Liberty Racing is trucking ahead By Dave Rodman
LORAIN, Ohio (Dec. 18, 1998) Veteran crew chief Roland Wlodyka, who has been on the job at Liberty Racing for little more than a month, has created a lot of smiles among the 12 team employees at the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series operation. The team doesn't yet have a driver for the 1999 season, which begins with the Florida Dodge Dealers 400 at the Miami-Dade Homestead Motor Sports Complex on March 20 -- but Team Manager Tim Stephens said the progress the team has made since the season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway makes that the next logical step. "When you look at the race team we were in September and October, at the time we made our driver change, we were not a good race team," Stephens said. "We were getting better, no question, but there were a lot of things we had to do to get even better. There was a lot of stuff internally we needed to do first before we went into the market for a driver for 1999 and beyond. "That's why we hired Roland Wlodyka as our crew chief, first. Now we've got our engine deal in place with Signature Racing Engines and we're rebuilding the fleet of trucks with Roland's guidance from the ground up. "Now, the time is right to pick a driver, and it's ironic -- but by/BlisM01/">Mike Bliss. With Bliss out of the pool, among those still listed as possibilities by series insiders are Dave Rezendes, Tony Raines, Lonnie Rush, Tony Roper and Kevin Harvick. "We have interviewed a few drivers and we've got a few more coming in over the holidays," Stephens said. "Out of that group we're going to get one, we're pretty sure. We have to assess who's still available when you call 'em." Contrary to a "normal" off-season, the team has neither tested, nor does it plan to, until its rolling stock of six "used" trucks and three chassis that are either in the process of being assembled, ordered or delivered is ready. Stephens said under normal circumstances the team would test at least once a month in the off-season. "We have not been on the race track since Las Vegas," Stephens said. "We came home, hired Roland and basically took our fleet of trucks apart. If they called me and said 'get to the track -- other than hot lapping a show truck we couldn't do it. "By the week of Jan. 11 we hope to have one or two trucks in race-ready condition the way Roland wants them. We've talked to a couple race tracks about January test dates because we'd like to get some laps around a few places. We Probably won't go to Homestead -- we're in Cleveland, and it takes 22 hours for our semi to get to Homestead. It makes more sense to go to Martinsville or Nashville, where we could get in two days of testing in three days (counting travel time) instead of five." Wlodyka, who most recently worked with driver Rick Crawford at the Circle Bar Race Team and led Crawford to his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory at Homestead earlier in 1998, had worked as a consultant with Liberty Racing, one of the series' original teams, in the winter of 1985-86. "Roland walked in the door and immediately was at ease," Stephens said. "He came in knowing where the electric plugs were, along with the refrigerator and the bathroom. "The biggest thing about bringing in a veteran like Roland in was he comes in, looks around and at the end of the first day can give you a legal pad list of items that he needs to go forward. That's important to. He's been comfortable from the start and he's got us headed in a positive direction." The trucks in the team's fleet are all Hutcherson-Pagan chassis save for one Laughlin chassis, Stephens said. He said the team is most tickled about its new engine supplier. Signature, based in Mooresville, N.C., is a collaboration between NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series owners Dale Phelon, Ernie Irvan and Mark Simo. "We're tickled to death to be aligned with them," Stephens said. "Robert Yates had done a good job for us, but we felt it was a good option after seeing the improvement in performance we saw they were having and the tremendous level of personal service. And with Lee Morse involved (president of Irvan-Simo Racing and a former official with Ford's Special Vehicle Operations) there's no way we could lose."
Source: NASCAR Online