Mike Skinner, Larry McReynolds Interview 99-02-23

Tuesday, Feb. 23, 1999. Winston teleconference featuring NASCAR Winston Cup points leader Mike Skinner and crew chief Larry McReynolds. Chevrolet notes and quotes. MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE:...

Tuesday, Feb. 23, 1999. Winston teleconference featuring NASCAR Winston Cup points leader Mike Skinner and crew chief Larry McReynolds. Chevrolet notes and quotes.

MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Following a fourth-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a sixth-place run last week at Rockingham, Skinner leads the NASCAR Winston Cup standings for the first time in his career. He'll carry a 29-point advantage over Rusty Wallace into next week's race at Las Vegas. "It's awfully early. I think this race team is up to the task of running for the Winston Cup points. I don't know if the driver is at this point. We're getting better every year. This is our third year in Winston Cup and we're excited. The last few times we've been to Rockingham we really struggled. The first time I went there with RCR we finished 12th, and that was our best at that point. We've really struggled since then. Larry McReynolds and all the guys really pulled together a good effort for us at Rockingham. I can't help but think the spoiler and the valence rules being adjusted a little bit helped our Monte Carlo a lot there. I managed tires an awful lot in the truck series, and you have to manage tires an awful lot in Winston Cup when you're at Rockingham, so we were fortunate enough to keep tires under the cars most of the day and we just came up a little bit short, but it was a good run for us compared to what we've been doing there. "This is the most awesome promotion (No Bull 5) I've ever been a part of or ever heard of. The great thing about being able to be fortunate enough to go out to Las Vegas and run for a million dollars is there's some lucky fan out there that's going to win a million dollars. That's a given. It's going to happen. That's a pretty awesome deal there, and it's just great that Winston puts something like that on for the fans as well as the drivers. We were fortunate enough to run well enough at Daytona to be a part of the No Bull 5. This is the second opportunity I've had at it. We're taking the car we won at Motegi with. It's a strong race car. It's my favorite car. We had our first top five with that car at Loudon. It's run pretty well at the flatter race tracks. With any luck at all, maybe we can pull it off. "We went to Rockingham with the goal of finishing on the lead lap with all the fenders on the car. We were lucky enough to pull that off. Vegas is one of those places we've really got high hopes for. We're taking our favorite race car out there. The guys in the engine shop have worked hard to get us some good horsepower for out there. They're pretty confident that we've got a little better engine than we had at Rockingham. We're taking the favorite car. It's been real good to me. We were fortunate enough to win Motegi, and it has a lot of characteristics of Las Vegas. The problem is there's 42 other guys out there that wants it just as bad as we do, maybe not just as bad, but they want it, too. We have to continue to have great pit stops, which this team has been awesome with pit stops. We need to have a little bit of racing luck, be there at the end, and hopefully our Lowe's Chevrolet can finish up front and collect that million dollars and maybe some lucky fan will appreciate it. "We still lack a lot of seat time at a lot of places, and we still have some race tracks that I struggle at. That's the key to the Winston Cup. That's where Mark Martin and Jeff and Dale Jarrett and some of the guys that just have a lot of seat time at these places, that's where they have the advantage because they don't have any race tracks that they struggle real hard at. If we can get runs like we did at Rockingham at two or three other places where we don't run well and then go to places like Las Vegas -- we struggled at Las Vegas last year, but it's one of my best race tracks. I was very competitive out there in the Craftsman Truck Series, and I feel very good about going to Las Vegas. I like the race track, and I like the area. As far as the points thing goes, it's awful early. You can't count points right now. We do have a good start to the year and we're really looking forward to going to Las Vegas. I think it's potentially one of our best race tracks. "I was a little bit concerned at Rockingham. I spent an awful lot of time in the dry and the warm. It was unfortunate we didn't get to run the Busch race, but it probably helped my health get back 100 percent. I feel good now. "Dale and I are both competitors and we both want to win. I think the stuff that looked like happened at Daytona was left at Daytona. I don't have any problem with Dale. He is my teammate, and if I can't win, I'd like to see him win. The rest of that stuff is up to Richard Childress to stay in there and make sure it's we, it's not us and them. It can't get to that. We have to be a team as a whole and then race each other at the end of the race just like anybody else, but Dale and I are OK. Everything is going