NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Arguably the most experienced crew chief in the NCTS, Roland Wlodyka (pronounced Wa-la-da-ka) spent 18 years in Winston Cup before joining the truck series in it's inception year of 1995. Wlodyka is probably ...
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Arguably the most experienced crew chief in the NCTS, Roland Wlodyka (pronounced Wa-la-da-ka) spent 18 years in Winston Cup before joining the truck series in it's inception year of 1995. Wlodyka is probably best known for hiring a kid by the name of Dale Earnhardt back in 1979 to drive for him at Osterlund Racing. Earnhardt went on the win the Rookie Of The Year award under Wlodyka's guidance and followed that up in 1980 with the first of his seven Winston Cup Series Championships. Today Wlodyka is teamed with another standout driver, 23-year old Kevin "The Kid" Harvick. On May 22, Wlodyka, Harvick and the Liberty Racing team had their streak of five top-10 finishes in a row snapped at I-70. They hope to start another steak this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Roland Wlodyka -98- Crew Chief Liberty Racing --HOW HAS THE 1999 NCTS SEASON GONE SO FAR FOR YOU AND KEVIN, THE TWO "NEW" GUYS AT LIBERTY RACING? "The season has gone very well for us. We've gone to every race ready and have done well at every race. The first two races we had some problems that were out of our control but other than that we're very happy. Last weekend at I-70, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot but we'll get over that and do well in the future."
THERE IS A BIG AGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND KEVIN. HOW IS THE RELATIONSHIP WORKING OUT? "I'm really surprised that it works as well as it does. I do understand him pretty well as far as what he needs and what makes him go fast. I think that I'm building a lot of confidence and maturity into him. Kevin is way ahead of his 23 years. He can push everything right to the edge. If you watch him on restarts, he will get to the start/finish line and shoot past the guy in front of him within just a few feet. He's really got a knack for doing that. I think that he has a great career ahead of him. You don't see that in your normal 23-year old driver. I've had guys that have been driving for 20 years that I've had to teach how to do certain things. Kevin is so ahead of his time. It's a pleasure to work with him. We haven't had to teach him all the basics. Our major obstacle has been to prepare the truck so that it will run well over the last 50 or 100 laps of the race and to know what the truck will feel like in practice to make that happen. That's probably the latest thing that we've been concentrating on. The rest of it, Kevin really does well all on his own. We've made great strides very quickly. We really work well together. That is surprising to me because I am a lot older than he is. But it's that old chemistry thing, if we both look at a desk, we both see a desk. He doesn't try to tell me that he sees a chair or something different. I think that our chemistry is really helping us. We have what it takes to win a championship here. I think the biggest challenge for us as a team is to keep our people up to making that next step and responding to the challenge. That will be the hardest part for us. As far as the driver goes, I see no reason why we can't win every weekend. Kevin is definitely a strong point for this team. You can have all the money and the best equipment in the world, but if you don't have somebody who can push the buttons on the track, you don't have a chance. And Kevin is very good at pushing all the right buttons."
KEVIN AND YOU HAVE THE SAME TYPE OF PERSONALITIES, VERY CALM AND BUSINESSLIKE. COMMENT ON THAT RARE SIMILARITY? "Well I'm obviously really into the whole racing thing and Kevin is too. He doesn't get excited about silly things. We all get excited if things aren't going right but for the most part we're both pretty serious and calm. He helps me out during the race. Kevin will say the right things at the right time. I'm not the kind of person that gets overly excited. In racing you have the highest highs and the lowest lows so you have to learn to deal with that. I just try to go down the middle of the line and not get too excited one way or the other. A win yesterday is yesterday, we're going on to tomorrow. That's how I look at it."
IN 1979, YOU HIRED DALE EARNHARDT TO DRIVE FOR OSTERLUND RACING. HOW DOES KEVIN HARVICK COMPARE TO EARNHARDT? "There are a couple of ways that they're similar. First of all, Kevin is very comfortable at speed just like Dale. I'm very impressed with Kevin and how well he goes on the big, fast tracks. You look at this 23 year old who has been racing out west and we put him in the truck at Homestead and he's as fast as anybody around. Kevin likes speed. I think one fact that can bring a lot of talented drivers down is their fear of going too fast and maybe getting hurt. Kevin doesn't have that fear. He drives well and is always in control. He doesn't make stupid mistakes. He knows when to back out of sticky situations and he's done that plenty of times this year. It's not luck with Kevin, he knows when to back off. He hasn't wrecked any equipment - knock on wood - but even in practice he hasn't even come close to wrecking. And he absolutely never gives up. Kevin will push with all he has up until the last lap. Earnhardt used to do that too. Just because you passed him doesn't mean you wouldn't see him coming back at you in the rearview mirror. Those are the sort of things that help a young driver get noticed."
IS KEVIN BEING LOOKED AT TO MOVE UP TO WINSTON CUP AND DOES HE HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO GET THERE? "Kevin will end up in a Winston Cup car in due time. I don't know when it will be but he's better than half the current Cup drivers now and he's only 23. There is no question about where he is going to move up to. Right now he needs to take his time and not make the move too fast. Even when we talk, he knows that he's in the truck series for a reason and his number one goal is to win the championship here. That shows you how intelligent he is. He realizes that he has talent and he knows that his talent is only going to get better. Kevin knows that he'll be a lot more valuable after getting some more experience."
WHAT TYPE OF CHALLENGES ARE IN STORE AS YOU HEAD TO BRISTOL FOR THE FIRST NIGHT RACE OF THE SEASON? "I like running at night and Kevin does too because we've talked about it. Bristol is a Winston Cup track for me because I've run so many Cup races there. We will go there with a Winston Cup program in mind. I think that my being in Winston Cup for 18 years has really helped me there. We can use all of my past knowledge at Bristol except for obviously the aerodynamics package. We're running a Winston Cup chassis. My way of thinking is more in line with a Winston Cup program. I feel that we have an advantage there and it certainly makes it easier for me. We won't start from scratch or get lost when we get there. It's a tough deal there at Bristol and you have to be on your toes to do well. You have to go fast comfortably or you'll wreck or get nailed if you don't move out of the way. Having the race at night is not as big a transition as at some other tracks. The surface is concrete so the temperatures don't vary too much."