The boss is back in town Ultra Motorsports owner Jimmy Smith discusses a variety of topics, including the possibility of a two-car operation, his expectations of the No. 7 SIRIUS Racing Team, and the recently developed rivalry with Jack Roush in...
The boss is back in town
Ultra Motorsports owner Jimmy Smith discusses a variety of topics, including the possibility of a two-car operation, his expectations of the No. 7 SIRIUS Racing Team, and the recently developed rivalry with Jack Roush in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (July 16, 2003) - Psssst. Everyone clean up your workstations. The boss is here.
It's Tuesday at Ultra Motorsports, and the man who owns this plush facility and all the cars and trucks inside it has just walked through the front doors. It's been over a month since Jimmy Smith was last here, certainly not unusual. He lives in California and spends his weekdays at his thriving company, Ultra Wheels, in the Los Angeles suburb of Buena Park. He leaves the responsibility of his North Carolina race shops in the hands of several people--primarily Eddie Thrapp, Vicki Bovaird, Timmy Kohuth and his crew chiefs. Even then there is no doubt who's in charge, for Smith is always a phone call away. What he can't answer over the phone can be answered at the race track. He rarely misses a race.
This week, however, the wheel company has been functioning without the presence of its top dog. Following the Chicago race Smith flew his NASCAR Winston Cup race team to Indianapolis for a two-day test session (yes, he is an exceptional pilot), and he stayed there all day Monday. He then flew to Mooresville to check in on his racing operation. Once this weekend rolls around he'll fly to St. Louis for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race and then to Loudon, N.H., for the Cup event. New Hampshire International Speedway will host the New England 300 on Sunday (1:30 p.m. EDT on TNT), and Smith expects his No. 7 SIRIUS Racing Team to put on a good show. But that's all this weekend. Right now he has other things on his mind.
"Pssst. Is he in a good mood? Can you tell?"
The common joke around Ultra Motorsports is there are three Jimmy Smiths. You've got James, the casual nice guy who can laugh and smile while keeping his sense of authority. There's Jimmy, the happy-go-lucky guy who tells hilarious racing stories and picks up the dinner bills for everyone he knows and even some he doesn't know; and then there's Jim, the guy who is, shall we say, vocally perturbed. (Crew chief Tommy Baldwin's impersonation of "Jim" is a classic.)
On this day, "James" walks through the doors, and he's making the most of his short time here. He's handling some business, making his rounds, and touring some friends through the facility. He's casually dressed and wearing a smile. But through his informal and lighthearted demeanor, you can tell there's a lot on his mind. So what better time to sit down and talk with him than now?
Chatting with Ultra Motorsports owner Jimmy Smith:
Q: As we prepare for the 19th race of the season, what are your thoughts right now of your No. 7 race team?
JS: "Obviously we've had our ups and downs this year, but that's something we expected, because the people we assembled here are working together for the first time. We had a pretty good run going at the first part of the season, then we had three or four bad weeks right in a row. I see us starting to get back into the groove. Tommy is doing a fantastic job, and so is Jimmy."
Q: Tommy said last week the one positive thing about having a stretch of bad races (the No. 7 Ultra team finished no better than 29th the entire month of June) is that it made the team search harder and deeper for answers, whereas you wouldn't necessarily do that if you were recording just average finishes. Do you agree with that?
JS: "I don't think there is any question about it. Let me tell you something, there's no one in this world who hates running in the back worse than I do. It's sickening. But when it happens, you've got to figure out a way to fix it, so you dig. When the results are still not there, you dig deeper. If they're still not there, you dig even deeper. We're going to keep digging and digging until we get it all figured out. Take Indy (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) for instance. We took four cars to the test this week at Indy. If those four cars are not right, then we're going to keep building cars until they are right. Just now we're getting our inventory turned around. We've been in a building mode for the past six months, so we're just now getting caught up. Now, we can start building cars to make them better than the ones we've got."
Q: What are your expectations in the final 17 races?
