Crew chief Larkins recalls boyhood trips to Rockingham Robert Larkins, 37-year-old crew chief for the No. 4 Kodak Max Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo team, grew up in Wilmington, N.C., and vividly remembers boyhood trips to North Carolina Speedway...
Crew chief Larkins recalls boyhood trips to Rockingham
Robert Larkins, 37-year-old crew chief for the No. 4 Kodak Max Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo team, grew up in Wilmington, N.C., and vividly remembers boyhood trips to North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham to watch NASCAR Winston Cup races.
"I sat in the grandstands on the Hamlet side with my father (Bobby)," Larkins said. "Gordon Johncock was driving the 28 car. I remember we almost froze to death. I went again when my friend Jackie was driving, and my father was helping him work on his car.
"We sat in turn four, and my mother (Deloris) and I were sitting about midway up in the grandstands. It was the first race my mother had ever been to. She didn't like racing and didn't want me to get in it.
"We were sitting there watching, and Richard Petty hit the wall right in front of us. His car slid down the track, and she grabbed hold of me and took off running up the grandstand. We got to the top and ran out of steps. I asked her, 'where are we going now?' "
It took a few years, but Larkins eventually went from the top steps of that grandstand to Abingdon, Va., to work for Morgan-McClure Motorsports. He had some fun along the way, and most of it was related to racing despite his mother's protests.
"I grew up working with a guy that lived down the road named Jackie Rogers," Larkins said. "He raced dirt, and in 1974 he got in Grand National and raced for about two years. I used to go down to his race shop and hang around and wash parts, a little bit of everything, whatever a young kid could do.
"Out of New Hanover High School in Wilmington, I went to Cape Fear Tech to be a tool and die maker. The plans didn't work out. I got into racing instead. I didn't go into the military because I don't like taking orders. I don't like getting up early in the morning, and I don't like traveling. I guess I wasn't aware all those things are part of racing."
The road to Abingdon went through Hoss Ellington's shop in Wilmington. Morgan-McClure engine builder Runt Pittman used to work for Ellington, and Pittman helped Larkins get started with Morgan-McClure.
"Hoss shut down in 1989 after he went to Daytona and didn't make the race," Larkins said. "Runt asked me if I wanted to change tires for the Morgan-McClure team. That was Runt's first year with Morgan-McClure.
"In '89 and '90, I lived in Wilmington and changed tires for them on weekends. In '90, I decided to move to Abingdon. I'd been married less than a year and had just built a house and moved in it. After nine months, we moved out and went to Virginia."
Larkins has been crew chief for the past 10 races. Actually, this is his second stint as crew chief for the No. 4 Kodak Max Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo team. Team owner Larry McClure says Larkins is now ready for the challenge.
"I kind of threw Robert in the fire a couple of years ago when Bobby Hamilton first came over here," McClure said. "That was Robert's initial stab at being a crew chief. He was relieved of those duties for a more seasoned veteran. He kind of stood back and watched, and he's learned a lot.
"We're tremendously happy with the job he's doing. He's got good people around him. Steve Gray compliments what Robert is doing. They work closely together, so I think he's going to do a good job for us. Right now, he's the hot ticket for us, and I think he'll just get better and better.
"He's really a rookie. With Bobby's experience, and our winning experience, it'll kind of bring him along a little faster. He's definitely got the responsibility on his shoulders right now."
Hamilton, who moved to 13th in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings after his eighth-place finish in last week's Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, has three career victories on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit and two of those wins came at Rockingham and Phoenix.
It's been 55 races since Hamilton and company took a checkered flag, but the 42-year-old Nashville native is convinced Larkins can help him win one of the final four events.
"I've been on both sides, and you like to see what you've worked on run good," Hamilton said. "If they don't run good, then you don't feel good. Robert cares about the race team. It's hard to hire anybody that cares about the team, but everybody we've got cares about the race team."
Larkins has been a Jack of all trades since joining the Morgan-McClure team, and he's learned from some of the best in the business.
"At first, I was putting the motors in the cars and wiring the cars, basically just getting them ready for (former crew chief) Tony Glover to set them up," Larkins said. "If you don't learn something from everybody you work with, you've got a really closed mind.
"I learned a lot from Tony Glover. When a person tells you they know everything, well, you better stay away from him. He knows just about enough to get himself in trouble.
"We've got a great team. Our motors are just as good as anyone's in the garage area. The pit crew has definitely improved. I'm the jackman on the pit crew, too. I'll keep doing that until they find somebody to replace me.
"As far as setup, Bobby will tell us what he wants, but he's open to suggestions. He's got more of an input now. He sees what we do to get the car ready, and it gives him more confidence in what we're doing."
McClure has plenty of confidence in his team, including his young crew chief.
"We made some changes after the Brickyard 400, and we saw results immediately," McClure said. "Indy was a low point for us. We've had a competitive car for the last six or seven races. Prior to that it was kind of a hit and miss thing.
"We didn't know when we were going to be competitive, but we feel a lot better about it now. We're looking forward to these final four races. Bobby has won at Rockingham and Phoenix, and we'd sure like to see him win one of these last four. I hope we can get the ball rolling on Sunday at Rockingham."