Smith set as McLaughlin's new crew chief By Shawn A. Akers
CONCORD, N.C. Dec. 11, 1998) Jay Smith, who has spent time as a crew chief in NASCAR's three major series, has been hired as the crew chief of the Cicci-Welliver Racing No. 34 Goulds Pumps Chevrolet for driver Mike McLaughlin in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division. The team released crew chief Gary Cogswell midway through the 1998 season, then split the crew chief duties between Steve "Big Guy" Helwig and John Birosh through most of the second half of the season. Birosh is no longer with the team, and Helwig -- who has worked with McLaughlin for his entire racing career -- has returned to his duties as the team's car chief, Smith said. Smith began his duties as crew chief officially on Dec. 7. "I'm really tickled to death and very excited about this opportunity," said Smith, who has spent the last three years as the crew chief of Ernie Irvan and Mark Simo's No. 44 Federated Auto Parts Ford team in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. "This is probably one of the longest-running Busch teams there is, and there's a lot of experience here between Mike (McLaughlin) and all the people that work here. Clyde (McLeod), Big Guy (Helwig) and Mike, they've all got a good relationship. The team is in great shape the way it is, it just needs a little fine tuning and I hope I can help in that area." Smith broke into the NASCAR Busch Series and worked for several drivers in the 1980s, including Joe Ruttman. He also worked with Irvan in the NASCAR Busch Series for a while before moving on to Penske Racing South as a chassis specialist for the No. 2 team in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series with driver Rusty Wallace. He also worked as a crew chief for the No. 43 team in the NASCAR Busch Series, owned by Richard Petty and Rodney Combs, before signing on as the crew chief of the No. 77 Jasper Engines team in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, when Davy Jones was behind the wheel. The opportunity came up to work with Irvan again in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and Smith jumped at the chance. "I've been fortunate enough to work with some very good people over the years," Smith said. "Ernie was very good to me and he's really helped me get to where I am today." Smith was all set recently to take on the crew chief position of the new Yellow Freight Racing team in the NASCAR Busch Series, with driver Mike Skinner, but when the opportunity at Cicci-Welliver Racing came along, he gave it some second thought. "I've done a lot of first-year stuff before, and I just wanted to get in an experienced situation," Smith said. "I appreciate them offering me the job, but the deal just wasn't for me. I've always gone with my gut my entire life, and my gut told me to come here. If I've ever gone against my gut feeling, it's always come back to bite me." McLaughlin finished a distant third in the NASCAR Busch Series point standings in 1998 behind champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. and second-place Matt Kenseth. He was, however, able to win a pair of races and the No. 34 team is still considered among the elite on the circuit. Smith said he hopes the team can draw upon its Cicci-Welliver Racing teammates, the No. 36 Stanley Pontiac team with driver Tim Fedewa and the Phillips 66 team with driver Todd Bodine, to help propel it to the top. "Mike's been running good every year, and I just hope that I can come in and fine tune some things to help get them over the hump," Smith said. "They've been off just a bit. It's going to be tough with those two guys ahead of us, but I don't think there's any reason we can't be up there with them next year."
Source: NASCAR Online