No Matter the Company or the Job Title, Rick Ren Has the Winning Touch

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IJune 20, 2010

LEBANON, TN - APRIL 02:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Dollar General Toyota celebrates in victory lane with competition director Rick Ren, after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Nashville 200 at Nashville Superspeedway on April 2, 2010 in Lebanon, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jason Smith/Getty Images

When visiting the web site for Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM), a quote will appear from Rick Ren about driver/owner Kyle Busch. Said Ren, “I’m older, and the older guy looks at things differently than the younger guy, so the two of us will definitely complement each other.” 

It was almost as if Ren was predicting the future and what the 2010 season would hold for the newly formed KBM team. Months later, he still believes in what he said during the offseason, as well as what it’s done for the company.

“Oh yeah, I still think that’s true because when he [Busch] and I sit and talk at the racetrack, I listen to him and he has a different view of things than I do. Then when I talk I see the little gears spinning in his head because I’m experienced in setting up racecars talk, he’s experienced in driving racecars talk."

“It’s actually a pretty good relationship because the things he’s very good at has surprised me, how he pulls this [KBM] off, and a couple of things that I’ve told him we need to try at the racetrack he’s surprised that it actually made the truck that much better.”

The experience each man has is what propelled the upstart KBM team from a could-be to a will-be contender each week. When acknowledging the experience, one must acknowledge the age difference between Ren and Busch. It’s nothing to be concerned about; it’s something for the competition to fear.

“I still believe that it’s a really good relationship for us because of the age difference. Now, also when there’s an age difference he doesn’t like to hang out with me,” Ren said with a small chuckle. “I’m a lot older than he is. He’d rather hang out with somebody that’s 25 or 30-years-old, than somebody that’s 50 plus."

"But as far as doing business and our racing package, I think it’s just like I said a couple of months ago, I actually think it’ll make us better.”

Getting better is the only place for KBM to go. A team that was formed following the 2009 season when Sprint Cup Series driver – newly crown Nationwide Series champion – Kyle Busch decided to try his hand at ownership with a Camping World Truck Series team.

Taylor Malsam was hired for the No. 56, while Busch would share time in the No.18 with Brian Ickler and Johnny Benson. Next came crew chiefs, Dan Stillman and Eric Phillips, who brought resumes full of wins. Followed by a somewhat surprising announcement, the general manager and director of competition was going to be the 2009 CWTS championship crew chief, Rick Ren.

Ren is well known around the NASCAR garage, and well respected. He won two championships at Kevin Harvick Inc. with Ron Hornaday (2007 and 2009) and was runner up in 2008. The rest of Ren’s accolades are worthy of a Hall of Fame nod, but first Busch wanted to see what Ren could do for him. Working at KHI had been great, however family time was growing ever important for Ren.

“I don’t look back, I don’t have any regrets,” Ren said last week. “I actually enjoy what I’m doing. It's a good position, it's just a little bit different than what I’ve done in the past, but it’s a fulfilling, gratifying job. And I have been able to a little bit more personal stuff since I’ve taken this job.”

He talks about attending his daughters wedding the weekend of the Texas race. He also said it’s easier to go to the doctor or dentist since he’s closer to home.

“If I’ve had a stressful day I get to drive 10 minutes home instead of an hour and a half, so to me it’s all positive. I still miss my relationship with Rick Corelli and Ron Hornaday, but I have no regrets at changing jobs.”

Ren’s new job is geared more toward business for KBM instead of “focusing on making the race truck go fast.” During the week when he’s at the shop he can be found spending time with other team members going through details such as new race trucks, decals, and scheduling.

When he’s at the track he says he works toward helping develop the team and does things such as: Sitting in meetings with NASCAR, talking to sponsors, as well as other owners.

The owner of KBM is a man that Ren knows well. For the last few seasons he’s tried to keep Busch and Toyota out of victory lane, while making sure his then KHI team with Chevrolet was in it. Busch knew Ren in many different ways, Ren in turn knew Busch and it wasn’t a hard for either one to join forces.

