Get to Know Jimmy Makar
Could you tell me a little bit more about the journey to winning that first championship?
That was the ultimate goal from day one. You start out winning races, but the ultimate goal is to win the championship. It was a nine-year journey from the time we started in 1991 building the team to the time we won it in 2000.
The thing that happened on the championship year was that we were incredibly consistent. I think we still hold the record for most laps completed that year. If you think about it, you run 10,000 laps or some silly number, and we finished them all except for 9. That is a testament to how good the racecars were, how consistent they were. Everyone was very confident that this was the year that we could pull this off.
I remember entering into those races and just enjoying the momentum that we had begun earlier in the year. We weren’t going to be denied, we were going to follow through with this thing. It was just a very fulfilling moment when we clenched the thing a week before the end of the race. It was the culmination of all those years of work. To finally see that come to fruition was just a great feeling of accomplishment.
What are some of the more fun times that you remember?
There were plenty of Jimmy stories of “Mad Dog” coming out. That was my nickname back then. There was the time that we had the loudspeaker system where the secretary would come over. I got so tired of hearing that thing. Every time I turned around there was a message coming across, and I was trying to get something done or talking to some guys. I got so mad that once, when the thing came on, I took up a 5 pound piece of lead weight, threw it at the speaker and knocked the speaker off the wall. I was infamously known for throwing stopwatches. There is a gold plated set of stopwatches that they gave me when I retired from crew chief to commemorate that.
Was there ever anything you wish you had done different?
I don’t know that I would have done anything differently. I like the way it went. I have no regrets. It has been a great 20 years. One of the reasons I stayed here is because from day one, Joe has asked what we needed to go race and he has been able to supply us with everything we needed. Whether we succeeded or failed was going to be totally up to us as a group of racers. As a racer, that is all you can ask for.
Taking a football coach who had nothing to do with racing to start with, being allowed to hire the people and set up the race team, be a part of the group and take it from nothing to where we are today, which is one of the top racing teams of the business, you just don’t get that opportunity very often. To look back on it and see the good times and the bad times, and to say we did it our way. That is what you ultimately want to be able to do. To go out and be successful, and Joe gave us all that opportunity. That is going to be my memory of this organization.
Could you please explain more about what you are doing now?
It is different now. One of the things that I have been able to do over the more recent years is realize that one guy doesn’t make or break a race team. We have been able to hire people that are smarter than me in a lot of areas and give them the responsibility of those things. They are all a little better than what any one of us could be, if we had to do all of those jobs. They could actually get rid of me tomorrow, and we would be just as successful going forward as we are today. That is ok, because I think we are better as a whole, as a race team.
What I do today is look at the bigger picture items, where are we going in the future, what do we need to be successful, how do we change with the landscape and the climate of the sport, which is definitely much different than being a crew chief or building the team to start with. I am thinking longer term, next year, the following year, five years down the road. How do we stay ahead of the curve? How do we stay competitive? It is a new set of challenges, and I like a challenge. Learning how to change, and how to tackle those things is what keeps me going right now.
Are there any other stories that you would like to share?
I got told after the race about this. The year we first won Daytona, J.D. (Gibbs) was our left side tire changer. He finished changing the tire, and Todd Meredith asked him, “Did you hit all the lug nuts?” He said, “Uh.” Meredith asked, “How many did you get tight?” He said, “I think three.” Meredith asked, “Is that going to be enough to finish the race?” J.D. said, “Well, we are fixing to find out.” They didn’t tell me until after the race was over that they only had three lug nuts tight on the left rear wheel of the tire.
Typically, that doesn’t last. I am glad they didn’t tell me until after the race, because I would have killed them if I had known before the fact. Both of them were brand new to the sport, straight out of college. They didn’t really have a lot of knowledge about that stuff. It ended up good, but it could have been horrible. That was the last pit stop of the Daytona 500 that we won. They were not going to tell me about. In fact I don’t think it was until much later that they told me.