to be fine. "I had an awfully fast race car (at Daytona). We'd had a fast race car all week. We felt we got outrun by Jeff Gordon not because he had a better car. We had as good a race car as anybody. I think the best race car on the race track was Rusty Wallace's. I think we had the second best race car on the track. We had track position and was in shape to do something and just couldn't get any takers. I think if anybody would have jumped up there on the outside with the 31 car, I feel confident in my mind that we could have gone to the front. He (Larry McReynolds) said a lot of things, but I can't repeat any of them. Larry was excited, naturally, just like myself. We were doing all we could do. He assured me that I don't have any friends. It came down to crunch time and nobody has teammates at crunch time. You have to do everything on your own and you have no friends out there right now. It's whatever you can do. It's every man for himself. I think that has bitten me two or three times in my restrictor plate racing, depending on people, but the only cars that worked with us unfortunately crashed out, so we didn't have any dancing partners down there toward the end. It was a situation where Jeff Gordon was fortunate enough to get out in front of us and then I wasn't there behind Dale to help push him by and he wasn't there to help push me by. We just got beat. "Our realistic goals for the 1999 season was to win a points race. That's our first and foremost goal. The second goal was to finish better in points. We would love to finish in the top 10 in points. We'd like right around in that area real close. Getting on the stage for a good top-10 points finish would be pretty awesome for this team in its third year. We'd be awful excited with that. I think anything above that right now would probably be a little bit unrealistic for me at this time, but you've got to take it one step at a time. You go to every race track and if the cards fall your way and you're fortunate enough to stay up there and race with them, it's the guy that's the most consistent that's going to be at the front at the end of the season. The upwards side, and this is Larry's words, is that everybody is pulling the rope in the same direction. We don't have any weak links in the 31 team right now. Everyone is working smart at the shop. When you work smart, you work less hours as a rule, and that's a good thing. We don't have torn up race cars right now. We're building new cars and we're making the existing cars better. Unlike my rookie year when I tore up everything I sat in, the guys spend all their times patching the stuff back up good enough to get it to the race track. You can't ever get an edge when you're just trying to get back to the race track. When you're in there and you can tweak on the fenders and you can work on the cold air boxes and do different things with the car to make the car better aerodynamically and downforce wise, then it gives you a little better edge when you get to the race track. Instead of patching up just to get there, you can kind of finesse your car a little bit. "Consistency pays off in these races, and we still need some seat time at some of these race tracks. Larry and I are still working on the communication between the driver, the chassis and the crew chief. Once we get those things kind of lined up, you've got to get all the suns and moons kind of lined up to have a good day, and that's what we're trying to do with this race team and this race car. We're working very hard at not out tricking ourselves. We went to very basic things on the car, no exotic pieces, no exotic setups. We're keeping everything real basic and working around that. At Rockingham, that was our best friend and it was our worst enemy. Best friend being we were fortunate enough to stay on the lead lap all day. Worst enemy, we were both afraid a drastic enough change to put that car in victory lane. There at the end with one of those 10 or 15-lap shootouts, if we would have had our car freed up, I feel like we could have got closer to the front. I don't know if we would have had anything for a couple of those Tauruses. I think we could have been a little better than where we finished, and that's a start. You have to put yourself in contention enough times and have the cards fall your way, and that's what our goal is right now. "My biggest improvement is if you've got a 20th place race car, chances are you're not going to finish 10th with it. Once you realize that and try not to get more out of the race car than what's there. Usually when you do that, you're around at the end of the day. And with any luck at all, there's some others out there that tried to get more out of the race car than they could have. If they were in front of you, you pass them when they have unfortunate things happen to them. I think that's probably my biggest improvement is just not trying to get more out of the race car than is there and to follow up on that is to help Larry make the car better and give good feedback so they know what adjustments to make and play a major part in the feedback as far as what I'd like to see on there. The more options they have to draw from, the better chance we have to get that Lowe's Chevrolet