FRIDAY FEATURE: Veteran Presence -- By Travis Barrett, Special To NASCAR Home Tracks
His drivers have won a Daytona 500, NASCAR Nationwide Series championships, multiple NASCAR K&N Pro Series East titles and races, and yet he remains virtually anonymous to the those who follow the sport from outside the garages.
Mike Greci shies away from the spotlight, but it's impossible to ignore his work with NASCAR's brightest up-and-coming talent.
“I've been so fortunate to work with some of the greatest people there are,” said Greci, who is now the competition director for Turner Scott Motorsports' development program, including three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East teams and two NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model teams.
Name some of the sport's biggest risers, and Greci has had a hand in helping most of them. He was with Martin Truex Jr. before Truex made it all the way to a regular gig in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and he served as the crew chief nearly a decade later when Truex's brother, Ryan Truex, won back-to-back K&N Pro Series East in 2009-2010.
He was at DEI when Trevor Bayne – the 2011 Daytona 500 champion – was running a full season with the organization in the K&N Pro Series. Greci led Michael Waltrip Racing when Travis Pastrana made the transition to NASCAR racing through the K&N Pro Series, and he was the crew chief for Danica Patrick's Nationwide Series effort at Daytona International Speedway this February.
Sprinkled all around those gigs, there have been Modifieds tied to Greci's New Jersey roots, two other K&N Pro Series East (then known as the Busch North Series) titles with Mike Stefanik in the late 1990s, and two different fill-in stints as a Cup crew chief with the No. 1 team and Truex Jr., and work with Andy Santerre's blossoming Nationwide Series career.
Greci has had plenty of opportunities to move up the ladder, but each time he's taken a look at what he really enjoys about stock car racing.
“Kids don't have any bad habits. They haven't learned everything yet, and that makes it a good teaching position to be in for me. These kids don't come in with mindset that they know how to do it all already. When we walked into Bristol a couple of weeks ago, all five of our drivers had never even seen the place before.”
Greci is no longer a hands-on crew chief, like he was most recently with Ryan Truex, Brett Moffitt or Pastrana through the end of last season. He's now the competition director at TSM, with five crew chiefs under him, including those for Dylan Kwasniewski, Kenzie Ruston and Austin Dyne in the K&N series.
After a career spent helping fine-tune drivers – on and off the track – for what's ahead of them in a career of NASCAR racing, Greci is ready to help build Turner Scott Motorsports into an organization that can both develop its own talent behind the wheel and then offer that talent a place to race in either the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series or the Nationwide Series.
“When we decided to build this program, we knew it would be expensive the first year, Greci said. “We had four bare walls and just the equipment we'd bought from Waltrip.
Now we've got three K&N teams, two Late Model teams and we're doing it on our own. To have these kids moving up next year or the year after, that's how I'm going to say this is a successful program.
“When it gets to that point that they've learned all they can learn here, it's all about moving up. It's about graduating to the next level. That's what dictates success for us.”
Kwasniewski is the reigning NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion after two seasons with Gene Price Motorsports, and Greci said the team has already joked about this being just a “finishing school” for Kwasniewski.
Ruston is as polished a young female racer as Greci said he's ever encountered, noting that she made an instant impression on him in their very first meeting.
Dyne, last year's K&N Pro Series West Rookie of the Year, has also shown that he's ready to adapt quickly to the East series.
Late Model drivers Ben Rhodes – who won one of two qualifying races for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Battle At The Beach in Daytona in February – and Brandon Jones are both “going to be phenomenal,” according to Greci.
Those two will also compete on a part-time basis in the K&N Pro Series East this year.
And with Greci's helping hand, it's pretty clear that all five drivers have endless potential. Kwasniewski won the season opener at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago.
“I don't have to be a crew chief anymore. I'm really liking this side of things,” Greci said. “I never envisioned being in charge of five full race teams. We have a beautiful facility here, and I'm already looking to 2014.
I'm looking at programs for the next series. I think we're successful, and we're doing it the right way.
“That's what I'm going to base it on – that's what's going to be 'success' to me. It's about having a little part in getting these kids moving on. Look at Martin, Trevor, Ryan, and hopefully continue looking at some of the ones we have here now. I want to see them keep moving along and getting better.”
Mike Greci has had the chance two work with some of NASCAR's brightest rising stars and celebrity drivers over the course of his career. “Every driver is different,” Greci said about the list – which includes Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, NASCAR Sprint Cup series drivers Martin Truex Jr. and Danica Patrick, action sports star Travis Pastrana and two-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Ryan Truex.
Here's what Greci had to say about some of them:
On Martin Truex Jr.: “When I first started Martin's deal, his father had just gotten done racing himself and he wanted me to help out with Martin. We had a blast. He came to shop and worked every day. Just a great, great family there, and I was fortunate that I moved with him to Chance 2 Motorsports in the Nationwide Series.”
On Ryan Truex: “Martin and Ryan are completely different. Ryan was the small, little reserved kid who was always quiet. All he wore were the board shorts, rode his skateboard around the shop and had the curly hair sticking out. But he wouldn't talk. I guess after I got on him so hard about everything all the time, he finally just said to himself, 'OK, so this is how it's going to be, huh?'”
On Travis Pastrana: “What you see on TV is what you get for real. He is so passionate about trying to learn this sport. He knows he's behind on the learning curve, but he just sucks up information. He's bound and determined this year. And he's just the most generous person you'll ever meet.”
On Trevor Bayne: “We had three drivers for DEI at that time, and they went to Lime Rock. He and Jeffrey (Earnhardt) just smashed the heck out of each other. I brought them both into the shop on Monday and said, 'You're going to cut the bodies off them.' They didn't know what to do – but when that kid won the Daytona 500, he called me from Victory Lane. 'If it wouldn't have been for you, I never would have been in this spot,' he told me. That was amazing.”
On Danica Patrick: “She's pretty intense. She was a lot of fun to work with. She is another one that really, really wants to make it in this deal. Her speedway racing is awesome. She comes out of IndyCar stuff, and it's taken a while... But I'm doing Talladega again with her in the Nationwide Series this year, and I'm really looking forward to it.”
On Dylan Kwasniewski: “We call him 'one-and-done.' It’s one year and we figure he'll be moving up. He's that talented. He comes here all California with the flat-brim hats, rolled up jeans, fancy sneakers, and I get on him everyday about it. But he's a great kid.”