A Conversation with Larry McReynolds, Fans Included

Courtesy of Larry McReynolds

I’ve interviewed Larry McReynolds many times and the reason I always come back for more is because I can always count on him for two things…honesty and knowledge.  He also, to put it plain and simple, it just the most down to earth, nice guy.  Anytime I observe him around fans, he’s always so gracious and willing to answer questions about the sport and his knowledge is extensive, very extensive.  To put it mildly, he’s had success in his motorsports career (notice the shiny Daytona 500 ring on his hand the next time you see him).

This time around I wanted you the fans to get a one on one chance with the former crew chief turned broadcaster.  So I asked you all to send me your questions for him, so that you could run the show.  What better way to get up close and personal with the behind the scenes of NASCAR.  He loved it and I know that you will too.  Here you go…

Crew Chief Talk…

Anne-Marie Rhodes:  What do you think is the biggest challenge of a crew chief today?

Larry McReynolds:  I think there’s a lot of challenges as a crew chief. The biggest thing is you have such a small box of rules to work in, even 11 years ago, my last year as a crew chief, we had a lot of liberties to work with a lot of different things on a race car.  The box of rules has gotten so small, the biggest thing is you’ve got to make sure that you take advantage of everything you can, but we have well seen over the last few years you want to make sure you don’t step too close to that edge.  If you step across it, it could be detrimental to your job.  It could be detrimental to the championship, it could detrimental to a lot of things.  When you look at the penalties from suspensions, monetary fines, probably more important, the reduction of championship points, that’s got to be the biggest challenge I would face today as a crew chief.

AM: How do you think you would be as a crew chief today?  Would it be very different than when you were a crew chief before?

LM: It’s no doubt, it is substantially different.  I think as long as I had not walked away from the sport as I did to become a broadcaster, I think I would be fine.  Two things you have to do to be successful today.  You have to be very open minded and susceptible to input from your engineers, because we have become a very engineering sport and you have to be a really good people person, a good manager, a good communicator and quite honestly that’s the thing I worked at the hardest most of my years as a crew chief.  So I think had I not had a break in the action as I’ve done now going on 11 years to be a broadcaster, I think as long as I kept those characteristics and those qualities, I think I would be just fine.

AM:  Would you be willing to share with us any pushing the envelope or grey area things that you did during your time as a crew chief?

LM: Well probably the most marginal thing that I ever did, and I’m not 100% convinced that it was against the rules, but got cold feet and did not utilize it.  You know we always talk about how blocking up the front end of the car makes the car run faster because it substantially reduces the drag of the car.  When you’re in traffic, you can’t afford to have it blocked up completely because you need a little airflow going through there to cool the radiator, well what we did is we took a mechanism, actually like off of a big truck, where you have shutters on the front end that are controlled by thermostats.  So when the thermostat would show that the water was getting too hot, those shutters would open and then when we felt like the water was getting cool enough the shutters would actually close up, so we could actually control the temperature and the amount that the front end was blocked up.  We got cold feet and did not use it.  I have no problem sharing this today, because we’re talking a long time ago, but back in the mid 90’s, you know you had your rear springs and NASCAR did not dictate how soft or how stiff they had to be, you pretty much ran whatever you wanted to.  Well to get our springs just as soft as possible, to get the spoiler out of the air, to reduce the drag, we put what they call a spring rubber in the spring.  Which is legal, but what we did is we put steel pieces in that rubber to where when the spring traveled down and about to completely collapse, it would bottom out on those steel pieces in the rubber and wouldn’t bottom out.  No question that was totally against the rules, but we got by with it and it worked.

On Changes in the Sport…

AM:  What are your thoughts on the swapping at Hendricks Motorsports?

There are a couple of points I want to make about that.  I know when they first did it right after Homestead, two things that people immediately started saying is that this whole swap was done to help Dale Earnhardt Jr.  The other thing is quite honestly it was not a crew chief swap, it was actually a driver swap.  You know Dale Jr., his sponsor, his number they picked up and moved over to Steve Letarte and the 24 team, so actually it was a driver and things pertaining to the driver that was swapped.  I know everybody jumped on the bandwagon and said it was all about Dale Earnhardt Jr., but it was to try to help Hendrick Motorsports across the board.  I know we beat Dale Jr. up because he’s only won one race in the last three years, but think about it, Jeff Gordon has only won one race in the last three years.  I talk to Chad Knaus a lot and they know and realize that they got a little bit behind last year, in the whole organization only one of the four teams won races and even though the 48 team took the big prize home, they only won one race in the second half of 2010.  So this was a move that was made to help everybody.  I like the combination that is there.  I think Steve LeTarte will be a good match for Dale Jr. because one he’s not related to him.  I thought that was always a strike against Tony Eury Jr.  Two, Steve is a very thick skinned individual, he’s had to be, he’s been Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, and (Steve) he’s a cheerleader and that’s what Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs is a cheerleader.  Somebody that will cheer him on when he needs to be cheered, but also someone who will put him in his place when he needs to be put in his place.  Quite honestly we’re not going to know until we get into the season, but I like what they’ve done over there.

