Charlotte, NC - January 25, 2003 - Some say good things come to those who wait. Others say you have to pay your dues and work hard. Jeff Fultz has done both and it looks like it's finally beginning to pay off in 2003. Of course he never did really wait for it; in fact, the off-season was anything but an off-season for the Cincinnati, OH native.
Instead of relaxing and spending some quality time at home with his family and beloved Great Danes, Jeff split long hours between his job as a fabricator for the #77 Jasper Engines Winston Cup Team and the JCR3 Racing shop tuning the #86 Chevrolet Monte Carlo he drives in the Busch Series.
"I was really looking forward to things slowing down after winning the All Pro Championship," Fultz said from his Mooresville, NC home. "Throughout 2002 there was a lot of pressure because we were always up front in the points. We knew going in we wanted the championship; I just don't think we realized how much it wasn't going to take out of us. It was all worth it when we went to Atlanta and picked up that trophy."
Sweeping changes at the Jasper shop brought new faces and at times a heavy workload. Fultz spent long hours including some weekends with the rest of the crew hanging new bodies on the cars in preparation for testing and the 2003 season.
"I don't think there's really any such thing as an off-season," Fultz said. "You have to get ready for testing and with the new body changes for 2003 we had to change all the cars. Then we went to Talladega and tested and I had the opportunity to get some seat time. It was rewarding to drive a car I had put so much time into. I can't thank the Jasper guys enough for the support and opportunities they've given me." When he wasn't at Jasper, Jeff clocked in at JCR3 Racing's shop doing the same thing on the car he drives for owner Jimmy Craig. It's a labor of love for him and the J-Crew as they continue to strive to take the next step and move to the Busch series full time.
Jeff knows there's even more pressure on his shoulders with the #86 car. At the end of 2002 the team made the decision to focus even more resources on creating a marketing program to attract corporate support. No easy task considering there are a lot of teams with more resources doing the exact same thing. Still, Fultz knows he has to do his part by turning in no less than great performances when he's on the track. It may be the difference between a full ride and another five or six race season.
"We loved racing in the All Pro series but it's only natural to want to move to the next step," Fultz said. "The reality is that it doesn't matter what I did last year. If we're going to be competitive at the Busch series it means I can accept no less than giving 110 percent to get the job done in the limited number of opportunities we have. I know the rest of the team is doing exactly that; from the shop guys to our marketing guy. I don't want to let them down."
Despite the challenges, there has been some progress on the sponsorship front. Recently the team announced United Plastics Group, Inc as a corporate partner for the team's entry in the Koolerz 300 at Daytona International Speedway February 15. The Westmont, IL, based company is the leading manufacturer of injection molded products for the automotive, consumer, electronics and medical markets.
"I can't tell you how much it means to have United Plastics Group helping to make Daytona a reality for us this year," Fultz said. "I think it's an added bonus to have someone aboard who knows what it takes to achieve success and is committed to excellence. I know we'll be putting the same values to work for them at Daytona."
In addition to attempting the Koolerz 300, Fultz will also have his first shot at the Daytona 500. During pre-season testing Jeff got a phone call from Joey Cudmore, Crew Chief for the #57 CLR Winston Cup Team owned by Businessman Ted Campbell. They asked him if he would test for them at Daytona with no guarantee he'd stay in the seat. He didn't hesitate a moment.
"Of course the first thing I did was talk to my owners Jimmy and Jon Craig," Fultz said. "They told me to go for it. That's the great thing about driving for the Craigs, they want to win as bad as anyone but they're never willing to sacrifice their people to do it. That's why I'm committed to them."
Although excited to get on the famous super speedway in a Winston Cup car with Yates horsepower under the hood, their was no denying it would take a change in driving tact for someone used to slinging wide cars around the South's famous short tracks.
"Going from an All Pro car to a Winston Cup car is like going from a boat to a canoe, the cars are real agile," Fultz said. "You have to carry a lot more momentum into the corners to keep from overdriving the car. It can get away from you real fast if you're not paying attention."
Still, Fultz did manage a good enough performance to warrant getting a shot at "The Great American Race." He's been invited back to prove his metal against the best in the world.
"The test went really well," Fultz said. "We picked up about 6/10 from the time we got there. We left Daytona with some good information on what we need to change before speed week. The guys on the team are really close and work well together. They even hang out together off the track and I think that's an important factor in building a team."
As February approaches Fultz is continuing to prepare for his trial by fire. He's even taking fire to relax. For Christmas he bought his son Johnny a paintball gun and like any good father he just had to get one for himself to show his son the finer points of mortal combat.
"If you've never played paintball before you should give it a try," Fultz said laughing. "It's all fun and games until you get shot! Just kidding, it's a great way to get exercise. Nothing will motivate you to run more than when you're a target. It doesn't matter how good you are, eventually someone will get you."
For speedweeks however, Fultz knows he'll be a target and if he can just run fast enough he may get the other guys.