JIM SMITH (Car owner Ultra Evernham Motorsports No. 7 Sirius Satellite Radio Dodge Intrepid R/T) "I started with Dodge in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series last year. We had two drivers last year and we'll have two this year. We have Ted ...
JIM SMITH (Car owner Ultra Evernham Motorsports No. 7 Sirius Satellite Radio Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I started with Dodge in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series last year. We had two drivers last year and we'll have two this year. We have Ted Musgrave and Jason Leffler in our Dodge trucks this season. The thing that impressed me the most with Dodge, when Bob Wildberger (Senior Manager, NASCAR Operations -- Dodge Motorsports) called me, I'd raced for Ford forever and knew Bob in the desert, but when I went down to the tech center and saw everybody involved from the aero people to the engineers and everybody in corporate, you could see it in their eyes. They wanted this bad. They wanted to do it bad. The commitment was something I'd never had before. Ford gave me money and gave me parts and help, but nothing as strong. You could just feel the commitment in the air from Dodge. We went on to help win them their first manufacturers championship in 27 years and won 12 out of 24 races. Our first year (in truck series) was pretty good with them. In fact, I believe we won more races last year for Dodge than Dodge had won in the history of the series.
"I wanted to go with Dodge in Winston Cup last year. Being their first year back and lack of parts and pieces and they had committed to have only 10 teams. Bob tried to convince everybody that I would be a good team player, but it just didn't turn out. We already knew we were going to be a Dodge this year, and then along came Ray (Evernham), especially in today's environment, it's the old theory. Two heads are better than one and three heads are better than two. Him having the Dodge Winston Cup engineering teams and me having the Dodge engineering truck teams, we have a lot of talent. We now bring five teams together for Dodge, so that opportunity was sensational for me. Ray's a great guy and we both love to race and love to win.
"Ultra Motorsports is always what I've been known by. I own Ultra Wheel Company out on the west coast and Smith doesn't have much pizzazz to it. Everybody knows Ultra is me.
"I see all the potential in the world with Casey Atwood. He's been set back a little bit, and I think he's got the bit between his teeth, and I think he wants to prove that he can do it. I think also he was under a lot of pressure with Ray. Think what Ray brings to the table. Of course the pressure from Dodge and top teams, high profile and a 20-year-old kid. That's a pressure cooker. I think he feels more relaxed with us. We're a little looser. We take winning very seriously, but Ray is a very regimental person and a very intense individual and tends to apply a lot of pressure on everybody around him because he is so intense. That's also what makes him so good. I just feel that Casey feels a little more relaxed and not under the microscope with us. I believe we'll win races this year with that young man.
"I live in Southern California. In the near future I'll probably be moving to North Carolina in the near future. I've got a very large business in California which is my main stay of income. There's nothing I'd rather do than sell that here in the near future and just race. I've been in the wheel business 37 years. That's all I've ever done. I've made a good living at it. It's treated me very well, but I've got my race team as a business now, and it certainly supplies me with income. Regardless, I just love to race.
"I drove off road. I've won three Baja 1000s. I won the Baja 2000. I've won championships. I was an off roader. That's actually how the truck series got started. Me and three other guys who were off road racers wanted to race trucks somewhere other than the desert. We created that series. I've been around NASCAR since I was 12 years old.
"I used to go spend my summers with Junior Johnson during the Cale Yarborough-Darrell Waltrip days. I always remember the look on everyone's face when that No. 11 would roll into a race track. They'd say 'we've got to beat that car today.' That's the way my truck teams are right now. They know when the No. 1 and No. 2 trucks roll in, they're going to have to beat those two trucks. That's what we're striving to do in Winston Cup. It's a tough league. This is the toughest racing in the world. You can talk about Formula One, you can talk about anything you want. You've got 43 of the world's best drivers and 43 of the best cars in the world starting every Sunday. It's an elite group. When you start looking at two tenths making the difference between fifth and 45th, that's big.
"If opportunity arises, I brought Jason Leffler in with me, and I kind of raised Jason as a kid. He was from Southern California. ASE and Ultra Wheels sponsored him and won championships with him in Silver Crown and Midgets and Sprint Cars. He's kind of back home now with ASE and myself. I've got to get this one going, but if sponsorship were to come around, nothing would stop us from having four cars. I've got two of the best young kids in the world. Being an old man like me, they just give me lots of enthusiasm by just being around him.
