In just a few days, I'll grab my radio and clipboard and head out to pit road at Daytona for my first race as crew chief of the No. 31 Lowe's team and driver Mike Skinner. All my years of experience will be officially put to the test during SpeedWeeks in front of the whole country. I've spent countless hours over the years setting up cars and learning from the best ... and it all goes on display this week.
It's always challenging to a race team when a new crew chief comes on board, but I think we're a step ahead of the game compared to others in the same situation. One thing working in my favor is that I was car chief for the Lowe's team and Mike the past three seasons.
I worked very closely with Larry McReynolds on a daily basis and helped him make decisions about our race car. When he announced he was leaving, and Richard Childress had to look for someone to replace him, Larry pointed to me and said, "There's your guy." So, here I am.
This isn't my first rodeo, though. I've worked in professional racing since 1984, when I took a job with Tommy Riggins in the IMSA road racing series. At the time, I was working on cars at Saturday night short tracks in my hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. I was thrilled and jumped at the chance to go racing across the United States with Tommy.
As we in this industry often do, I switched jobs in 1989 and went to work for Baker-Schiff Racing on their Winston Cup team. Greg Sacks was the driver. In the middle of the year, they had some problems and were forced to let some people go, and because I was one of the newer and younger guys, I was one of them.
If there was a bright side to that deal, I'd have to say that it allowed me to think about what I wanted to do with my career and how I was going to get to that point. I decided road racing was a good stepping stone, so I talked to some people over at Roush Racing, which was one of the premier teams in that division at the time. They hired me as a mechanic on Max Jones' SCCA Trans-Am team for the 1990 season and I moonlighted as a mechanic on Dorsey Schrader's IMSA-GTO team on our off-weekends.
I helped out with the GTO car for about eight races and that opened up my eyes to some different things to incorporate into our Trans-Am car. The overlap and learning curve with those two divisions was a lot like Winston Cup and Busch today.
The break I'd been needing came in 1992. Roush was starting a second Winston Cup team with Wally Dallenbach, and I was given the opportunity to be a part of it. I started out as a mechanic and then got my feet wet building the shocks the following year. That was just about when shocks started becoming more important on Winston Cup cars and luckily, I had shock experience from the Trans-Am cars. Picking up the shock deal and other responsibilities showed the company more of what I could do, so they gave me more duties like setting up the cars.
I stayed there until the middle of 1996, when I got an offer to be Morgan Shepherd's car chief at Butch Mock Motorsports. I hated to leave Roush in the middle of the year but I had to take the opportunity because I felt like I had gone as far as I could there. My ultimate goal was to be a crew chief, so car chief was the next logical step for me.
I stayed at Butch Mock through the remainder of that season and the following one when Rick Mast became our driver. Getting to set up the car on my own and work side-by-side with the crew chief was just the experience I needed.
I got a call from Kevin Hamlin about going over to Richard Childress Racing and the No. 31 Lowe's team at the end of the 1997 season. He asked me what I was going to do next and I said I didn't know but I was looking for something different. I thought it was pretty weird that he called me, because my team was 30th in points and the No. 31 car was 29th or so -- we were right there together struggling.
Hamlin said he needed someone like me to make this program better. I thought it was crazy that we were sitting there side-by-side in points and he thought I could help his deal. But I talked to him and Richard, they offered me a job and I eagerly took it. That was the best move I ever made.
In the middle of the 1998 season, Richard swapped crew chiefs on the 3 and 31 teams. I thought, "Holy cow, man, give me a break. I've had four months trying to figure Kevin out and all of a sudden he was going to swap places with Larry McReynolds." Two months later I came to see the change was better for both teams and was glad Richard did it.
I learned tons from Larry about people, how to manage them and how to schedule and structure this program. Working with him taught me to keep better notes and probably better prepared me for this opportunity as crew chief.
But all the preparation in the world doesn't substitute for actually going into the pits, climbing on top of the pit box and making that call on pit road. That's what it all comes down to in NASCAR racing.
My first chance comes in the Bud Shootout and I can't wait.
Royce McGee is the crew chief for Mike Skinner and the Lowe's No. 31 Winston Cup car. He will be providing a weekly diary to ESPN.com throughout the season.
|Skinner finished 12th in the point standings under Larry McReynolds in 2000.|