HIGH POINT, NC -- Doug Randolph, a proud graduate of the University of Tennessee, fully understands the concept and the concerns of coaching progression. Assistant coaches wait their turn, often for decades, to be offered the right opportunity to...
HIGH POINT, NC -- Doug Randolph, a proud graduate of the University of Tennessee, fully understands the concept and the concerns of coaching progression. Assistant coaches wait their turn, often for decades, to be offered the right opportunity to direct their own program. Many times, their first chance comes with baggage attached, often as a reclamation project of another's failed efforts.
When his call came to fill the crew chief's position for the #93 Amoco/Siemens Pontiac in mid-July, Randolph realized that taking over the direction for Dave Blaney's rookie season effort at mid-year represented a range of challenges that most "assistants" face when offered a first chance to run their own program.
Foremost in Randolph's thinking was that his promotion from an 18-month stint as Car Chief of the #22 Caterpillar/Polaris Pontiac under Tommy Baldwin, Jr. came from within, allowing him substantial knowledge about his "new" team and driver. Inherent in the interests of Car Owner Bill Davis was to enhance the symmetry between the established #22 program and the fledgling #93 team and Blaney, currently in only his third season of stock-car racing after 15 years as an open-wheel standout. Randolph fit the bill perfectly.
But Randolph's new team was also in the midst of a complete crew turnover since Speedweeks, 2000 in Daytona, creating an immediate need to recreate team chemistries and communication while continuing to race week-to-week with the changing personnel situation and a driver still negotiating a steep stock-car learning curve.
Enter into the busy equation the on-going crescendo of activity connected with Bill Davis Racing's transition to the Dodge Intrepid for the 2001 season and Randolph's first crew chief experience had the potential for considerable complication. Still, the progress for all involved over Randolph's 12 races at the helm has proven Davis' intuition correct about perhaps the most significant personnel move at BDR during the 2000 season.
"To be able to step up and stay here at Bill Davis Racing made all the difference in the world," said Randolph, a Morristown, TN. native. "When I compare this situation to other opportunities I had in the past year with other teams, you just don't know how other programs work and what their assets really are from the outside looking in. Here, I knew the system, knew that I had a support group of talented people, that the finances were there, that the engine program and the cars and the technological support was all first-rate. Instead of debating the plusses and minuses when the time came, it was a real easy decision.
"It was hard to leave the #22 team after putting two years worth of effort into what we've built with Ward. At the time I moved to the Amoco team, we were still in the hunt for the championship. My entire focus had been the #22 team but I knew of some of the early struggles that Dave had gone through. I had always wanted to be a crew chief and this was the perfect opportunity for me with the people and resources that will allow you to be successful. When that's the case, you know you're going to get a real, honest chance to show what you can do."
Randolph took an atypical route to his current position, beginning his motorsports career with the NASCAR Busch Series team of L.D. Ottinger while still a student at the University of Tennessee, where he graduated in 1988 with a degree in wildlife and fisheries biology. He fully intended to return to Law School after investing a post-graduate year as a full-time member of Ottinger's team. But continued successes with subsequent stints with car owners Junior Johnson (1991-94) and Larry Hendrick (1995-98) before joining BDR convinced Randolph to focus on racing. For now.
"When I think back on it, the best part of what led me to getting this chance was probably the time I spent with L.D.," said Randolph. "He was the ultimate perfectionist. I was young then and sometimes the dirty, little details get past you when you're young. You're just not interested. But L.D. and 'Chopper' (MRN announcer Jim Phillips) and those guys taught me the importance of the small things so that when I moved up to a place like Junior Johnson's -- where all the technology and knowledge is available to you -- you can really soak it in.
"I've tried to look at the strengths of everyone I've worked with over the past 10-12 years and look at why they were best at what they do -- guys like Tim Brewer, Mike Beam and Pete Peterson at Junior's -- or what Tommy Baldwin brought to this team when he came here two years ago. I've been real lucky to be around so many talented people."
In addition to Blaney's first-year journey in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, Randolph also played a major role in Blaney's successful return to the Busch Series in the #20 AT&T Pontiac prior to the hiring of Robin "Bootie" Barker as crew chief for that team last month. Randolph believes that Blaney's solid runs in the BDR Busch entry -- four top-ten finishes in his last five starts including thirds at Dover and Charlotte and a pole position at Charlotte in May -- have benefited the WC rookie perhaps more than his other "moonlighting" peers who run limited Busch schedules in addition to their WC duties.
"Dave was used to consistent success throughout his career but for the past three years, he had to back up and start over from scratch and that's hard for any athlete to do," said Randolph. "His success with the AT&T car has helped so much more because of his struggles early on with the Winston Cup car. It reminds him how far he's really come and that he can do this at a high level.
"As far as our progress with the Amoco team is concerned, it's like we've sort of opened the door with the flashes of brilliance that Dave has shown lately but we haven't closed the deal, either because of our own mistakes or some of the weird circumstances that seem to have haunted him all year.
"We've had a complete turnover with the crew on the Amoco team but that can work two ways. In one respect -- with a new crew chief coming in -- there are no pre-conceived notions or bad feelings toward me or anyone else when you start at mid-season like I did. Everyone started with an open mind and I knew most all of them from already being here at BDR.
"The drawback is that the group itself had not worked together. When you have to replace one person, you pretty much know what he does and can work to cover those areas. When you replace 6-8-10 people, making sure all the bases are covered each week is much more difficult. We're still learning as a team but everyone has come together and helped each other and been fairly forgiving when we've made mistakes. I like the make-up of the group and they've come along real fast so far.
"The biggest thing now for us is to look at these last four races and really used them as a momentum-builder for next season. We've shown that we can put together fast cars, that Dave can drive to the front, that we can support him with fast pit stops. It's up to us now to produce over the next 30 days and set the tone for Dave and for the Amoco team for next season."