BUSCH: Brooklyn: Parker Jr. crew at home in Michigan

GNC Live Well Racing Crewmen head home -Michigan natives Gary Cogswell and Bryan Smith return to Great Lakes State. CONCORD, N.C. (August 13) - GNC Live Well Racing crew chief Gary Cogswell and car chief Bryan Smith might not click their heels...

GNC Live Well Racing Crewmen head home -Michigan natives Gary Cogswell and Bryan Smith return to Great Lakes State.

CONCORD, N.C. (August 13) - GNC Live Well Racing crew chief Gary Cogswell and car chief Bryan Smith might not click their heels three times to get there, but both agree, "There's no place like home."

Cogswell and Smith, who help field the No. 36 GNC Live Well Dodge Intrepid for driver Hank Parker Jr. in the NASCAR Busch Series (NBS), are always glad to get back to their home state of Michigan. The two will get a chance to visit old haunts and catch up with old friends when the Busch Series visits Michigan International Speedway (MIS) for the Cabela's 250 NBS event on Saturday.

Cogswell, who hails from Eaton Rapids, has had a love affair with auto racing dating back to his childhood in Michigan.

"When I was a kid, my dad worked on Super Modifieds at the old Lansing (Spartan) Speedway," Cogswell said of his early exposure to racing. "While I was attending Holt High School, I was always tinkering on cars and working on engines. When I got older, I started helping a guy named John Donovan, who raced at Spartan Speedway."

With his interest in all things automotive, it seemed natural that Cogswell would make his living as a mechanic at car dealerships around Lansing, Mich.

"I worked at Bud Kouts Chevrolet and Capitol Cadillac to put food on the table," Cogswell said. "I'd do a little drag racing at Onandaga Dragway on Friday nights, so I'd finance that by fixing other people's racecars at night during the week."

In addition to his short-track and drag racing experiences, Cogswell's interest in motorsports was also fueled by visits to nearby Michigan International Speedway.

"Michigan (MIS) is the first place I ever saw NASCAR racing," Cogswell remembers. "That was back in the days of Richard Petty, Benny Parsons and Cale Yarborough. They were all driving those boxy Monte Carlos and stuff. I would sit there and watch them and think, 'I ought to do this for a living.' I only thought about it for about 18 years before I did something about it."

In 1991, after much soul searching, the 36 year-old Cogswell made the fateful choice to pack up his family and head for North Carolina.

"I didn't have any job leads when I moved to Charlotte," Cogswell said. "I didn't know a soul, which was kind of scary. I had confidence in my abilities as a mechanic, though. I figured that if I knocked on enough doors and kept after it, I'd eventually get my chance."

Finding work at a Charlotte-area Chevy dealership, Cogswell began contacting race shops, eventually accepting an unpaid position with Rypien Motorsports and driver Chad Little. Cogswell would work all day at the dealership to earn a living, then head over to the race shop to work on cars every evening.

When sponsorship was found for the team, Cogswell became Rypien Motorsports' first full-time employee, and never looked back. The Cogswell-Little combination eventually yielded six wins and 25 top-five finishes in four seasons of NBS competition.

Since that time, Cogswell has worked as crew chief for a number of high-profile NASCAR drivers, including Mike McLaughlin, Johnny Benson, Matt Kenseth and Buckshot Jones, before taking the reins of the No. 36 GNC Live Well Racing team in September 2001.

The team, with driver Hank Parker Jr., visited victory lane for the first time together earlier this season at Pike's Peak International Raceway in Colorado.

With the Michigan NBS event on tap for this weekend, Cogswell says he'll try to build in extra time in his itinerary to explore his home state.

"I think it's a gorgeous area," Cogswell said. "I tell people in North Carolina that they don't know what a real lake is until they've seen one of the Great Lakes. I took my wife, Jennie, to see Lake Michigan last year, and I don't think she was prepared for it. It took her breath away."

Smith, a native of Lansing, remembers meeting Cogswell around 1991, when they both still resided in the Michigan area.

"I used to work at a place called Bud's Auto Parts in Mason, Mich.," Smith said. "Gary (Cogswell) used to come in and buy parts from me all the time. I knew he had moved away to try and work in NASCAR, but I had no idea at the time that I'd be following him a few months later."

Like Cogswell, Smith developed a love for cars and racing at an early age. He found a kindred spirit in a nearby neighbor, Tim Fedewa, who would eventually go on to compete in the NASCAR Busch Series.

Fedewa's father, Butch, was a local driver who raced Late Model Stocks and Super Modifieds at area tracks. Smith's father helped the elder Fedewa prepare his racecars, and the two sons became fast friends.

"Tim and I have known each other a long time," Smith says of his childhood friend. "He and I traded a snowmobile and some cash to buy his first race car. I grew up helping him work on his cars. He drove them and I fixed them. It was that way for a long time."

Following his graduation from Holt High School, Smith earned an Associate Degree in Automotive Service Technology from nearby Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. He worked at Sundance Chevrolet in Grand Ledge, Mich., while continuing to assist Fedewa in his racing career.

In 1992, Fedewa had made the jump to the American Speed Association (ASA), and almost the entire team picked up and moved to the Charlotte, N.C., area. Smith and his new wife, Penny, were among those who made the move.

Fedewa and Smith continued to work together, eventually ending up at the three-team operation of Cicci-Welliver Motorsports, where Fedewa drove the No. 36 NBS car with sponsorship from Stanley Tools. When Fedewa moved from the No. 36 to the team's No. 66 entry following the 2000 season, Smith elected to stay put.

"I was comfortable with the guys on the team and with my situation," Smith said of his decision to part ways with Fedewa. "It's not like Tim and I were mad at each other or anything. The 66 team was still intact from the season before, so there was no need to go shaking things up by moving people around. Tim just moved over about 20 yards across the shop floor from me. We're still great friends."

Enter driver Hank Parker Jr. and a new sponsor, GNC Live Well, who have both been with the team for the past two seasons.

While Smith, wife, Penny, and their two children may call North Carolina home, most of his family still lives in the Michigan area. Each trip to MIS gives him an opportunity to spend a little time with friends and loved ones.

"Dad doesn't live too far away from the track, so I'll stay with him and just drive back and forth," Smith said of his sleeping accommodations while in Michigan. "My mom, my sister and my grandmother all still live in the area, so I can see them all in one visit. I get up here every year, so it's not like the area has changed drastically from the last time I saw it. Still, there's no feeling like coming home."

Cogswell, Smith and the rest of the GNC Live Well Racing team can be seen in action in Saturday's Cabela's 250 NBS event at Michigan International Speedway. That event will air live on TNT and MRN, Saturday, August 17, at 1:30 p.m. EDT.

-jm-

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Hank Parker Jr. , Buckshot Jones , Johnny Benson , Mike McLaughlin , Chad Little , Richard Petty , Benny Parsons , Cale Yarborough