Martinsville One Year Later for Little

Little enjoys growth of son and career MARTINSVILLE, Va. (April 15, 1998) One year ago, Chad Little drove to Martinsville Speedway for the Goody's Headache Powder 500 by himself, reluctant to leave his wife Donna and 3-day-old son Jesse behind...

Little enjoys growth of son and career

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (April 15, 1998) One year ago, Chad Little drove to Martinsville Speedway for the Goody's Headache Powder 500 by himself, reluctant to leave his wife Donna and 3-day-old son Jesse behind in their Charlotte, N.C., home.

Though overjoyed by the birth of his first son, Little's fortune at the Virginia short track turned sour after an accident on lap five forced him to limp to a 42nd-place finish, a finish that was unfortunately characteristic of the first half of his 1997 season.

Little knew his life would never be the same after Jesse's arrival. Late nights, early mornings, empty bottles and dirty diapers would be the norm. What the 34-year-old John Deere Ford driver didn't expect was a complete reversal in his team's on-track performance.

Before baby Jesse can speak his first words, Little's team has matured from a struggling first-year NASCAR Winston Cup operation that swapped positions near the back of the field to a front-running member of Jack Roush's powerful five-car Ford stable.

How does Little explain the transformation? Next to pure hard work, Little points to the nurturing, guidance and maturity his team has been blessed with since joining Roush Racing's fold last August.

"When I think back to last April," Little said, "I remember how excited and nervous I was about having Jesse in our lives. With a baby on our hands for the first time, I wanted everything to be perfect for him so he could grow up and develop with all the attention and support he needed.

"I think Jack Roush must have felt the same way about taking our team under his wing at the end of last season. Like a proud parent, Jack's given us all the tools we need to bring our program up to a competitive level."

In its eight months of existence, Little's John Deere Roush Racing team has recorded an impressive growth spurt. In 17 races under the Roush banner, Little has chalked up eight top-20 and three top-10 finishes. Little's average finishing position improved from 33 to 15, he's led 66 laps, and just last week, he recorded his first second-place finish of his career chasing Roush "big brother" Mark Martin to the checkered flag at Texas Motor Speedway.

"Sometimes it can be more of a sibling rivalry than brothers helping each other out," Little said of his Roush brethren Martin, Jeff Burton, Johnny Benson and Ted Musgrave. "We really do try to help each other out where we can, and as one of the newer drivers on the team, I look to the others for advice and guidance. That's the positive side of being on a multi-car team.

"But when it comes right down to it, we're all shooting for the same target. We all want to win and the only way to do that is to pass the guy in front of you. If he happens to be a teammate, that just makes it a little more interesting. In the end, we all show each other the same amount of respect on the race track. When you compete at this level, you've earned that respect from your competitors, teammate or not."

As the No. 97 team continues to evolve, Little is sure his competitors will see a lot more of his John Deere green Ford at the front of the field.

"It's put a smile on my face watching Jesse grow over the last year right along side our race team," he said. "I'm not sure who's changed more, Jesse or me. We've both got a lot of growing to do yet, and I know we've got some big things in store for us. We're both lucky to have some really great people watching out for us."

Though Roush Racing has no plans to expand Little's racing family any time soon, the Little family itself will expand by one member for next season. Chad and Donna expect a "teammate" for Jesse to arrive in October.

"I'm really going to have to run up front then," Little said, "Just to pay the bills."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Johnny Benson , Ted Musgrave , Chad Little , Jack Roush , Mark Martin