MOORESVILLE, N.C. (July 28, 1999) * Some guys just can't get enough of competition. When the No. 97 John Deere crew isn't traveling to one of the 34 races on the Winston Cup circuit they find time to bond outside of the race shop. For...
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (July 28, 1999) * Some guys just can't get enough of competition. When the No. 97 John Deere crew isn't traveling to one of the 34 races on the Winston Cup circuit they find time to bond outside of the race shop. For the past 15 weeks the John Deere Motorsports crew has been embroiled in a battle for the top spot of the Mooresville Recreational Department's Motorsports Softball League. For the 11-member team, Tuesday night's main event wasn't held on a four-turn oval; rather, it took place on a four-cornered baseball diamond. At the end of the night the victorious John Deere/Roush Racing team didn't hoist the Winston Cup, but it was a championship trophy nonetheless.
The 12-week regular season saw the John Deere/Roush Racing team finish second, having lost only twice, with both losses coming at the hands of Dale Earnhardt Inc. To avenge those losses in the three-week double-elimination tournament that followed wasn't the team's primary focus, but as fate would have it, the two teams met Tuesday night in the final game. The marathon session had the John Deere crew playing three separate seven-inning games. First up was the Kranefuss Racing team, and after a 20-6 victory the John Deere team clinched the loser's bracket entry into championship game.
The John Deere team was shuffled into the loser's bracket late in the tournament after a loss to the DEI team, the only team to blemish the No. 97 team's regular season record. In order to win the league's championship, the John Deere crew had to not only win the loser's bracket, but also to defeat the winner's bracket team twice in one night.
The team consisting of Roush Racing crew members Dave Rush, Chris Webb, Scott Wood, Jeff Fabian, Jeff Hammond, Nick Bailey, Jeff "Junior" Paxton, Beau Paxton, Bobby Sada, Phil Cook and Chad Swim set aside time at the track early in the year to hone their skills, as most team members travel on the road three days a week.
The first championship game between John Deere and DEI went into extra innings with the John Deere crew finishing one run ahead, winning 15-14. The second and decisive game between Deere and DEI was another nail biter, with the No. 97 team again winning by just one run, holding off the DEI crew 11-10 to win the post-season championship.
"We started playing at 6:30 last night and didn't finish until nearly 11 o'clock," said Dave Rush, who traded in his catch can for a pitcher's glove. "That's about as long as some of the NASCAR races this season. The only difference was that we were in the driver's seat."
"It was a total team effort," said Chris Webb, first baseman and gas man for the John Deere Motorsports Ford. "We went against a team that beat us three times already, and the last time it put us in the loser's bracket of the tournament. Tonight in each game we were put into a must-win situation and through pure determination we came out victorious."
"Racing is how we make our livings and softball is an after work activity, but the bottom line is they are both games," said Wood, who is jack man on Sundays. "We had fun out there tonight and look forward to defending the post-season title next year. Who knows, maybe we can even win the regular season crown, too. This felt good, but it won't compare to the celebration we're going to have in Victory Lane when we get the John Deere Taurus there."
Jeff Hammond, crew chief of the No. 97 John Deere Ford and catcher, was quick to praise the crew for their extra-curricular activities.
"It's been a total team bonding experience," Hammond said. "This is not only a game but also a character building session. It doesn't necessarily transfer into bragging rights at the track, but rather, it helps the John Deere team prove to themselves that if we work together there isn't a lot we can't accomplish. Hopefully these guys can draw from that when we go to the racetrack and if we're ever in a situation where it looks we're beaten, these guys can look at themselves and say, 'We've faced adversity like this before and won.'" The John Deere crew has all weekend to savor its championship as the Winston Cup circuit has a rare off-weekend. Next on the schedule is the sixth annual Brickyard 400 to be held on Saturday, August 7.