Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte surprised everyone in attendance (include owner Joe Gibbs) at the 2011 Media Day stop at Joe Gibbs Racing on Thursday. The event focused on commemorating Joe Gibbs Racing’s 20th Anniversary in NASCAR. At the end of the day, the stage was filled with JGR’s past Champions and current stable of drivers including Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, and Brian Scott. Dale Jarrett was unable to attend, but shared a video message for Joe and the audience.
What proved to be most enjoyable about the event (besides seeing JGR’s foundational members on stage together) were the insightful and sometimes hilarious stories shared between Joe, JD, Tony, and Bobby.
Joe Gibbs shared what was probably the funniest story of the afternoon when he recounted trying to track down Tony Stewart to recruit him as a driver.
“Trying to track Tony down was a nightmare. … I chased him from one side of the world to the other. I finally got together with [Tony’s manager] Harry Ranier, and he told me that he had two other partners and he told me how much cash it was going to take to get Tony out of his deal. So I go to meet Harry again later, and I like Harry a lot, I go to hand Harry the check and he says this to me [with a stern look]: “Are you sure you want to do this?”
The whole crowd broke into laughter at Gibbs’ story and then Tony jumped back in replying, “What a coincidence, I remember having to hand you a check for the same thing and you told me the same thing!”
After the laughter subsided Joe said it was one of the best deals ever made.
The friendly jabs didn’t stop there. Later on, a reporter asked Joe how he managed to take when he learned as a successful football coach and apply it to racing. Joe summed up his answer by saying “I’ve found that if you can be successful in football, you’ll be successful in racing, and visa versa.”
Kyle Busch interrupted for clarification, “So Coach, are you saying Joey Logano would make a good quarterback?”
“Yes, Joey could be a quarterback,” replied Joe.
“I was thinking linebacker,” said Joey.
But it was Denny Hamlin who got the last word. “I was thinking, more like a kicker.”
The memorable event kicked off what is sure to be an equally memorable 2011 NASCAR season.
By now, you’ve probably heard about NASCAR’s switch to Sunoco Green E15, a new 15-percent ethanol blend fuel made with corn grown in the United States. Starting at Daytona there are a few ethanol-related changes that will be implemented, the most noticeable of which being the green “American Ethanol” gas ports on all cars. Read more
The NASCAR off-season has officially started and if you’re like me, you’re already excited about the next one firing up in Daytona. Joe Gibbs Racing was blessed with a successful season that resulted in a Nationwide Series championship, a Raybestos Rookie of the Year, and nine Sprint Cup Series wins. In April of 2009 I joined Joe Gibbs Racing as a kind of embedded reporter. My mission was to show our fans what it’s like to be a member of one of the most competitive racing teams in the world. Every weekend, during each race, I was on pit road and in the garage sending race updates and pictures to JoeGibbsRacing.com and thousands of followers on Twitter.
Needless to say, for someone who loves auto-racing, this has been the opportunity of a lifetime. I witnessed historic wins, was soaked with Powerade in Victory Lane, and experienced the agony of losing races we should have won. What’s more is that I discovered why Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has risen to the top of this sport – it’s people. Through it all I was able to share my exciting job with fans all over the world. Now that the off-season is upon us, I wanted to recap some of my most memorable experiences in detail – that’s where “Boris Says” comes in. I hope you’ll find my blog unique and enjoyable. Each week during the off season I’ll be posting a new entry with stories you won’t want to miss. I’ll share my experiences with each of our drivers, many of our crew members, and recap some of the most exciting race moments.
Joey Logano and the Nicknames
Let me start with my nickname. There are a lot of nicknames at JGR, some that make a lot of sense and others that are a mystery. It’s not uncommon for someone at the track to be known by their nickname exclusively. In fact, there are a couple of pit crew members whose real names I can’t remember (apologies to Spike and Dawg). It didn’t take long for a nickname to attach itself to me. After my first race with the team in Talladega, I boarded the team plane for the trip back to North Carolina. Sitting in front of me was Joey Logano, driver of the No.20 Home Depot Toyota. I hadn’t met Joey yet, but he turned around in his seat and introduced himself. “Has anyone told you that you look like Boris Said?” he asked. “Yes, once.” I replied. He let out a friendly laugh and exclaimed, “Boris!” and then turned back around. From then on, Joey and practically everyone at the shop has called me Boris. I got the chance to tell that story to the real Boris Said when I met him at the race in California. “Oh yeah!? Sliced Bread calls you that?” he said. You can’t escape nicknames around here.
One thing is for sure, you won’t find these behind-the-scenes stories anywhere else! Feel free to ask questions and comment on my entries below. Check back next week when I reveal My Biggest Surprises About Being on a NASCAR Team including something you might not have known about Kyle Busch.
Our performance on the track for the past several weeks has been second-to-none. Win after win in the Nationwide and Cup series, weekend sweeps, and fantastic pit stops headline these springtime races. Morale is up and smiles are a little bit brighter around the shop.
None of it has happened by accident. I remember being in Texas and riding to dinner with one of our VP’s earlier in the season. “My goal is to win every race. I want us to be the best at every track. When our equipment is right, we can beat anyone,” he said. The engineers and specialists riding along with us nodded in agreement; fully aware of the pivotal role each of them plays in making those desires a reality. Everyone at JGR shares in that sentiment.
The Gibbs family knows the importance of celebration. It is tradition for the driver to buy the entire race team lunch after a win. And so, everyone converged on the banquet hall for a BBQ lunch courtesy of Denny Hamlin. Before lunch was served, team owner Joe Gibbs and President J.D. Gibbs stood on stage to conduct a brief team meeting.
