Hmiel Out At Roush Racing

Hmiel out at Roush Racing By Dave Rodman LIBERTY, N.C. (Sept. 1, 1998) Steve Hmiel, the New York native who was one of Jack Roush's first employees when the Michigan motorsports entrepreneur began his NASCAR stock car operation in...

Hmiel out at Roush Racing By Dave Rodman

LIBERTY, N.C. (Sept. 1, 1998) Steve Hmiel, the New York native who was one of Jack Roush's first employees when the Michigan motorsports entrepreneur began his NASCAR stock car operation in the fall of 1987, was released today by Roush Racing as the general manager of its two-team facility here. Hmiel's duties also included the crew chief role for the No. 26 Cheerios Ford Taurus driven by Johnny Benson.

A Roush Racing release said Harry McMullen, a long-time employee of Roush Industries, would take over Hmiel's general manager duties, which include overseeing operation of the No. 26 as well as the No. 16 PRIMESTAR Ford driven by Kevin Lepage.

Ben Leslie, who has been Benson's car chief on the No. 26 this season, will act as interim crew chief, beginning at this weekend's Pepsi Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. James Ince remains as the crew chief of the No. 16.

"We felt that a change of management at that level was the best way to insure immediate progress and to cement our long-term success with the 16 and 26 teams," Roush said in the release. "Harry has been with me for many years and has demonstrated the mechanical ability and leadership skills I believe will help the level of competition in Liberty rise."

"It's a high pressure business we're in, isn't it?" Hmiel said when reached by phone. "It's certainly been a good 11 years and seven days, and it was good for me, for Jack Roush and Mark Martin -- we had a lot of success ..."

But in the face of one team's success, sometimes everyone else is seen as something less, and it's a known fact that Roush Racing can be a crucible of pressure.

"Jack and I sat down this morning," Hmiel said. "We have been extremely frustrated, and Jack's expressed his frustration and I have sat down and talked with him on numerous occasions. For the sake of his business Jack needs his stuff to be running better and as a lifetime racing mechanic who is trying to maintain a career I need to do better.

"Basically, we came to the conclusion at the same time -- as people who have dealt with each other for the amount of time that we have can -- that we needed to do something else."

The decision was sudden enough that Martin, who was at a Goodyear tire test at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Tuesday, said he was unaware of the move.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Martin said when asked for his reaction to the move. "I've been at the track and that's the first I've heard about it."

Hmiel was one of Roush's first hires when he decided to branch out from his core businesses of automotive engineering and sports car racing to go NASCAR, along with Martin and fellow New York state native Robin Pemberton.

Hmiel had worked with Martin's team in some capacity up until last season, when he gave up his day-to-day crew chief duties to assume general manager responsibilities of both the No. 16 car and Martin's team. This year, when Martin and Burton moved into a new shop in Mooresville, N.C., Hmiel again added active crew chief duties, this time on Benson's car, to his resume.

So far this season, in 22 starts Benson, who is 19th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings, has three top-five and eight top-10 finishes, with winnings of $970,721. He finished the 1997 point standings in 11th but had only eight top-10s the entire year.

After starting the 1998 season by failing to qualify for the Daytona 500, Benson scored seven top-10 finishes in the next 10 races as he clawed back into the top-20 in points. Since then the team has been somewhat stagnant, with an average finishing position of 26.17 and only one more top-10 finish, ninth in the Bud at the Glen at the Watkins Glen road course.

"If we knew what was wrong, you know the whole crowd would've stood up and said 'let's go fix it,'" Hmiel said. "The guys worked hard and Johnny's drove the wheels off the car, but the results just haven't been there.

"We didn't know if the chemistry was wrong -- the mix just wasn't right. Jack's got his ideas on how to fix it and I've got mine, but somehow they have to fix 'em."

The 16 car has experienced its share of turmoil this season. After more than four years with Roush Racing, Ted Musgrave was released as the driver of the PRIMESTAR Ford earlier this season after posting one top-five finish and four top-10s in 20 starts in 1998. The team is currently 17th in the series car owner point standings.

Hmiel said he had no idea what he would do next since making a next step was not under consideration prior to Tuesday.

"I'm OK," he said, displaying the same heads-up cheerfulness you could expect on a day-to-day basis. "I've been extremely well-paid while I've been with Roush Racing and I have a wonderful financial package in place after today.

"I feel there a pretty good shot that there's a place for me somewhere in this so-called sport of auto racing."

For his part, McMullen is anxious to get going in his new role.

"To say that I'm excited to have this opportunity is an understatement," McMullen said. "I have been with Jack for many years and I'm really happy to be able to take on a management role that will let me continue to work with some of the best people in NASCAR. I'm looking forward to this."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kevin Lepage , Johnny Benson , Ted Musgrave , Jack Roush , Mark Martin