running good. "I'm sure you've heard this phrase many, many times. I'd love to be 21 and know what I know now. That's what Jeff Gordon is. He has the experience and he's young. He's got many years. I think he's going to break a lot of records in his career. Myself, being 41 years old, I'm probably not going to break many records. It's not too late to have a good career in Winston Cup racing. Harry Gant had a great career and he was 39 years old before he ever drove his first Winston Cup ride. So we have a lot to look forward to, and we still have a chance to win a Winston Cup championship before our career is over and win several Winston Cup races and represent our sponsor, like Lowe's and represent Richard Childress Racing in a manner they can be proud of us. I can't turn back time. If I could, I definitely would. I have a 21-year-old son that I try to tell that to every day. You can use my knowledge and my hard knocks to get you there a lot quicker. "It gives everybody a chance to get a breath of air. We can get ahead in the shop and get our next race car jam up and fine tune things and give everybody a little break. I don't think it's going to have anything to do with our momentum. I hope that don't bite me when I got to Las Vegas, but I honestly don't think time off is going to hurt us. "Richard and Bobby Hutchens, Kevin Hamlin, Larry and David Smith, they all constantly are trying to work together. One of the first calls when I got home the other night was from Bobby Hutchens. Him and Kevin Hamlin congratulated us on a good run at Rockingham because they knew how bad I'd struggled there. I think as far as teamwise goes, everybody is trying to get where we're pulling in the same direction. Anything they have they can help us with, they're trying to give us and vice versa. "The very first race we ran together, it was like we're not changing, we're struggling, we're terrible. He's still trying to learn my language and I'm still trying to learn his. It wasn't long after that, I think I was hurt a lot worse than I thought I was, we went out to Sears Point. We didn't end up with a real good finish, but we were running in the top 10 and we had a brake rotor break on the car and ended up having to finish the race under green without any front brakes. We really somewhere around that area started jelling together good. We got a top five at Loudon. He had a setup for the car, and I had a setup I wanted under the car. I went over there the second morning after qualifying and asked him what was under there, and he said exactly what you wanted. We went out there and we were competitive and we critiqued some things around it and ended up being fairly successful with it. We went back the next time with the same thing and it didn't work. I think we started getting a bond there and started getting confidence in each other's opinions. I think that's important. "It's chemistry. Sometimes you meet somebody and you're on the same wavelength and you have the same nature about yourself. Larry McReynolds is a racer through and through. I think what I needed at the time Larry came along was not only somebody who was a dedicated racer but also was a good sideline coach and someone who would kick me in the butt when I needed it and pat me on the back when I needed it. I think Dale and his experience with as many years as he's had in the Winston Cup ranks, he didn't really need that as much as he just needed somebody he could talk to about the race car and put the changes under there he wanted to and go on. Larry's style fit me a lot better. Kevin Hamlin is more laid back. That's what Dale needed. I think that swap was good for both teams. "I don't really have a name for that car. Most of our cars at RCR are numbered. It's hard for me to keep up with them. We've named cars in the past, and I'm sure this car will end up with a name. As a matter of fact, there's two or three names going around the shop for it because it won the Japan race. I think right now and the way we have to look at it every week, is our next race is our first opportunity to win our first Winston Cup race. If we were going to Darlington, I'd say the same thing I did when we went to Rockingham. I'd love to finish on the lead lap with the fenders. If you do that, you're going to be in pretty good shape. But we're going to Las Vegas and Las Vegas is a place I know I can get around good. I've got a ton of confidence in the race car, and I've got a ton of confidence in the race team. I'm really excited about going to Las Vegas. I think our chances are good there. "I think Kevin Hamlin and I had some awful good runs together. There's still a possibility this team would be in good shape. Larry has brought a ton of depth to this race team. Larry will tell you the same thing. It's not me. It's not Larry. It's not David. It's not any one person making this race team work. It's the whole team. From the gals in the office to Richard and Judy to everybody on this whole race team, everybody is pulling hard on this thing. I think you could replace me or Larry or anybody on this race team and that race team is still going to be successful. "Charlotte sticks in my mind. We worked so hard at Charlotte to try to make our car stay on the bottom