This Week in Ford Racing May 4, 1999 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Emory Donaldson is team manager/crew chief for the Phelon Motorsports ...
This Week in Ford Racing May 4, 1999
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Emory Donaldson is team manager/crew chief for the Phelon Motorsports #66 Carlin Burners Ford F-150 driven by NCTS Rookie-of-the-Year points leader Mike Stefanik. Donaldson admits that he has worked with an impressive list of drivers in numerous racing venues over his career. However he feels that Stefanik is one of the best that he has been around. Donaldson talks about what Stefanik brings to his team and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Emory Donaldson - Crew Chief - #66 Carlin Burners & Controls Ford F-150 - FIVE RACES INTO THE 1999 SEASON, HOW HAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MIKE STEFANIK PROGRESSED? "From the first time we went to the race track together at Las Vegas last year, we've hit it off pretty well. Mike is a professional race car driver and he knows that this is what he is going to do for a living. I've worked with a bunch of good drivers, and Mike is one of the best. There are some things about Mike that most people wouldn't know. First of all, he is excellent at the public relations end of the business. He does all the autograph signings and goes wherever anyone asks him to go. I've worked with a lot of drivers over the years and the three things that drivers need to do to be successful are just what Mike does well himself. One - they need to handle the PR side of the business and be very good with the public. They know that they have a special opportunity to be a race car driver and the good ones are very serious and humble about that opportunity. Second - they need to stay calm about how they go about doing their business. When they're sitting in the car or out of the car, good drivers are very flat-lined about their mood changes. The third thing is that they have to be knowledgeable about the characteristics of the vehicles. They know what changes will work to fix the problem. It's easy to say that we need a new right front spring to fix this problem. But do we need a 25-pound, 60-pound or 200-pound spring? A guy that understands it and basically becomes the car when he is sitting in it, he can do a better job of specifying what changes he wants to make to the vehicle. Mike can narrow that down and that allows you a ton more flexibility in practice sessions. You end up being better prepared for qualifying and the race. Mike works real hard with the truck. So he is able to get in there and do the job himself and he cares about the people on the team. He likes to make sure that he is visible, personable and he treats himself like any other important member of the team. He doesn't remove himself from the team atmosphere. Mike is learning more about driving the trucks all the time. We're actually changing some of the front-end geometry on our trucks in order to accommodate his driving style a little more. He feels that when we get these changes made to the truck there is no reason that we can't run up front most of the time."
MIKE IS PRETTY LEVEL HEADED ABOUT HIS TASK AT HAND. DOES HE EVER GET MAD? "Mike doesn't get mad. I think that he might get disappointed sometimes, but he has been around this team enough now and he knows what level this team can reach, so he does not want to be the weak link in this program. But when he feels like he is not performing at a level that he needs to, whether there is an equipment problem or whatever, I think that disappoints him. Nothing is a surprise to Mike Stefanik. He knows what's going on around him at all times and he knows where he is going to catch the guy in front of him and how he is going to get around him. He doesn't get too excited. Let me give you a reference point. You're driving down a freeway at rush hour on your way home from work and you're going 65 mph with your arm hanging out the window enjoying life. Well double or triple the speed and that's Mike Stefanik when he is racing. When he is racing and racing well, he acts like he is out for a drive home from work at the end of the day."
ALTHOUGH COMPETING AS A ROOKIE IN THE NCTS, MIKE HAS A LOT OF RACING EXPERIENCE, WHAT DOES HE BRING TO THE TEAM? "Mike is a very smart driver. He's been able to work himself back up to the top 10 in many races. I think the team realizes what a great driver we have and we just have to give him a truck that he can drive the way that he is used to driving. From the time we've started this program and all the development that we've done, we felt that the chassis have been developed well. But we've not had a driver like Mike who has built his own race cars and understands what we're talking about as engineers. We're an engineering-based team and now we've got someone that we can talk to in our own language. It's pretty tough when the driver doesn't know what the engineers are talking about. It's been great with Mike."
TALK ABOUT THE TEAM'S IMPRESSIVE SECOND-PLACE FINISH IN THE SEASON OPENER AT HOMESTEAD. "Going into that race, we would have been happy with a top-five or top-10. In the back of our minds though we went into the race hoping to sit on the pole and win. At Homestead, our truck was to the point that we didn't have to make any more chassis changes, so our pit stops were excellent. We gained track positions every time we stopped. That was something that we can do in a few seconds on pit road but on the track it might take 20 or 30 laps to gain just a few spots. We were able to help Mike out in that situation and Mike helped us by running a smart race. To be honest, the race went just about how I thought it would. That was a faster racetrack so the things that Mike didn't like about the truck were less evident and maybe less of a handicap for us than they might have been at short track. We'd like to run like that every weekend, and Mike believes that he can drive like that every weekend. We know that the team is strong enough to do it. So I think you are going to see a whole lot more of those performances the rest of the season."
WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE HOMESTEAD? "We've been qualifying in the teens and then making strong runs to the front during the races. We've had a couple of bad qualifying sessions at some tracks that Mike hasn't been to. I think that we let him down at the Phoenix race. We came into the pits in seventh on our last stop and had a little problem. It wasn't anything the crew guys did, we just made a mistake with a new substance that we used to hold the lugs on and it cost us seven positions going back out. That was bad timing and that hurt us in the points race. We lost about 40 points. Our twelve (in overall points standings) right now might have been fifth or sixth just as easy with one lug nut going on right. This is a very tight series. If you look at any of these trucks after one of the short track races, you'll see just how tough it is. Those guys are flat rockin' and rollin' on each other out there. I think that we try to be realistic with our expectations. We've been competitive but when we got to the short tracks, we found that the trucks weren't ready to accommodate Mike's driving style."
Starting the 1999 season with a strong second-place finish at Homestead, Mike Stefanik is leading the NCTS Rookie-Of-The-Year points standings. In his last race at Martinsville on April 17, Stefanik started a disappointing 33rd but was able to move up an impressive 21 spots to finish 12th. He talks about his first full year of competition in the NCTS.
Mike Stefanik - #66 Carlin Burners & Controls Ford F-150 - HOW HAS YOUR FIRST FULL-TIME NCTS SEASON BEEN SO FAR? "I've been racing for a long time, so it's pretty much what I expected. Racing is racing. The trucks actually drive a little better than I thought they would. I got a chance to try it last year at Vegas, so I had an idea what they drove like. But now after running at several different tracks, the truck series is more aggressive than I thought it would be. I'm not sure if that is the new way or that is how it always was. There is a lot of contact out there! The truck comes back to the shop needing whole new sides. Nobody really gets too far out of hand, but certainly bump-and-rub seems to be the preferred way to do things. I'm glad that I don't have to fix the truck myself. If I did than I might be more adamant about not bumping so much. I try not to promote the rubbing, but you can't back down from it either. If you get a reputation for always giving in than everyone will just drive right over you. You have to hold your ground. Maybe I'm going through a little feeling-out period where people are seeing what they can dish out and what they can't. All in all it's fine, but we'd just like to be running better."
WAS YOUR PAST RACING EXPERIENCE AT MARTINSVILE THE KEY TO YOU MOVING UP 21 SPOTS DURING THE RACE? "We obviously didn't qualify as well as we would have liked. We went into the race knowing that I've had a lot of track time at Martinsville and we were hoping for at least a top-five finish. The truck really wasn't cooperating with us. We made an awful lot of changes and nothing seemed to make the truck any faster, especially on sticker tires. There were several other drivers who had the same basic problem with not being able to go fast on the sticker tires. We were never able to figure it out. We started in the back of the field, and to get out of there with a 12th is pretty good. We made a lot of changes to the truck and most of them were in the right direction as the race went on. With the tough pit situation there, we had to come up with a strategy that fit our bad starting position. The strategy was to stop a lot and not get down a lap but to have fresh tires on the truck as much as possible! We did what we could do to get out of there and salvage the best finish that we could and 12th was the best we could do on that day. Although to some 12th might seem okay, I want more than that and so does the rest of the team."
HOW TOUGH IS IT TO BE A ROOKIE IN THE NCTS? "Of course there is a learning curve to go through and we didn't expect to come in to the series and show everybody how it's done. But we'd like to get more consistent. We're running just out of the top 10 and we'd like to improve on that. At Homestead, being able to test there did help us. At some of these other tracks, we just drop in, say hello and then we leave. We need to unload the truck at a point closer to where we want to be and that's just going to take some time. We might have been a little impatient after getting the second right off the bat this year after our eighth last year at Vegas. Maybe we set our target a little too high, and we have to lower it a little bit. You know we all have egos. I think everyone in racing has somewhat of an ego. To feed our ego, we have to finish up front. No one on this team is pointing fingers at this point, we all know that it is a team effort and not a one-man band."
DO YOU TAKE PRIDE IN THE FACT THAT YOU'RE THE ROOKIE-OF-THE- YEAR POINTS LEADER AFTER FIVE RACES? "Sure I do. I like Scott Hansen (fellow rookie-of-the-year contender). He has raced a long time just like I have and he has great equipment over there. But I'm proud to say that we're the leading rookie. But it's not why I'm racing the truck series, though. It's a nice thing to be leading in but I think the rookie award will take care of itself if we do a good job and take care of everything else. If we bring our best truck to the track and run smart races, then the point stuff and all the awards will take care of themselves. I do think about it sometimes during the race when I see Scott next to me and he might be ahead of me. It would be great to win the award, but it's not something that I'm totally focused on. I'm looking more down the road in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. I want to race with all those good guys up front, and my main focus is to get our program up to that championship level. There is no doubt in my mind that we'll get there."