DOVER, Del. (May 31, 2000) - Jeff Hammond knows about winning. He has a pair of Winston Cup championship rings in his possession to prove it. He has seen the ups and downs of the sport with driver Darrell Waltrip during their 12-year...
DOVER, Del. (May 31, 2000) - Jeff Hammond knows about winning. He has a pair of Winston Cup championship rings in his possession to prove it. He has seen the ups and downs of the sport with driver Darrell Waltrip during their 12-year association, and his latest project has him working to put the John Deere Motorsports team and driver Chad Little in winner's circle. This weekend at Dover Downs International Speedway, Hammond will reach a milestone that few have accomplished.
There are nine active Winston Cup drivers that have at least 500 starts to their credit, but a glance through the active crew chief statistics shows only one within reach of 500 races at the helm. Jeff Hammond stands alone in this category, and when the John Deere Ford takes the green on Sunday he hopes to draw on that experience to put the green-and-yellow machine up front. In his 499 races as a crew chief, Hammond has amassed 43 victories that include a trip to Victory Lane in the 1989 Daytona 500. Aside from that victory at Daytona and his two championships with driver Darrell Waltrip, Hammond has experienced much more from the sport to which he has dedicated his life.
"There have been so many different highlights that it's difficult to pick one out," recalls Hammond. "Back in 1985, I was able to take my dad and my mom to New York after winning the (Winston Cup) championship. My dad was instrumental in getting me into racing, and he showed me what racing was all about. This was my way of repaying him for his time and effort. It was his support that allowed me to get into the sport, and having him share in my joy in which he was a big part is just one of the things I will never forget. Some of my other memorable moments were winning The Winston (1985), the points championship (1982 and 1985) and the pit crew championship (1989). That's what makes you want to get up every Sunday morning - the opportunity to try to do it again."
Now in his third year with Roush Racing and the No. 97 John Deere Motorsports team, Hammond is still looking for the team's elusive first win. He saw victory slip away in 1998, as Little was passed late in the Texas 500 by teammate Mark Martin, which forced the team to walk away with second-place honors. That may have been the closest this team has been to victory, but that's not the only time Hammond has felt close to the opportunity to once again celebrate in Victory Lane.
"The race in Texas wasn't the only time we've had a chance to bring John Deere their first NASCAR victory," says Hammond. "July 4th, one year ago, I felt we had a car capable of wining the race at Daytona until we left a wheel loose. It was another race that eluded us. Even at Talladega this year we had a very strong car, but if circumstances had gone a little different, we had a realistic chance of bringing the car into Victory Lane that day if we hadn't had a tire go down."
Hammond may have 500 starts to his name after this weekend, but he's been a part of the sport for a much longer time. Hammond entered NASCAR in 1974 as a tire changer for Walter Ballard. He put in eight years of work before he was given the chance to take charge of a championship-caliber team with team owner Junior Johnson. Hammond has seen the sport of stock car racing evolve, and he has been involved in almost every element of a race team from a fabricator to an over-the-wall crew member. For Hammond it's not about living in the past, but using what he's learned to recapture NASCAR glory.
"My greatest asset is patience," explains Hammond. "I've got a philosophy that if it's broke then I want to fix it. If it's not right then I want to make it right, and I don't like the idea of giving up on something. Working with Darrell and Junior Johnson, and anybody who's won races in Winston Cup, I know that you've got to dot all the I's and cross all the T's. You need a certain amount of intensity mixed with an awareness of the fact that you can't lose focus and get excited when things don't go right. The competition today is harder than it ever has been and it will continue to be harder tomorrow than it is today. You're going to have to do your best even when it seems easier to quit. You need to remember that one race doesn't make or break a season, but it can be instrumental as far as how the season develops and how it goes on. That what I'm trying to do with the John Deere team and hopefully 10 years from now I'll still be educating people about our sport and getting excited whenever I hear the words, 'Gentlemen start your engines.'"
The John Deere Motorsports team returns to Dover Downs International Speedway for the first time in 2000, but carry with them the momentum of their best finish at the track with a seventh-place performance in last year's fall event. Little currently occupies the 18th position in the Winston Cup point standings, 85 points out of the top 15.