Rob Downing: Arguably considered one of the best Pro Stock crew chiefs in Pro Stock history NORWALK, Ohio (June 26, 2007) -- Although he may not be as well known as his counterparts in the nitro fuel classes, Rob Downing, crew chief on the...
Rob Downing: Arguably considered one of the best Pro Stock crew chiefs in Pro Stock history
NORWALK, Ohio (June 26, 2007) -- Although he may not be as well known as his counterparts in the nitro fuel classes, Rob Downing, crew chief on the two KB Racing LLC, Summit Racing Equipment Pontiacs, driven by Greg Anderson and Jason Line, is arguably considered one of the top crew chiefs to come down the pike in recent Pro Stock history.
The unassuming Downing took the longer road through college to reach the pinnacle of his profession. From college to Detroit designing engines to Pro Stock crew chief, this crew chief has learned a lot about success and winning combinations. In 2007, he has his team on a strong pace adding (7) wins to his resume and leading the points chase for the NHRA POWERade Pro Stock championship. Prior to this season, Downing partnered with co-crew chief Jeff Perley to propel the KB Racing LLC, Summit Racing Equipment Pontiacs, to 51 wins and 4 championships. These numbers have only been surpassed by a limited few in the Pro Stock category and KB Racing with Downing is still counting. He is respected by his peers, crew, and most importantly his drivers and team owner Ken Black.
Three-time NHRA POWERade Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson, who hired Downing, had the following to say of his crew chief: "Rob is everything. He's the heart of this team. He's the guy that makes all of the decisions. He is the guy who keeps us as egotistical drivers calm and grounded. He's the captain of the ship and we couldn't race without him. We couldn't get to the race track without him. He does it all, from the bottom to the top. He has a lot of job descriptions and wears a lot of hats. We depend on him an awful lot.
"From Ken Black, Jason and myself, to the last man on this team, we have 100 percent confidence in Rob Downing. As drivers, Jason and I have 100 percent confidence that every time we jump in our Summit Pontiacs that they are going to be fast and they're going to be safe. And that's all because of the job Rob does and what he instills in all of his employees. I wouldn't have any other guy, I can tell you that right now," said Anderson.
"Rob is like a rock," said reigning NHRA POWERade Pro Stock champion Jason Line. "He is on an even keel all the time and the rest of us, especially me, have a tendency to go up and down. If there is one person that can keep me following the right line, it's Rob. He's always enthusiastic and has dedicated his life to doing this. Anybody that does that, no matter their profession, I have a lot of respect for. Not only is he a good crew chief, I consider him a good friend."
The following Question and Answer session with Downing will take you through his calculated plan to find a job in motorsports:
Question (Q.): During your formative years, when all the other kids were saying that they wanted to be doctors and nurses and policemen, etc., did you say you wanted to be a crew chief?
Answer Rob Downing (RD): I thought I wanted to be a driver actually. My dad, Lorin Downing, drove Super Stock back in the 60s and 70s, so I was one of those kids, like all of these kids around (the track) here that tag along with their dads and think it's pretty cool. >From the time I was about two-years old to the time I was six or seven, dad was racing pretty much full-time and took me along to most of the races. So, I pretty much got the sickness right then.
Q. When they had "Show and Tell" at school did you take a race car or something like that to talk about?
RD: Everything I did was mechanically oriented, whether if was cars, planes, trucks or whatever, but race cars were the biggest hit.
Q. When did you really decide that you wanted to be in drag racing or motorsports in general?
RD: In high school, when I figured out that guys like Warren (Johnson) and Grumpy (Bill Jenkins) had engineering backgrounds, I decided to take that path. I said that's what I want to do, not having any idea that it would get me to where I wanted to be. Back then I had no reason to think that I would even get a job in racing, let alone end up doing something like this. But I decided that I was going to give it my best shot and wherever I ended up, I ended up I guess.
Q. So after high school you headed to college?
RD: Yes, I got a masters degree in 2002 in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Nebraska.
Q. Where you born in Nebraska and where do you live now?
RD: I was born and raised in Kearney, Nebraska, and now live in North Carolina in the Mooresville area.
Q. After college what path did you take then?
RD: I sent out about a million resumes to every race team I could get an address for. It didn't matter if it was Indy Car, drag racing, NASCAR or whatever. I just wanted to be in racing. It didn't have to be drag racing, although that was what I really wanted to do. But there wasn't all that many jobs in drag racing at the time. At the same time I also sent resumes to engineering companies.
