years at the NASCAR level and I have never had a chance like this. And it’s all because of our sponsors and Alpha Prime Racing believing in me.
I’ve always wondered what the trading card process is like on the athlete side. How much of a role do you actually play in the creation of these or do you just see the cards when the set is released to the public?
Ryan Ellis: Being with a small team, I am very involved. Typically the proofs are sent to a PR person associated with either with the team or the driver and they either approve or ask for changes. With me, they email me directly and I will ask for photo changes, typically based on outdated info or to make sure that each sponsor is represented as they should be. Then I approve a comp of the card.
For the autographed cards, the trading card company and myself agree on a number of stickers that I’ll sign. Then they send me a package in the mail with pages of them. The stickers are see-through and have a hologrammed, watermarked logo of the company, Panini, on them. I sign those with one of the two pens. I sign an official paper that says it is indeed, I, Ryan Ellis, who signed them. Then I throw them back in the box they send with a prepackaged label and boom, they’re gone. Panini will then put the autographed stickers on cards and put them in packs.
The funny part is I never actually see the physical cards and wouldn’t have any them if it weren’t for my marketing director Sarah getting me some. Thanks, Sarah!
During the summer, you had your first official diecast race car produced by Lionel.
Ryan Ellis: It was a huge goal and dream of mine to have an official diecast made, but honestly, that was more about trying to incentivize sponsorship for that race than anything. That car was also from Road America and I was struggling to sell sponsorship for the race initially. I figured if we were able to guarantee a diecast through our friends over at Circle B Diecast, it would really help get some sponsorship in – and it worked in a huge way!
I saw there was a signed version of those 1/24 cars. How does that end up being done?
Ryan Ellis: Once Circle B Diecast got the cars in from Lionel — it takes about nine months from when the car design is submitted to production and shipping — I drove to their warehouse in Concord, North Carolina, and signed them in-person at their warehouse. Circle B got all the cars out of the packaging for me. I signed the wind shields with a blue paint pen and then their team put an authentication sticker on them.
Here are a few photos from the signing.
If I could not have made it out to their warehouse, they would send me the windshields individually to sign at home, similiar to how the autographed trading card process works. For the autographed Keen Parts/Laughlin Family Foundation diecast cars purchased through the foundation, I am going to sign the front windshield while Craig Laughlin signs the back. Those should be going out soon.
You included RMNB on your rookie diecast car, which was beyond kind. As someone who grew up a huge race fan during the Dale Earnhardt/Jeff Gordon era, I have to say that when I got the car in the mail, I felt so much pride seeing it. Especially showing it to my five-year-old son. He understands I do RMNB in real life. So when I gave it to him, he called it Daddy’s Car and drove it around the play area.
Ryan Ellis: That’s what it’s all about. And you know, maybe we’ll have to do another scheme with blog in the future.
I’d really love that! What diecasts of your own do you have? I know people can get some custom made.
Ryan Ellis: I have my original Science Logic 33 debut car and the RussianMachineThatBroke car. Both of those were created as one-offs by my friend, Chesapeake Diecasts. I also have the 28 FDNY Racing truck I raced for a few years, and then Circle B helped produce the two from last year – the RichMarFlorist/Limetree Road America car and the KeenParts/CorvetteParts.net and Laughlin Family Foundation scheme (RMNB’s on it too) that we ran at Martinsville. Those should be shipped within the month or so. Honestly, I wouldn’t have even of had my first publicly produced diecast if if weren’t for Jon Morrissey of Rich Mar Florist because I thought I might get one for free from the manufacturer!
When’s your next race? How can we all watch?
Ryan Ellis: I’ll be at Darlington in two weeks and then Bristol on Friday, September 16, for the Xfinity night race. There’ll be some fun news coming out about that Bristol race soon that your readers might be interested in. Stay tuned.
Full disclosure: Ryan Ellis is a longtime reader and friend of the blog. RMNB has sponsored Ryan in races in the past. We bring you notable stories about Ryan’s career because we hope to help him achieve his dream of being a full-time racer in Xfinity or the top series someday.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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