Is NASCAR going to change the Sprint Cup Series cars to look like street cars (like in the Nationwide Series)?

LM:  They’re definitely working in that direction.  If you just look at the last twelve months there’s been two changes that’s been made to that car and they have completely changed the look of the car.  We got rid of the wing and went to the spoiler and now for 2011 we got rid of that cavity, the splitter that’s exposed on the front end is much smaller and it takes on a more conventional look.  I know for 2012 there’s going to be more changes that keeps migrating more towards manufacturer identity.  That the big change that we’re going to see, and I know everybody wants to know well why are we waiting for 2013, it’s because this is not stuff that can happen over night because you’re working with four different manufacturers.  They all have to come together at one time.  I know for a fact that in 2013 we will have a totally different looking car that no question it will have a lot more manufacturer representation.

Charity and His Best Friend Along the Way…

AM:  Do you have a charity that you’d like to point out.

LM:  We just had the 9th annual Larry McReynolds golf tournament.  We started it in 2001 on a very small scale and it has grown and grown. Beneficiaries include…Stop Child Abuse Now and Hospice.

AM:  On a side note, how is Larry Mac at golf?

LM:  Ahhhh…(pause).  Well, when I hit a golf ball, the safest place you can stand in right in the middle of the fairway.  Now if you go stand in the woods or over in the water, there’s a good chance you’re going to get hit.

AM:  Out of all the people that you’ve been associated with in racing, who’s one that stands out that really affected you as a person, crew chief, etc.?

LM: Well there’s been a number of people that’s touched my career.  The one that I have to jump up with and probably push right to the top of the list would be my best friend, and that was Davey Allison.  I think that’s one reason that he and I, along with a great race team behind us, enjoyed so much success with each other is because we were best friends.  Our relationship went so far beyond just the driver and crew chief relationship.  Davey Allison had a little saying and it’s honestly something that I try to live by.  It’s a great motto and I know for a fact on good days or bad days, whether it was racing or on a personal side, it was what Davey tried to go by.  Davey said “There’s nothing that can come my way today, that God and I can’t handle together.”  When I was down and out, Davey Allison was the guy that picked me back up and got me back in a positive way.

The Daytona 500…

AM: What was one of your most memorable Daytona 500’s.

LM:  The two wins.  1992 with Davey was very special, it had some very unusual circumstances.  It was with a backup car, because we had crashed in practice, so we won it with a backup car.  Then a year and a half later we know how special it became, because Davey lost his life in a helicopter crash.  Then you look at the fact of 1998 with Dale Earnhardt.  To know how many years he’d been there trying to win that thing, it was his 20th attempt and he’d come so close so many times and had won everything you could possibly win there multiple times except the 500.  To be apart of him achieving that and Richard Childress for that matter, that was very special.  Then to know that three years later he lost his life in the 500.  It’d be hard to say which one of those is a little more special.

AM: For the Daytona 500, what is your opinion of what the racing is going to be like?

LM: I was down there for the test a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve got to pretty much agree with what I heard a lot of the drivers we interviewed over the course of the three days say.  They used a lot of adjectives like, very wild, very unpredictable, out of control crazy.  The new surface has so much grip, that every car is going to drive good.  They’ll be no handling issues, a lot like a few years ago when they resurfaced Talladega.  For that reason I don’t see the cars getting strung out.  I see them staying in a big pack, pretty much from the drop of the green flag to the drop of the checkered.  I think we’re not going to have a clue who’s going to win this thing until they come off the last corner of the last lap and it may not even be then.  It may be right down at the start/finish line before we know who’s going to win.  I know the big questions from fans is, who do you like, who do you think is the team to beat.  I don’t see any way under the sun you can predict who’s going to win that thing.  Regardless of who’s fast in practice, regardless of who was fastest in the test, this race has always been unpredictable.  You just look, our last nine Daytona 500s have been won by nine different winners.  I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting 500s we’ve had in a long time.  We’ve had some good ones of late, but I think this one has all the potential to be pretty awesome and pretty wild.