Jimmy Elledge Offered New Deal on Kenny Wallace Car

HARRISBURG, N.C., (Jan. 11, 1999) - Minor league baseball players dream of the day when the phone rings in their manager's office and it's the parent ball club calling them up to "The Show" - the major league. Excitement and anxiety...

HARRISBURG, N.C., (Jan. 11, 1999) - Minor league baseball players dream of the day when the phone rings in their manager's office and it's the parent ball club calling them up to "The Show" - the major league. Excitement and anxiety pulses through the rookie's veins, for he knows very well what is expected of him. Back in September of 1998, Jimmy Elledge, a 28-year-old Redding, Calif., native, got the call to come up to "The Show." The man on the other end of the phone was NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner Andy Petree, offering him the job of crew chief for his newly created second team. In 1999, Elledge steps up to the plate with Square D Chevrolet driver Kenny Wallace. Despite his rookie status, he knows exactly what is expected of him as crew chief for a Winston Cup team. "Everybody's goal is to win," said Elledge. "I want to see this race team become consistently competitive to where every time that car hits the race track, everyone in the garage area has a stopwatch on it. If we can build that competitiveness week-in and week-out, success will come." At 28, Elledge is indeed young, but he's certainly not alone. He joins a host of young gun crew chiefs in the Winston Cup garage. Andy Graves, crew chief for two-time Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte, is 29 years old. Ryan Pemberton, crew chief for driver Ernie Irvan, is 30. Frank Stoddard, crew chief for driver Jeff Burton, is 31. And Greg Zipadelli, crew chief for 1999 Rookie of the Year contender Tony Stewart, is also 31. "There's going to be a network of us younger guys," said Elledge, "and that's a good thing. When Andy (Petree) was at RCR (Richard Childress Racing), he was an established crew chief, but at the same time he was still on the up- and-coming level, as was Ray Evernham (crew chief for Jeff Gordon). He and Ray communicated a lot, but I just don't feel that I can go up and ask Ray Evernham about something. "Greg, Ryan, Andy - all are good friends of mine. We need to stick together because the old guys are kicking our butts right now. We need to get up to speed so that eventually we're the people that the young guys are afraid of." Getting up to speed is no easy task, but his relative youth notwithstanding, Elledge has a wealth of experience and knowledge to pull from. From racing quarter-midget go-karts in 1984 before transitioning into street stocks and then late model stock cars, a prospective driving career is what brought Elledge to North Carolina. His first job in Winston Cup came in 1992 when he joined RCR and driver Dale Earnhardt. In 1993, Elledge met his current boss, Andy Petree, when Petree took over the crew chief reins from the departing Kirk Shelmerdine. From 1993 to 1995, Elledge and Petree worked together on Earnhardt's signature black Chevrolets. During that time, they enjoyed the spoils of back-to-back Winston Cup championships in 1993 and 1994, along with a total of 15 victories. Those three years were pivotal ones for Elledge, for it showed Petree that this kid from California had what it took to be a Winston Cup crew chief. "At first, I thought he was just another kid who had been hired," said Petree. "But the more we got going, I would have a challenge for him and he would be able to handle it. He had a lot of expertise in a lot of different areas. For a young guy, he had done a lot and learned a lot. He's smart, he's sharp and he's got my same sense of urgency. He gets things done. He's got the same personality that I do." During his tenure at RCR, Elledge worked his way from general mechanic to fabricator and then to car chief and tire changer before leaving at the end of the 1997 season to pursue a crew chief job with a NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division team. Elledge started the 1998 season as crew chief for Busch Series upstart Jeff Krogh and his family-owned operation. While there were some positives such as a 20th place qualifying effort at Daytona's season-opener and a fifth place finish at Texas, the chemistry wasn't right. After a sixth month tenure, Elledge left the Ingle Hollow, N.C.-based team. "It tore me up that I couldn't get the results that I wanted to," said Elledge. "But it prepared me for a lot of things that I wouldn't have been ready for as a crew chief at Andy Petree Racing. It was an extremely valuable learning experience." The five-car Winston Cup stable of Roush Racing quickly picked up Elledge upon his departure from Krogh's team. He acted as shop foreman for the No. 6 and No. 99 teams of Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, respectively, while serving as front tire changer for Martin on race day. When the call came from Petree to be the crew chief for Wallace, Elledge knew that the time was right to reunite with his former boss at RCR. "I hated to leave Jack (Roush)," said Elledge. "Everyone over there had been really good to me. But when I sat back and asked myself, 'This (being a crew chief) is where Jimmy Elledge wants to be, so how is he going to get there?' I knew what the answer was." Starting a race team from scratch is a huge undertaking, but it's one Elledge welcomed. "When I came to work here, Andy said here's the budget, here's what I want you to spend on salaries, here's what I'd like you to have for people, and here's the number of cars I want you to have. Here's the keys. Now have at it," recalls Elledge. "To be part of this deal from the ground up has been a lot of fun. I've painted the floors of the shop. I've painted the walls. I've spent three months putting the building together with just a vision of how I'd have my own Winston Cup team." Shared vision is a strong commonality between Elledge and Petree. Ironically, both became crew chiefs at age 28. And the work ethic that the two employ to meet their own high-standards are astoundingly similar. "I was kidding around with him the other day about how the two of us are so alike," said Elledge. "I started out as a mechanic, and once I did that, I wanted to become the best mechanic. Then once I did that, I wanted to fabricate. I learned all I could about fabricating. Then I wanted to be the best fabricator. I kept moving on and on. Andy's the same way. He told me that once he accomplished his goal of being a championship crew chief, he wanted to become a car owner. Once he became a car owner, he wanted to own multiple teams. So, I asked him if that meant I could eventually buy all this stuff from him for the same amount of money that he bought it from Leo (Jackson, former owner of Leo Jackson Motorsports who sold Petree his team in 1996). He said that we'd have to talk about that in about 10 years." Place your bets that 10 years from now, that conversation will occur.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Ernie Irvan , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kenny Wallace , Andy Petree , Ray Evernham , Mark Martin