I ended up with a company in Detroit called Batten Corporation. They did all kind of crazy stuff. They designed engines. They made their own blocks, cranks, heads, everything. It was something I wanted to do. They had a lot of cool stuff. They had a bunch of guys there that were drag racers. The owner was an old time drag racer. I learned everything I could possible learn about cylinder heads and engines. Some of the guys at the shop there had their own cars that they raced on weekends and I'd go and help them.
Then I got hooked up with a guy that had basically an IHRA Pro Stock car. We were what you might call IHRA "wantabes." We ran mostly the Midwest Pro Stock circuit and I learned about Pro Stock cars that way. Another one had a Super Stock car that I worked on a lot and actually got drive it at a couple of divisional races.
Q. Where did you progress from there?
RD: In 1999, I got a job with Mark Pawuk and I worked for him from '99 to the end of 2002. Some of the engineers at GM hooked me up with him. They told me Mark's team was looking for some crew members. By the end of the first year the crew chief left and I got the job. I really had no business being a crew chief at that time but I got the job and continued to learn. That next year, in 2000, I met Greg Anderson when we rented engines to him when he was running for Troy (Humphrey). I got to know him and our relationship kicked off from there. I learned a lot from him and when he got KB Racing going I moved over here.
Q. What was you job when you started at KB Racing LLC?
RD: I started as a co-crew chief, along with Jeff Perley, at the same time. We concentrated on different functions of the car but made all decisions together. Both Jeff and I kind of had our own specialty. This worked well and the end result was that we were able to put together a good combination. Jeff left after the 2006 season and I became crew chief. I was able to learn a lot from Jeff that helps me make a lot of the decisions on race day. I really valued the time we spent working together.
Q. Is there a set way that a person who wants to become a crew chief becomes a crew chief? Do you need a formal education?
RD: Do you need an engineering degree to do what I do? Absolutely not. Does my education help me? I think it does. There aren't many guys with engineering degrees out here and there are a lot of really good crew chiefs. Overall, I don't think that has a lot to do, or much to do, with being a good crew chief. It does help me in certain areas and I'm glad I went that way. It did take me a little to get into it by going to college. The main ingredient for new people getting in is just not being afraid to work hard, sometimes for little pay. Don't be afraid to volunteer to lend a hand with teams and meet as many people in the industry as you can.
Q. What is it that you like best about your job?
RD: Everything is always changing. You're always trying to make the mousetrap better. I always wanted to do research and development -- R&D -- and this job is nonstop R&D. I enjoy testing as much as I do racing. I can't go into specifics, but I enjoy everything that has to do with how we run the car. I enjoy designing things and coming up with a better way to run Pro Stock.
Q. Give a short version of a race weekend at a national event?
RD: For a normal weekend, we get here on Thursday and try to get setup. We try to get a baseline for what the weather conditions will be for the weekend -- the pattern it's going to take. Take a look at the track to find out if they've done anything to the track since the last time we were here. Usually, on Thursday we will come up with a basic idea of what our set up is going to be. We try to arrive early on Friday morning (which is the first day of professional qualifying) to reevaluate everything. We use past history and have more data than you can imagine. Naturally, that data is used and matched to the conditions. We keep adjusting as the weekend goes along.
Q. Where do you go from here? Do you still have those ambitions from childhood to drive?
RD: I have no aspirations of being a driver anymore. That left me about 10 years ago, by the way. I want to continue to do this crew chief thing, it's what I love doing. I want to stay with KB Racing and continue winning races and championships. I can't imagine working with a better team owner and a better group of guys. At this point in my life I can't see doing anything else. I think my dad enjoys me having this job as much as I do. I'm thankful to be where I'm at.
Q. Which is more important to you, winning races or winning championships?
RD: That's hard to answer. They're both really special. But I guess if I had to narrow it down to one it's the race wins. If you win enough in a given season, you have a chance to win the championship. The championship is icing on the cake after winning races. They are both special in a different way.
Q. In closing, what do you do to relax in your off time?
RD: I don't have any hobbies per se. That's the beauty of it. My job is kind of my hobby. I just enjoy spending time with my family -- my wife, Aimee, and two children, Connor and Claire. I hang around the house and we do things as a family when we can. During the holidays, we'll go spend time with either one of our families -- my wife's and/or my family. In the summer time, we'll take a small vacation.