of the race track. He just kept pounding that into my head. As soon as the race started, everybody started passing us on the outside. I was like 'oh my, we've been here for a week trying to figure out the bottom of this place and now it seems like the groove is on the top.' Larry said just stay in there with it and stay with what we'd been working with and it'll come back to us. The next thing you knew, those cars were coming back to us and we were passing them back. I think the hang in there with what got you there theory worked pretty good for us there and it did at Rockingham as well. We worked on getting a groove at Rockingham and we stayed there a lot longer than a lot of other cars did. We noticed the 24 was that way as well. We didn't win the race, but we came a long way from where we were at Rockingham. "100-1 and then I'd go bet everything on it. I really don't know. I'm not a bookie, so I really wouldn't know where to put our chances, but you've got to like the Taurus. You've got to like the downforce of the Fords. Jeff Gordon has been the upsetter of all that, but Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Jeremy Mayfield and Rusty Wallace, there are some good Taurus teams out there right now, and they have a lot of downforce. All I can say is we're going to do the best we can do with our Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and we're looking forward to getting our new race car because it's going to have more downforce. It'll be more comfortable on long runs than some of the other cars, but that's no excuse. That's just the situation the way I see it. I don't think I would put us right at the top of the chart, but I wouldn't count us out either. "We've got engineers that's able to concentrate on just what they were hired to do. Instead of a guy having to pack wheel bearings one day and having to work on front fenders the next. I think that's where the sport's going, and I think with everybody teaming together like that, I think everybody's chances are better. I'd lot rather have to race two or three other cars on the race track with the same stuff I do than to have everybody else on the race track have it and me not have it. I think it's definitely a plus. "I haven't had any checks bounce yet. I think Lowe's is a strong enough sponsor that they probably wouldn't have jumped into some water that was too deep to swim in. Lowe's is a first-class organization. They've treated me good. We're currently trying to work out a program that's good for the next three years with Lowe's and RCR and Mike Skinner. Hopefully we can pull that off in the near future. If those checks start bouncing, I'll call you back. "Richard Childress is the man. I've got great car owners. Richard and Judy Childress have really stuck with me at times that I might have thrown the towel in on myself if I would have been in their shoes. They did the same thing for Kevin Hamlin that they did for Larry McReynolds and that was give them the opportunity to gel with a driver and give them the right situation that would work. To answer your question, yet, I thank Richard very often. "He's very loyal. Before I even heard those rumors, he had called me and said, 'well, there's some rumors out and some media is taken and running with this thing a little bit. I just want you to know at this point in time it isn't true and you're my driver and you're going to be my driver and we're going to get through these hard times. We're going to do better.' That's pretty much the way it was put to me, so at that point in time I wasn't near as worried about it as I probably would have been had I heard it on the street. Also at the same time I had some opportunities come up with some other teams if something didn't work out for us. It gave me a lot of confidence that I would most likely be in Winston Cup racing for awhile and I would have a chance to prove myself as a Winston Cup driver and not get swept under the rug too quick. Things have worked out good with Richard and I, and I plan to be there a long time. "I don't know that he would want to start a new race team with a new pit crew and a rookie driver again. I don't know if he'd want to jump on that twice, but he did jump on it once and he's gotten through it. I think that Richard and I are going to have a lot of success together with this 31 team. Hopefully Larry McReynolds will be right there with us and share the success with us. I think Larry is a very big part of the success of this team, and David Smith and everybody on this team has pulled hard, so they all deserve credit. "Larry has been a great coach as well as a great friend and a great crew chief. Leadership has a lot to do with the success of a race team. Not just in the driver area, but the bond you have with your employees and your men and your crew. David and Larry both have been pretty darn sharp with that. You don't hear guys in the 31 shop walking around talking under their breath. If somebody has something to say, they come out and say it. If somebody has a problem, they work it out. Larry's reputation of being a slave driver, you don't hear that anymore. These guys want to work. They want to get it done. They want to get to the front. I think that's why we're going better."

LARRY McREYNOLDS (Crew chief No. 31 Lowe's Monte Carlo) "If I hadn't expected that, at the end of the ('98) season after being there two-thirds of the season, I would have said, 'Richard, this is not why I left Robert Yates at the end of '96 and moved to Welcome, N.C. I'm going to go on and do something else.' It didn't take me long being down there in that 31 shop to realize that it was there. It could happen. With that group that was down there and with Mike Skinner as the driver, it had all the ingredients coming into this '99 season to do good and have good finishes and win some races. I told a lot of people in the media the last time I remember feeling the fire in my belly, and I said this over the winter before we ever went to Daytona, the last time I remember feeling the fire in my belly that I feel right now about a race team and about a program probably goes all the way back to 1994 with the 28 car and Ernie Irvan. We had a third of the season under our belts from '93 going into the '94 season and you just knew it was there. I feel absolutely the same way about this 31 Lowe's team. "It's still in high gear. Myself and John Dangler out of Indianapolis, he's the president of Performance Marketing Group, we've actually formed a company and we call it Motorsports Performance Headquarters. We're pressing hard for the year 2000 to get this race team put together. John is probably putting 95-99 percent of the effort into it. I'm putting very little other than making phone calls at night, having dinners with people at night and signing papers here and there. That's the way we structured it. I made a commitment to Richard Childress and Mike Skinner and Lowe's and all the guys that they would get my undivided, totally focused attention for this '99 season. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to live up to that commitment until the checkered flag falls at Atlanta. Larry's been in it for 19 years. I've been very fortunate to work for some awesome car owners, Richard Childress currently, Robert Yates for a number of years, and he taught me a lot about winning. Kenny Bernstein, not the first car owner I worked for, but the first car owner that stuck his neck out and made Larry McReynolds a crew chief. I learned so much from those people about business, about life and about racing. I feel like if I can take that and incorporate into what I learned from all those guys, put it into owning a race team with John Dangler, then we're going to put a good program together. The thing I stressed, Larry McReynolds is not going to be a part of a new race team just to be there. We're going to be there only if it's the right program, the right deal with the right people and all the right elements and the right money. Not the right money for Larry, but the money to do this race team right. That's in high gear. Richard Childress and Mike Skinner are 100 percent aware of every move I'm making on this. That's the way I wanted it. I didn't want them to pick up a newspaper and read something about it. We're excited about it, but I'm very excited about this '99 with this Lowe's team. If we get this program signed within the next two or three months, and it's the right program, this would be my last season with Richard. I can't say we've set one (deadline). If we don't have this sponsorship signed by the end of May, then I'm going to have to start looking hard at what I really need to do here. If we can't get things going by then, it's going to be hard to be at Daytona Beach in January of 2000 testing competitive. I stress, we're not doing this just to have another race team to call ourselves car owners. We're doing it to try to win races and be competitive. I guess not that we've set a deadline yet. We have about 50 proposals out there on the table right now, 10 that we feel pretty good about, two that we feel like we are real close on. NASCAR has been very supportive because we sat down with them, the people in New York, and they like the concept that we're creating. You've got Larry McReynolds who has 19 years of racing experience. He's been around and hopefully done something for the sport. I'm going to keep my eye on that race team, the driver, the crew, what NASCAR is doing, making sure we dot every 'i' and cross every 't' there. John Dangler, who has almost 25 years of marketing experience, he's going to keep his eye on the business side, in particular the sponsor, making sure they're getting the bang for their buck and not just their name painted on the side of the race car. I would say with the relationship I've developed with the GM people and in particular the Chevrolet, I'd like to say it would be a Chevrolet, but we haven't determined that yet. I've