Tony Stewart and 'the name game'

ATLANTA (March 26, 2002) - If you've ever used a scanner to listen in on a race team's radio chatter, you've probably found that it's filled with a brave new world of vocabulary. From technical jargon such as "rebound" when referring to shocks...

ATLANTA (March 26, 2002) - If you've ever used a scanner to listen in on a race team's radio chatter, you've probably found that it's filled with a brave new world of vocabulary.

From technical jargon such as "rebound" when referring to shocks and "wedge" when referring to chassis adjustments to descriptive comments from a driver when he explains that his car is "pushy-loose" or "needs help up off," the words used to explain what is happening over the course of a race weekend seem to come out of left field.

And it's not just words attributed to the car that would make Merriam-Webster scratch its head, it's the words attributed to people, specifically, the crew members on The Home Depot Racing Team. To provide some insight, the following is a typical radio conversation between members of the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Team prior to a pit stop:

"Alright 'Smoke,' what can we do to help you?"

"Well 'Zip,' it's tight on entry but loose off. Some wedge probably wouldn't hurt."

"Okay, here's what we're going to do. 'Gooch,' I want two turns of wedge in the left rear. 'Shaggy' will hold your gas can while you make the adjustment. Get that thing filled up all the way because 'Woody' says we'll need all we can get to go the rest of the way. 'Scooter,' put those tires up against the wall and get 'Gumby' to help you. 'Spider' will get the windshield."

If you're lost on what "tight on entry" and "loose off" means, just tune into the next FOX broadcast and former crew chiefs Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond will certainly provide the answers you're looking for.

But if you want to know who "Smoke," "Zip," "Gooch," "Shaggy," "Woody," "Scooter," "Gumby" and "Spider" are, well, you've come to the right place. They're all nicknames. Some are simple, like crew chief Greg Zipadelli, whose nicknames "Zippy" and "Zip" are just takeoffs on his last name - same with engine tuner Chris "Woody" Woodward.

But some of the other names aren't so simple. Below are the nicknames of some prominent teams members, along with their real names, as well as how their nicknames came to be.

"Smoke" a.k.a. Tony Stewart - driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac

"It started in Sprint cars clear back in '91 when I was running USAC. I wasn't very good about not slipping the right rear tire, initially. So it started as 'Smoker,' then it got shortened to 'Smoke.' Then when I got in the IRL (Indy Racing League) it was 'Smoke' because one of the guys on the crew who was my roommate, and knew the nickname, carried it over to the Indy car team. But then when I started blowing engines, 'Smoke' really stuck. I've had it ever since."

"Gooch" a.k.a. Jeff Patterson - gas man on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac and motorcoach driver for Tony Stewart

"In '96 Tony (Stewart) drove for Harry Ranier in the Busch Series and I drove the truck. At the same time, Tony was driving for John Menard in the IRL. Tony's truck driver over in the IRL was Steve Gooch, and everybody called him 'Gooch.' That was his nickname. Well, Tony came over here and said that I looked like a 'Gooch' and that's why he started calling me 'Gooch.' It just started form there. Before my nickname was 'Hoss' and 'Big Dog' and whatever else people could come up with. 'Gooch' just stuck. Tony would always joke with me that he'd make me popular but he wouldn't make me rich. He was right. 'Gooch' is popular but he ain't rich.

"If I'm at the race track, and someone yells, 'Jeff!' I don't even turn around to look and see. But if I'm at home I'll turn right around. It's only at the race track where everyone who's involved with racing calls me 'Gooch.' People away from the track still know me as Jeff.

"You come in here and you work with everybody for so long, but there's so many new people that come along too that you can't remember everyone's name. You meet them once, and everyone gives each other a nickname because no one can remember each other's name. That's why there are so many nicknames in the garage area. I don't know anyone's real name in this garage area. For instance, I have no idea what 'Hollywood's real name is ('Hollywood,' a front tire changer on the #99 team of Jeff Burton, real name is Mark Armstrong). That's just seems to be the way it is here."

