Communication between a driver and crew chief is as important as how the car is going to react when your racing side-by-side on the slick Lowe’s track in May.
The crew chief needs to understand what the driver is saying and how he is feeling inside the race car. And in turn the driver needs to clearly express exactly what the car is doing in order for appropriate and correct changes to be made.
But if the crew chief doesn’t understand what the driver is saying, or that driver is not clearly diagnosing the problem, you’re bound to see and hear the conversations that many make such a big deal out of between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief/cousin Tony Eury Jr.
On one side we can argue that Tony Eury Jr. doesn’t know how to set up a car or that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not clearly telling him what the problem is or supply input in how to correct it.
Both are valid arguments and it shows that the two need to be on the same page.
One of the most successful driver and crew chief combinations were Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon, but it didn’t come easy. “It took me a little while to figure out, look he’s out there alone, he needs me to help him, to give him information, to calm him down, tell him it’s going to be alright,” Evernham said.
“And as soon as I figured out how to do that, it was like man a switch went off.”
“When I said here’s what the cars doing, he knew how to make it better,” Gordon replied.
Could there be an easy way for crew chiefs to make the car better for their driver?
This past week on Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain, the answer occurred to me.
Robin Miller, a motorsports journalist and Speed Channel open wheel correspondent, was going for a ride along at the Lowe’s Motor speedway as part of his birthday present.
The driver was none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Upon their return the pits and climbing out, Miller told Earnhardt Jr. that he “wished all your mechanics could take a ride with you so when you came in and said "this thing's trying to hurt me.", they’d understand what you’re talking about.”
For once, Robin Miller actually had a valid suggestion.
After practice, or during any part of the weekend, have the Richard Petty Driving Experience roll out some cars and allow the driver to scare their crew chief. I bet we’ll hear a lot less crew chiefs saying that the driver was just complaining that they just need to “shut up and drive.”
Once they experience the car throwing them around and the effects of the G-forces, they might be a lot more appreciating of their driver.
Now, many crew chiefs and mechanics used to be former drivers and that should qualify them to automatically know what the driver means when they say the car is loose, tight or pushing. But how they might discribe and feel about the car could be completely different from their driver.
Plus, they probably had seat time in the old car, the COT is a completely different animal and they haven’t had a feel for that. At least not yet.
If the driver was able to take their crew chief or mechanic for a ride, they could get an up close feel to what the car is doing and how the driver is describing it.
That way, the next time the driver starts ranting during the race maybe the crew chief would have a clearer understanding of what the driver wants fixed and how to fix it.
“I took Tony Jr. for the same ride I took you…and um, we were actually at a test in Virginia one time and I said ‘Man I can’t get through this one corner real good’ and he was down on my road racing skills and I put him in the car and he went out and drove it off into the sand trap in about five corners and never made a lap,” Earnhardt Jr. told Miller.
“So he came back in with a lot more respect, so it was good to give him an opportunity and show him what kind of grip we’re dealing with out there these days and these kinds of cars. It gives him a good idea about what kind of speed we’re carrying and how the cars drive.”
Maybe it’s time all the crew chiefs and mechanics did.