JS: "I'm looking forward to going back to some of the tracks we've done well at this year, because I think we can do better this time. My expectations of the people at Ultra Motorsports are to do the best they can, keep getting better and never make excuses. Don't come to me with problems or excuses. I want solutions and results. I expect the people at Ultra Motorsports to support what we're doing here; support our crew chief and support our driver. The thing that will make this team excel is if it remains unified. Negative comments and bad attitudes can crumble a race team, and I won't stand for it with mine. The thing I love about this team is we have fun. We get along, and we work together. Tommy and Jimmy are on the same page, they communicate well and together they make things happen. Like any new team, we should do better the second half of the season, because of what we've learned. You realize what you've done right, you realize what you've done wrong, and you take what you've learned and improve."
Q: In your opinion, what have we done right and wrong?
JS: "We've had races where we've run extremely well and had chances to win. You can't get any more 'right' than that. We had some bad luck in those races, and it cost us. We didn't go out there and lose it ourselves. At Bristol we were the class of the field, but the racing gods weren't kind to us and a caution flag came out right after we had made a green-flag pit stop. It's frustrating, but it's nonetheless a common thing that happens in our sport, so you just shrug your shoulders and move on. Recently we haven't been running as well. We tested well at Michigan, then went there the next week and were awful. Realizing that, we know we've got to spend a great deal of time testing at places like Kentucky, because we've obviously got to catch up to speed at those intermediate tracks."
Q: The million dollar question after Michigan was how can you test so well and then race so poorly at the same track the very next week. What is the answer to that?
JS: "At Michigan it was a temperature change. But don't underestimate the importance of that test. It's not like we're going to throw those notes out the window since we ran poorly in the race. We learned a lot in that test, and it will certainly be applied when the racing conditions are more identical to that weekend. But testing is a tricky game, and it sometimes doesn't pay off immediately. An example of that is the DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) team. DEI had a fourth entry (the No. 81 car driven by Busch Series regular Jason Keller) last week at Chicago. Those guys tested for two solid days at Chicagoland Speedway with fairly decent results, but still couldn't make the race. That tells you how difficult it can be."
Q: Ultra will have a second entry for the Brickyard 400 with the No. 07 Dodge driven by Ted Musgrave (who regularly drives Ultra Motorsports' No. 1 Mopar Dodge in the truck series). Is that something we could see more of this year?
JS: "I don't know; we'll see. Something everyone ought to know about Ultra Motorsports is that we love to race. It doesn't matter when, where, or what kind of racing it is. We're not here to make a buck, or to look fancy. We're here because we love going faster than the next person. We've got two truck teams that are among the best week in and week out, and we've got a Cup team that, this year, is starting to do the necessary things to be that good. If we have a chance to put another car on the race track, then we'll do it because we love to race. I thought we did well having Ted Musgrave at the Indy test this week. We had two different teams doing two different things and then comparing the notes. Ted actually ran quicker than Jimmy (on Tuesday) with a (lap of) 49.90 (seconds)."
Q: Then you would agree that two-car teams are better than one-car teams?
JS: "Sure. If nothing else, just having a research-and-development team. You learn twice as much, twice as fast."
Q: Let's talk trucks for a second. You've won three races this year in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (Musgrave has won twice and Jason Leffler once). The three wins had tied you with Jack Roush for the most wins in series history, but Roush has answered by winning the last two races. Is this a rivalry we can expect to flourish before this season is over?
JS: "I think the competition is great. I like to see Jack winning, because he's done so much for the truck series. I certainly don't like it that he's two up on me in all-time wins, but it's our job to do something about that. He's got great trucks, great young drivers, and I'm glad to see he's keeping his truck operation going for the rest of the year. I love the truck series more than you could ever know. It may not have those big Winston Cup names every week, but if you have a sincere appreciation for quality racing, the truck series is it. We've got two outstanding teams, and I couldn't be more proud of what they've accomplished. But we're still after that first championship, and right now we're in the mix of one of the closest points races I can remember. I want to win the championship this year, and I want to take the lead for the most wins. If those two things happen, I'll be a happy owner."
Q: If every member on the No. 7 SIRIUS team were standing in this room right now, what would you say to them?
JS: "I'd tell them I believe in them, and we're going to keep on trucking."