"Scooter" a.k.a. Scott Crowell - truck driver for the #20 Home Depot Pontiac

"How did 'Scooter' come to be? That's a good question. A couple of the places that I've been in the past there was more than one Scott, and this team is a perfect example. (The car chief is Scott Diehl.) I think it honestly came when I was with the Pettys. Robbie Loomis (crew chief at the time) was calling for one of us and he said, 'Hey Scooter, do you have a minute?' I looked around and realized that I was the only Scott standing there, so I figured that Scott must've meant Scooter. My infatuation with Harleys - I've had Harleys for a lot of years - so I think it came from a little of both - my real name and my love for Harleys. The first time I remember it being used was my days at Petty Enterprises and I've got to thank Robbie Loomis for that.

"It just kind of stuck. It wasn't an obnoxious nickname. It was kind of fitting with the name Scott and my love for motorcycles. Then everybody who drives the trucks has a nickname or a handle, if you will, and 'Scooter' just kind of fell in line with something everyone could associate me with.

"We all seem to have some sort of nickname, so much so that we don't know what some people's real names are. I remember getting everyone's firesuits laid out when I first came here, and for the longest time I never knew 'Shaggy's' real name. I was getting the firesuits organized and I saw this one for Larson, and I thought, 'Who the hell is Larson?' I finally picked it up and realized that the firesuit was about six-foot six and figured that it must be 'Shaggy's.' I laugh about it, but I think there's a handful of guys at the shop that probably don't know my real name just because everyone answers to a nickname. And I know there's a handful of guys at the shop that I don't truly know their real name because they were introduced to me as 'Shaggy' or 'Troll' or this or that or whatever.

"It's kind of unique that everybody has their own nickname, but I think that's true for the entire garage area. Every team in here has a bunch of guys with nicknames. When we're loading stuff up at the end of the day and I see other guys loading there stuff up too, very rarely will you call them by their real name. If someone yells 'Scott!' in the garage area I won't even turn around, because I don't think anyone really knows my real name. It's like when 'Zippy' gets on the radio and says, 'Hey Scott, come up on the pit box.' I know for a fact he's not talking to me, because I don't know that Greg has ever called me Scott. I'm sure for that instance there's a hundred more like 'em right here in this garage."

"Shaggy" a.k.a. Brian Larson - catch can man on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac

"It started back in '93 when I was working for Joe Nemechek's Busch Series team. I had a goatee at the time, instead of the beard I've got now. Some guy who worked with Cale Yarborough's team - I can't remember his name - gave me 'Shaggy.' It fits. I mean, I'm tall and skinny and I do kind of look like Shaggy, even if I don't have a dog named Scooby."

"Spider" a.k.a. Chris Gillin - mechanic on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac

"Back when I worked on Sprint cars, when I was about 15 or 16 years old, we used to have a two-story shop. It wasn't really two stories, it was more of a shop on the bottom floor, a paint booth above that, and above the paint booth was where we kept all the tires. With Sprint car tires, you can carry eight to ten of 'em at a time using both of your arms. The original name that came up was 'Spider Monkey,' because I had to climb up and down this ladder with all these tires on my arms. Then it became 'Spiderman,' and then it just became 'Spider.'

"The machinist at our shop, Doug Shaak, he's the one that got me down here and got me my job with Joe Gibbs Racing. And he always knew me as 'Spider.' Everyone in the shop knows me as 'Spider,' and if someone yells 'Chris!' in the garage area, I don't pay any attention - unless it's my wife."

"Gumby" a.k.a. Danny Heidtke - assistant truck driver for the #20 Home Depot Pontiac

"I got 'Gumby' from watching Saturday Night Live years ago when Eddie Murphy was on - back in the '80s when it was good. I'll never forget him in that big, green suit saying that he was Gumby. When I saw that, I kind of mimicked it, because I was young and dumb and having a good time. A few folks started calling me 'Gumby,' but then when I started driving a truck I needed a CB handle like everybody else had, and some of the other truck drivers started calling me 'Gumby' too so it really stuck. No one ever calls me by my real name anymore because it's been 'Gumby' for the last 15 or 16 years."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Tony Stewart , Joe Nemechek , Robbie Loomis , Eddie M , Cale Yarborough
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing