2012 marks Steve deSouza 14th year as Vice President of Nationwide Series Operations at Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR).
Over that time JGR’s Nationwide Series operations has grown to include three teams, while the driver development program has flourished under deSouza’s watchful eye that continues to identify many of the sports’ talented young drivers.
Joe Gibbs has often been quoted as saying that while getting to the top in any sport is extremely difficult, remaining a champion is even harder. Winning three consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series Championships from 2008-2010 was no easy feat and after narrowly missing out on a fourth consecutive title in 2011, deSouza will look to lead JGR toward the start of a new streak.
Despite narrowly missing out on the owner’s championship in 2011, JGR’s Nationwide Series teams still managed a stellar campaign with a total of 10 wins, 33 top-fives, and 56 top-ten finishes. Eight of those victories would come courtesy of the 18 team along with driver Kyle Busch, while Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano would each add a victory for the No. 20 team. In the end, the 18 team would place second in the owner’s championship race, just a few points short of a third consecutive title. 2011 also marked the first time JGR fielded three teams with driver Brian Scott leading the No. 11 Toyota squad to a ninth-place finish in the race for driver’s championship. Scott had a strong finish to his 2011 campaign and will be considered among the favorites for the championship again in 2012 behind the wheel of the No. 11 Dollar General Camry.
deSouza still helped lead JGR to a championship in 2011 with Max Gresham piloting the No. 18 Camry to the K&N Pro Series East title. The team, led by crew chief Bryant Frazier, will seek a repeat in 2012 behind the talents of Darrell Wallace, Jr. who will take over the seat from Gresham in addition to making his Nationwide Series debut this year. Wallace is one of the recent young talents who is part of JGR’s diversity and driver development program.
JGR’s No. 18 Nationwide Series Toyota dominance began in 2009 when Kyle Busch and the team put together a remarkable season leading a stunning 2,698 laps and claiming nine victories in route to a combined driver’s and owner’s championship. His lead was large enough that he merely had to start the season finale in Homestead to earn the titles. With Busch running a limited schedule during the 2010 seasons, the team knew from the start it would not have the opportunity to defend the driver’s championship title it captured in 2009, but it didn’t deter them from claiming the Owner’s title and setting records in the process. Despite driving in just 29 of the 35 races, Busch won a record 13 times to shatter the previous mark of 10 he shared with Sam Ard and Brad Coleman provided solid efforts in each of his six races to pace the team to the championship.
JGR’s run of title in the Nationwide Series actually began in 2008 behind the strength of the No. 20 team which used a team effort of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Joey Logano to bring the organization its first Series owner’s championship.
Continuing to build off all that success will be challenging, but deSouza has been working hard in preparation for 2012 which includes hiring a new crew chief for the No. 18 team to replace Jason Ratcliff, who moved into a new role as crew chief for Joey Logano and the No. 20 Home Depot/Dollar General Toyota Sprint Cup Series team. Matt Lucas, who has spent the previous two seasons on the No. 18 team as the race engineer has been elevated to the crew chief position. He will join Adam Stevens, who returns as crew chief on the No. 20 Toyota team and Kevin Kidd who will seek to work with Brian Scott in their quest for the Series driver’s championship. deSouza has also proven adept in identifying the young talent needed to sustain the program and in addition to Hamlin, Logano, and Wallace this season, Michael McDowell and Ryan Truex also hope to find victory lane for JGR in 2012.
deSouza is no stranger to success having established himself as one of the world’s best known names in powerboat racing following a 30-year career in the sport piloting outboard F-1 tunnel boats. Over his career he held six national championships, nine regional titles, two world speed records, was a member of the 1986 International Outboard Grand Prix World Championship Team, and twice was nominated to the American Powerboat Association Hall of Champions. He also completed one season victorious in 30 of 32 events.
The Seattle native not only built successful racing programs but also was involved in business ventures that assisted in funding those racing programs. Among them a niche office equipment business that was taken out of bankruptcy and grew to became the largest independent mail and shipping room equipment vendor in the state of Washington.
Those early business ventures would provide invaluable experience for deSouza in his current role. As would his experience in building sponsorship programs to support his racing. After two years of pitching sponsorship proposals, Interstate Batteries agreed to sponsor deSouza’s F-1 team thanks, ultimately, to deSouza’s ability to help Interstate land a huge marine account. That was the beginning of a great relationship that continues today. That relationship also introduced deSouza to the Gibbs family after Interstate Batteries made the decision to sponsor JGR’s first Sprint Cup Series team. From that point, the relationship with the Gibbs and others at JGR took a course of its own, growing into personal friendships over the next several years.
Then in 1994, when his younger sister was in need of a kidney donor, deSouza’s world changed. He didn’t hesitate to donate one of his own kidneys, even at the expense of his career as a powerboat racer. Advised by doctors to leave the cockpit for good, deSouza moved forward at an equally aggressive and successful pace in the business arena.
A new opportunity arose when he accepted the challenge of developing a Nationwide Series race team for Bill Amick’s son Lyndon, who was moving up from the NASCAR Dash Series. deSouza’s first action was to pay a visit to his friends at JGR to learn as much about NASCAR as he could.
deSouza would join JGR a few years later following a stint at then Progressive Motorsports. JGR had taken over Bobby Labonte’s Nationwide Series team and had made the decision to expand, tabbing deSouza with the task of growing the program. That didn’t take long as deSouza’s neighbor and friend, Gary Bechtel, called in hopes of speaking with him about managing his race team – Diamond Ridge Motorsports. With deSouza already committed to JGR, Bechtel instead asked for help to explore other options. Just a few weeks later JGR struck a deal to acquire Diamond Ridge Motorsports and became a multi-car team in the Nationwide Series.
deSouza lives in Concord, NC with his wife Missy, who works in the racing community with Motor Racing Outreach. They have a daughter Maggie, and a son, Clem.