The only thing to get used to was going from trying to beat each other, to teaming up to beat the competition. Ren let out a laugh when talking about it, “Yeah that’s like 180 degree swap isn’t it?”

He does, however see the positives in going from one driver to another. For instance, Ren knows how Hornaday thinks and attacks a track, but that means the same for Hornaday in knowing how Ren is going to setup a truck. That makes Hornaday the benchmark for KBM said Ren.

“When you go to the racetrack every week there’s someone that you can count on that’s going to be very, very competitive,” he said. “Of course it only makes sense for us to base ourselves against Ron Hornaday, he’s probably one of the best guys to ever strap in and drive a race truck, he didn’t win those championships by accident.

"And I’m sure he feels the same way about us. He knows how I think, he knows how I’m going to setup the truck, and whether Kyle’s [Busch] driving or Brian Ickler or Johnny Benson, he probably still, ‘we need to see how we compare to that 18 truck.’”

That 18 truck has been the class of the field in many races this season. There was never any doubt they would be, but many thought a new team would certainly need time to learn the ropes.

Busch had invested everything he had in the company. He bought trucks from a team that had shut down, hired the best that he could for each position, and set off for the first race of the year in Daytona.

They were fast right off the truck, but ended up in the garage. Three weeks later they were second to Kevin Harvick in Atlanta after the two – Busch and Harvick – dominated the race. Three weeks after that another top five was collected in Martinsville as KBM continued to knock on the door to victory lane.

They didn’t have to wait long. The first victory finally came at Nashville, six days after Martinsville. Busch grabbed the company’s first career pole, then went on to dominated the race and pick up the win. A month later victory No. 2 was in the bag after Busch again dominated the Charlotte race. It was the same old success that Ren was used to, just in a new place.

As he’s celebrated with his new team, the one he left behind has been locked out of victory lane. Hornaday started the year with two straight finishes outside the top 25, and is on his second crew chief since starting the 2010 season. He’s been able to put together a string of top fives, yet he hasn’t won since Ren left. For Ren, winning at KBM but a winless Hornaday is a surprise.

“I think we won a race sooner than I expected,” he said. “I’m not surprised that we’ve already won a couple races, we should already have three in the bag, but I am surprised that Ron Hornaday has not visited victory lane. I know he’s capable, I know the equipment is capable.”

“But, you know to win a race is still like winning a championship, there has to be some luck along the way, the cards have to fall the right way. Look over history, usually the team that dominates the race, more time than not does not win the race. So, that still shows you that there has to be some luck involved. The cautions have to fall the right, and the restarts have to go right, no mistakes on pit road.

"I think there are probably just a few things that bit the 33 this year, we know they’re capable of winning races and their time is going to come.”

For Ren, he’s enjoyed the time of seeing success every place he’s been. From helping Travis Kvapil win Rookie of the Year honors in 2001 at Addington Motorsports, to earning Crew Chief of the Year in 2006 with Johnny Benson, winning 16 races and two championships at KHI with Hornaday, now onto KBM. When trying to get Ren to talk about his accomplishments and what it’s like to be wanted by many different companies, he seemed hesitant.

He started slowly at first, almost not knowing how to respond, “It’s um… Well, I’m just a little kid that grew up in a small town in Illinois and I try not to think about the things you just said.”

He continued with, “I’m going to relate back to Daytona this year. I don’t know the very first time I went to Daytona, but you sit in the grandstands and you’re like, ‘wow.’ So, this year we go to the Daytona race and I’m doing a radio interview and I listen, and I’m on the PA system at Daytona International Speedway. Then during the commercial break I hear the announcer talk about, ‘Well that’s how Rick Ren said it was going to play out.’ And it’s like, how did I get here? I mean I don’t know even know how this happened.”

“I think you have to pinch yourself you know. It’s been a lot of hard work, failure is not in my vocabulary, and I take a lot of pride in what I do … I’ve had a good career, I’ll put it that way.”