Daytona: Skinner - NASCAR Spotlight

Inaugural champion Skinner looking forward to return in series. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 9, 2003) -- Without NASCAR racing, Mike Skinner (No. 42 Toyota Tundra Toyota) literally might be all wet. Skinner, who grew up in Susanville, Calif., ...

Inaugural champion Skinner looking forward to return in series.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 9, 2003) -- Without NASCAR racing, Mike Skinner (No. 42 Toyota Tundra Toyota) literally might be all wet.

Skinner, who grew up in Susanville, Calif., exited high school early without a diploma and immediately went to work drilling water wells to support both himself and a Saturday night racing career.

His life story, however, had a storybook turn not too many years later. Skinner moved to North Carolina, made a name for himself in regional competition and landed a ride with Richard Childress Racing in the 1995 inaugural season of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Skinner, winner of the series' first race and inaugural championship, also became the first of many stars to graduate to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, where the now 45-year-old Californian competed in 229 races through 2003 and won more than $13 million.

He is coming full circle in 2004, beginning with Friday's Florida Dodge Dealers 250 at Daytona International Speedway (SPEED Channel, 8 p.m. ET), and hopeful of returning to championship form with Toyota and the new Bang! Racing team directed by former RCR crew chief Larry McReynolds.

With his many career sidelines -- pitching automobiles on Florida television and applying for a dealer's license, for example -- there was no chance Skinner would return to his former job as a driller. And he wasn't ready to hang up the helmet facing uncertainties of a full-time ride in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

"Having the opportunity to reunite my racing career with Larry Mac is a big part of it," he said. "It's something I've always wanted to do. Although we fight like brothers, we usually end up pretty competitive on the race track. With (crew chief) Rick Ren calling the shots and Larry taking more of a management role, we will have to see how that plays out. ... But as usual, it definitely will be eventful."

Skinner, a 16-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race winner, returns to the setting of his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Bud Pole (1997). The year will be dejà vu in one sense -- Toyota's arrival with four brand-new teams and a revised, aero-matched truck body configuration designed to increase parity among all four manufacturers.

"This year should probably be as close to 1995 and 1996 as anything since because of all the talented drivers that are the series," he said. "The new involvement with Toyota has stepped up all the manufacturers' programs. It's going to be very tough and competitive."

Skinner's first season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series was filled with highlights, among them 10 consecutive Bud Poles, a seemingly untouchable record. But he most remembers 1995's first event at Phoenix International Raceway, in which Skinner edged Terry Labonte, a two-time champion in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, in a last-lap slugfest. The victory, on national television, helped Skinner step out from under a very large shadow.

"Terry was the guy to beat at Phoenix, in anything he drove," Skinner said. "It helped me establish my own identity because I was driving a black truck with the number three on the door. It was hard for me to deal with because of the famous three car that (Dale) Earnhardt drove."

The year saw Skinner post Earnhardt-like numbers: A championship, eight wins and 17 of 20 finishes among the top five. He added eight more victories the following season after which he became the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' first driver to reach $1 million in winnings.

Speedweeks 2004 is a busy time for Skinner, both in and out of his Toyota truck. He spotted for youngest son Justin, who made his first Dash Series start at Daytona on Sunday. Skinner also will be vying for a spot in Sunday's Daytona 500 in a RCR-prepared No. 33 Chevrolet. He finished 15th in Saturday night's Bud Shootout.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Truck
Teams Richard Childress Racing