talked to them at Chevrolet about the year 2000. "I don't really look at age. I just look at him as what type of driver he is and what he needs and what he's looking for. I worked with Mike periodically the first year and a half I was with Richard at different tests and stuff. Dale and him would swap cars and test and he'd drive ours or vice versa. Mike and I hit it off pretty good. It seemed like we had the same thinking structure. Really, when I moved down to the Lowe's team, it wasn't like I was going in there cold turkey. The biggest thing I think Mike and I have in common, we think a lot alike and the bottom line is we're going to do whatever it takes to be competitive and win races. That's the biggest thing we have in common. "What I've got to do is say to myself, 'self, you've been in this sport 19 years, you've worked 80-hour work weeks ever since you came into this sport. Look at your family. Look at your wife and your three kids and look at what's best for them and for you.' That's where I've got to keep my business hat on and say if we win the championship this year with Mike Skinner, it will obviously be one of the most rewarding things that's ever happened to Larry McReynolds. At the same time, I'm 40 years old and I've got to say, 'what's best for my wife and my three kids and their future?' And the years I'm planning on staying in it. I promise you Larry ain't looking for an easy way out. Probably now, instead of 70-hour work weeks, if I become 50 percent owner of one of these teams, I'm going to be working 140-hour work weeks, so I'm certainly not looking for the easy way out. I'm also looking out for the future of my family, and I think regardless of what kind of season we have with Mike and the Lowe's team, if the right deal, and I keep saying the right deal. I'm not just saying a half cocked deal that says Larry is a car owner. If it comes along, I've got to chase that because it's something we worked awfully hard on. "Mike and I have become good friends. I would like to think if I stayed with Richard and Mike went to drive for another race team next year or Mike stays with Richard and I do become the owner of my own race team, that Mike and I would still remain close friends. We spend a lot of time with each other. Like in Rockingham, he was there in his motorcoach by himself and I was in my motorcoach by myself. My wife and kids didn't come down. We got together Saturday night and sat around and talked about our race car and watched Roller Jam on TNN and talked some more about our race car. I would like to think that right now Mike is probably becoming one of my best friends. If I had a problem, a personal problem, I feel today I could go and talk with Mike about it, nothing to do with racing. I think that's so important with a driver and crew chief. I think that's what Ray and Jeff have going for them. I think that's what Todd Parrott and Dale Jarrett have going for them. I think that's what Jimmy Fennig and Mark Martin have going for them. You can't just be a driver and a crew chief that meet up with each other every Friday at the race track and walk away from each other at the end of the day and talk maybe once a week. It goes so much beyond that. I think that's what Mike and I have developed and I think that's why we shared some success because if we're talking to each other on the phone on Tuesday our conversion will get toward our race car and the next thing you know, we'll start talking about something that we do need to look at. I think that's so important. "It's flattering (to be leading points). I'm probably more flattered and thankful for the Lowe's 31 team being in the points lead for their very first time in its existence. I've been a part of being in the points lead, and I've been a part of chasing the championship down to the last race in Atlanta. Certainly it's a great position to be in, but being in the points lead after two races of a 34-race season is like leading the first 10 laps of a 500-lap race at Martinsville. You're tickled you've done it, but boy, we've just scratched it. Those guys are coming. Mark Martin had a bad race at Daytona, but he's coming. Jeff Burton had a bad race at Daytona, but he's coming. Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, obviously they bobbled at Rockingham, but they're going to be there and we know that. We've just got to take it one race at a time, one week at a time and do the things that happened to us in the first two races and not change our thinking structure."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Ernie Irvan , Dale Jarrett , Jeremy Mayfield , Rusty Wallace , Mike Skinner , Robert Yates , David Smith , Kevin Hamlin , Harry Gant , John Dang , Mark Martin