“Obviously, we have had a great few weeks and that is attributable to everyone in this room,” J.D. began. At the beginning of the season he had encouraged everyone to remain diligent in their pursuit of excellence. Today, he took the time to thank them for taking that message to heart. Joe Gibbs did the same, understanding that the weeks move quickly in NASCAR and leave little time for celebration.
“What have we shown?” asked the coach rhetorically. “We’ve shown that we have focused our attention and resources on three cars, three teams. We’ve done it well and we need to continue to do it well.”
The message is clear in the minds of every person in the room – Enjoy this celebration. You deserve it. But, don’t forget the importance of your impact on the success of the team as a whole. Don’t get complacent; the competition is as fierce as it’s ever been.
What has it been like to be a part of Joe Gibbs Racing during these last few weeks of success? For me, it has been eye-opening. Finding the balance between pausing to celebrate and relentlessly pursuing a goal is a tricky thing to achieve. However, when I talk to people like Jay (who shapes our car’s hoods), or Patrick (who oversees everything to do with tires), it’s clear that JGR knows how to strike a balance. Jay, Patrick, and everyone else has a passion to succeed not just for themselves, but for their teammates, and JGR.
“You win with people,” Joe Gibbs always says, and this team is winning because it treats its people well.
During the 2009 NASCAR season I made it to forty Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series events with Joe Gibbs Racing. This meant giving fans unparalleled access to the garage, pit road, the haulers, the motorhome lot, and especially Victory Lane! I have been a dedicated follower and fan NASCAR for over twelve years, so I know a thing or two about the sport. There were a few things, however, that surprised me about being on the road with the best team in the business. I think you’ll enjoy this glimpse into life on the traveling NASCAR-circus.
The One-Day Show
On a typical race weekend the transporters carrying the race cars arrive to the track on the Thursday (and sometimes the Wednesday) before the big race. The A-team is next to arrive and usually includes drivers, crew chiefs, engineers, mechanics, specialists, and public relations personnel. They usually fly in on the evening before the first practice begins and have been preparing their notes and a game plan for the weekend ahead. The A-team and the truck drivers obviously spend a lot of time on the road, in hotels, and away from families (though JGR does a good job of respecting and being mindful of an employee’s family-time). Every member of the A-team has an important job when it comes to winning the race on Saturday or Sunday and though I shouldn’t be surprised, I must say that I had no idea about the level of talent, professionalism, and dedication it takes from each member of the team in order to win a race, much less a championship. My hat goes off to them. The same goes to our Nationwide teams.
For the over-the-wall crew members, pit crew coaches, sponsor representatives, executives, scorers, and myself, race days begin early. We are the B-team. Joe Gibbs Racing operates two turbo-prop airplanes that seat roughly 40 people each. Any race from the Mid-West to the East-Coast means one of those planes is waiting for the B-team on race morning, bright and early. Some flights leave as early as 4:00 am, others around 5:00am. Of course, the good thing about a private plane is the absence of a long line and wait. You can show up 5-minutes before take-off (if you don’t care about a good seat). But don’t be late! The plane will wait for you, but you’ll probably be met with a sarcastic applause as you board. We follow strict TSA guidelines, but check-in amounts to a walk onto the tarmac and an identity check. Our friendly stewardesses, skilled pilots, and expert mechanics, give us the peace of mind to catch a few Z’s after we find our seat on the plane. The typical non-West-Coast flight takes 2 to 3 hours, with Bristol taking only 45 minutes or so. We drive to Charlotte, Darlington, and Martinsville.
When we land, a flock of warmed-up Toyota rental cars are waiting for us on the tarmac.
The Mad Rush
After the race our two planes are warmed up and ready to fly as soon as every last man and woman is on board. What you might not know, and what I didn’t know about, was the mad rush that every team makes after the race in order to get the race cars packed up and their behinds in a plane seat. Think about it, if you’re on the team, you’ve either been at the race track for three or four days or you woke up before the rooster and have had a long day of racing. Needless to say, you’re looking forward to the comfort of your own bed. It’s not simply a matter of beating another crew member to the plane or getting the perfect seat; it’s a race to circumvent the traffic after the race. The last thing you want is to be sitting in two to three hours of traffic after a day or weekend of hard work.
Thankfully, we have some experienced navigators on our team (Sprint Navigation on our phones not withstanding). Dirt roads, gravel roads, roads that aren’t roads, are all fair game when it comes to missing traffic and making it back to the airport. Most airports are a 15-30 minute drive from the track. Some are closer, some are a lot farther. If one of our cars wins or finishes in the top-5 it means an extended inspection and
tear-down process. This also means that the second plane could potentially be sitting for a bit longer than the first one was. Didn’t make it onto the first one? Tough-luck bub.
The drivers either charter a plane or have their own and they are in just as much of a rush. The exception being Joey Logano, who flies with us on the turbo-props. A team of motorhome drivers will either spend the night and leave the next morning or wait for traffic to die down and then head to the next track.
When we get to the plane, we are happy to find dinner waiting for us. We usually land back in Concord anywhere from 10pm – 1 or 2 am. Watching the races on TV or listening on the radio left me with no clue about the massive amount of planning it takes to make each weekend run smoothly for the teams – and that’s in addition to actually trying to win the race!
Speaking of traveling, I got the chance to fly to Richmond for Denny Hamlin’s Late Model Race for Charity (www.dennyhamlinfoundation.org). Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch were all entered in the race. What surprised me the most was the hands-on dedication of Kyle Busch, who had his own late model team and crew there with him. Kyle was under the car, under the hood, making adjustments, wielding a wrench or two, and ultimately drove his car to victory that night. In the past I had overlooked Kyle, but watching him work on the car and win that night made me a fan. It didn’t matter if he was racing to win money or racing to donate money, Kyle made sure he was in a position to win the race – and he did.