HIGH POINT, N.C.– For prospective coaches and crew chiefs, the timing of "the call" is never universally appropriate. No, not THAT "the call". The only call that really matters to assistant coaches, car chiefs and veteran NASCAR mechanics is...
HIGH POINT, N.C.– For prospective coaches and crew chiefs, the timing of "the call" is never universally appropriate. No, not THAT "the call". The only call that really matters to assistant coaches, car chiefs and veteran NASCAR mechanics is the one from an owner telling them that an opportunity exists for them to apply all they have learned in their prospective sport toward running their own team.
For Doug Randolph, "the call" came last July, when Bill Davis asked him to move from his position as car chief of Ward Burton’s top-ten team and take over the fledgling first-year program for NASCAR Winston Cup rookie Dave Blaney at Bill Davis Racing. It was a call Randolph had been working toward throughout his decade in the sport but also represented a challenge filled with atypical hurdles.
Through mid-season, the #93 Amoco/Siemens team had been trying to find its balance in the first year of the BDR multi-team set-up and only the third-ever stock car season for Blaney, the 1995 World of Outlaws champion whose asphalt racing experience in stock-cars had been limited to a half-dozen races before his move to BDR prior to the 1998 season.
In addition to being positioned beside the teams of fast-starting fellow rookies Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.—the eventual 1-2 finishers in the 2000 Rookie-of-the-Year awards ahead of Blaney, the performance of #93 Amoco/Siemens team was being affected by the overall lame-duck status of the BDR program as well as the on-going transitional in-house elements inherent in the team’s switch to Dodge Intrepids—an unknown entity—for the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season.
Davis asked Randolph only to stem the tide of a growing inconsistency in mechanical reliability with the #93 team and to give Blaney—with less than 100 career stock-car races in any discipline or division—a platform on which to progress as the difficult transition to Dodge began with the 2001 Daytona 500. Despite all the variables, Randolph knew his "time" had come to find out if he could match mechanical wits with fellow BDR Crew Chief Tom Baldwin, Jr. and the other program leaders at NASCAR’s highest competitive level. After one full season, he gives himself mixed reviews, though both driver and owner rate Randolph’s progress much higher.
"The challenge of the technical aspects of the job have not been that much different than I expected but the people-management—keeping everyone focused and happy and on the same page—is something that’s been much more difficult than I thought," said Randolph, who directed Blaney to an 18th-place start and finish in his first race as #93 Crew Chief last July at Pocono.
"Like coaching situations, moving into this job was difficult at mid-year in some respects but you can’t pick your times when the chance will come and it really helped us in many ways to make changes in our systems with the team as we looked toward the switch to Dodge this season. Knowing what I know now, I almost wish I had been even more proactive in those areas, but we’re making good progress."
With the 10 Dodge teams winless through 19 races and somewhat erratic in their performance as a group, Randolph qualifies his team’s 2001 progress carefully. Blaney’s three top-ten finishes and 26th-place standings in the WC points trail only veterans Sterling Marlin, Bill Elliott and Burton among the entire Dodge roster. Blaney remains only 149 points behind 20th-place Ken Schrader despite a rash of bad luck that has likely cost the team between 250-300 points.
In addition to his dominant performance (70 laps led) at Atlanta in March, Blaney also challenged at the front late in races at Texas, Michigan and Daytona and has showed distinct signs of becoming a weekly contender after an unlikely timeline put him in the WC Series with less than two full seasons of stock-car experience.
And to Davis’ request of a year ago, the Blaney and the #93 team now ranks 12th in completed-miles (96%) in 2001, three-fourths of the unfinished laps coming after engine failure in the Daytona 500 and a blown tire in last weekend’s New Hampshire race. In the final 17 races of 2000 after Randolph joined the #93 team, Blaney completed all but 17 of over 3,200 laps (99.5%) in the races completed (three non-mechanical DNF’s)—a marked increase over his early-season 2000 total.
"It’s pretty evident that Dave was given an extremely short period to adapt to these cars after racing for some many years (15) on another surface in a completely different style car," said Randolph. "We probably don’t talk enough about how huge his progress has been given what he didn’t know three years ago about stock cars.
"Sometimes, I believe his inexperience has not been a bad thing for me as I’ve gotten up to speed in this first year as a crew chief. Some of the drivers we have in the WC garage can get out of the car after a practice run and tell you exactly what they think the car needs…springs, shocks, changes. And some of them know what they’re talking about, some don’t have a clue.
"Dave knows he’s still learning every weekend and that in itself is a good thing with drivers these days. He’s careful when he does give feedback. When he does, you can pretty much count on it being right. When he says he’s not really sure, that’s not bad either because at least he’s being honest. He isn’t pretending to know, which can really get you off-track as you try to dial a car in.
"As NASCAR has moved to shorten our weekends at the track, practice time has also gotten shorten, which makes it tougher on young teams like ours and drivers like Dave that may need more track time than a Mark Martin or Ricky Rudd to get a feel for what his car needs for qualifying and the race. Still, he’s open to everything out there that he can learn and that will eventually get him way ahead in this sport. It’s good we’ve been able to learn together."
Randolph, a native of Morristown, TN., began his motorsports career while a student at the University of Tennessee, where he graduated in 1988 with a B.S. in wildlife and fisheries biology. During college, Randolph worked as weekend help for the NASCAR Busch Series team of veteran driver L.D. Ottinger.Upon graduation, Randolph decided to join Ottinger’s team as a full-time crew member, as a fabricator and tire specialist. His intent was to return to law school with specialization in wildlife law after several years in motorsports but his success with the front-running Busch team deferred Randolph’s long-term intent with his area of formal training.
When Ron Parker became the co-owner of Ottinger’s team and decided to move the team to North Carolina in 1991, Randolph moved to NC but to work for Junior Johnson’s second NASCAR WC team with driver Sterling Marlin. He remained in North Wilkesboro with the legendary former driver for four seasons before joining Larry Hedrick Motorsports at the start of the 1995 season. He served as car chief for the #41 team during the final two years of his four-year tenure with owner Hedrick before moving to BDR in the same capacity in mid-February, 1999.
"The whole experience has been tough for me to gauge because the way I "feel about it changes so much week-to-week," said Randolph. "It’s frustrating in many ways because—with the strong runs he’s had at the end of last season and this year—we see the potential Dave and this team has to be a contender every week. "Seeing our plan through every weekend has been the tough part but I also look around at the teams that have been together 4-5 years and are in the top-ten every week. They went through the same things we’re going through now. The transition to Dodge interrupted the momentum we had last year but the second half of 2001 should show marked improvement for all the Dodge teams, including ours."