"With a more mature, I think Jason would have done better last year in Winston Cup. Tony Glover and Sterling Marlin have worked together forever. It's chemistry. When you get that chemistry right. Look at Ray and Jeff Gordon, well, there's not a lot of Jeff Gordon's in the world. He's a sensational driver. I think Casey wants it. He's young. Think about being 21 years old and making the money they make. The thing he's got to know is you're only as good as you were yesterday. We're in the performance business, and if we don't perform we're not going to be in business. That's as simple as it is.
"With Dodge this year and with Ray and with all the help we have, we're really looking to build a relationship. Sharing the information between Jeremy and Bill and our team is great. We're an open book with each other. Even though we operate separately, we run our race team the way we want to run it, but we use all the information and talent we can and try to build a stronger team every day with the amount of engineering that's going into it. We've already been to the wind tunnel more this year with Dodge than we did all last year and we were buying our own wind tunnel time last year. Those things really make a difference.
"Sirius called our marketing people the day before Christmas. They had a little bit of money, and we got to talking. Now we've got a great sponsor for two years with a couple of options on the contract. You talk about coming together in the last minute. With the economic times we're in right now, it's just so tough. People are laying off, and it's hard to go out and justify spending more money and more expense when you're in tight economic times. We've got two years of solid income to build this team and it should become a top 20 team sponsorship.
"Kevin Cram is our crew chief, and he was in the truck series with Ron Hornaday. We have Kevin and Buddy Barnes, and Buddy is a veteran. They kind of co-exist. Kevin is the crew chief and is in charge of the car, and Buddy takes care of all the stuff nobody else wants to do. His job is to make sure these kids don't do anything wrong. He sees stuff that young kids don't see. The two of them have been working perfect together. Kevin is good. He's highly underestimated. We're going to write a cookbook, and if you cook that steak the way we tell you we're going to be OK. The day of the crew chief with the black book is not there today. Engineers and wind tunnels have taken away that mystique. It's what you learn on a day-to-day running, and follow the rules and you're either good or not good. Crew chiefs today have to pay attention to detail, make sure you don't leave anything at home. Preparation, no mistakes, and it's pretty simple after that.
"I personally have found it exciting working with Ray. We announced our sponsor in Las Vegas at 9:30 on a Monday morning. We had dinner with another company that night and at 3:30 in the morning we were in Detroit. We had three gigs in 24 hours in three different time zones. Ray is a guy who's on the go all the time. He's a great time. He lets us do our things, and he's there for support and guidance when we need it. Eventually our goal is in the new shop he's putting together, we'll build chassis and hang bodies. That's kind of how we do our trucks now. I believe that's the key to double teams or triple teams.
"Dodge has taught me that the one-team approach really works. Everybody working together and then we'll race each other at the race track. Racers are very selfish. We're not good sharers. I learned last year in the truck series that that pays huge dividends. Nobody wants to share, especially when you're on top and nobody wants anything if you're not.
"We had a motor problem here on Friday. We came down here and tested very well. We should have been in the top 10. We ran a 49.11 testing with a lot left under the hood. We came here and were off a second. We changed motors after practice and picked up three tenths. If we'd had the right motor in Friday, I think we could have been even better in qualifying. It would have put us in the top 15, and I think that would have been very respectable. We're 28th, but we were 46th when we left here Friday night. We knew the car was good. The motor was good on the dyno. It just wasn't good on the race track.
"Everybody is knew. I have maybe five guys left over from last year. Because of the economic times, a lot of people are available right now. These guys in the shop are ripping off 13.7 and 14.2 pit stops in practice. They're getting it done. We hired a pit crew coach. He does nothing but work with all three teams (two trucks and Cup). Ultra Motorsports is not the 1, it's not the 2 (trucks) and it's not the 7. It's all three of them. We do a lot of working together. Last year when we were struggling in Cup racing, we were winning every weekend in the trucks and I couldn't hit my heiny over here. We do the same thing. We made some changes in drivers at the end of the year and almost won Sears Point with Robby Gordon. Kevin Lepage did a good job for us, and we started running really good. We just needed some fine tuning and a good driver. We're excited about Casey.
"I'm excited about the crew. I'm excited about what we've got going on. I think you'll see us coming together this year. We want to win a race this year. Last year I didn't have that goal and almost won one. I said if we won one last year it would be a mistake or a miracle. I'm a realistic guy. I feel that we should have half a dozen top fives this year and 10 or 15 top 10s. Those are some of the goals we set. I want to be in the top 20 in points at the end of the year."