Editor's Note: Andy Petree has been a NASCAR team owner since 1996, and prior to that he was a chief mechanic and driver. He knows that of which he speaks, and as a member of the Circle Track Magazine Technical Council, he's sharing that knowledge with our readers. As a team owner, his cars have won more than $12 million in prize money, and Bobby Hamilton earned Andy Petree Racing's first NASCAR Winston Cup victory last season at the 2.66-mile Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
As a crew chief, Petree took over for the departed Kirk Shelmerdine and guided Dale Earnhardt to the Winston Cup championship in 1993 and 1994, the last two titles the Intimidator would win. As Earnhardt's crew chief, Petree won 16 races, two Winston Cup titles and more than $10 million in prize money. In 1996, he became the owner of Andy Petree Racing, the team formerly owned by Richard and Leo Jackson, and he has fielded cars ever since. In 2002, Petree will have Hamilton back in the Square D Chevrolet while plans for the No. 33 Chevrolet are in the works.
For our monthly Tech Council story, Petree sat down with us to pass along some basics of team ownership, whether it is a Street Stock team, a Late Model team or a Pony Stock team. He has been a mechanic, a chief mechanic, a driver and a team owner in his career, so he's been there and done that at all levels.
CT: If someone were setting up a racing team, what would be the first piece of advice you would give them?AP: I would think the first piece of advice I would give to anyone setting up a team, whether it's a Late Model or a Street Stock team or whatever, is to go out and get yourself a good, reliable engine. That's really where it all starts. If you go to the racetrack without a reliable engine, you're only going to make a few laps and then you're going to have trouble. You're not going to get anywhere. So the first thing to do would be to invest in a good, reliable engine.
Second, if there's any way to get sponsorship, try to get enough to where you can put new tires on the car every week. That's the other big issue. Most Saturday-night teams have free help, and you really have to have that. You need as much good, free help as you can get. Most Saturday-night teams revolve around the driver. He's the guy, the crew chief, most of the time. He calls most of the shots and probably does most of the work. When I raced Late Models, the guy who owned the car did a lot of the work, but it was still very labor-intensive for me, as the driver.
CT: In terms of structure, is it wise for a team to look for a crew chief or not?AP: It depends. Most of these deals revolve around the driver calling the shots and acting as his own crew chief. If you have a driver who doesn't know a lot, then yes, that's the next thing you need to look at. If you do not have that expertise, then that's what you need to go and get for your team. The first year I raced, I just basically did it with the help that we had without really having an active crew chief. The next year there was a guy who became available who wanted to come and help our team. He basically helped us for nothing. He had been working with a driver who had won five track championships at Hickory (Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina). He came and helped me, and I didn't realize I needed any help. I was a Winston Cup mechanic at the time, but I didn't realize I needed help until I got him. As soon as he started helping us, we started winning, and I think it was because we had somebody there to bounce things off of. You need somebody in your pit who you can talk to and say, "I think the car is loose." You need someone who knows a lot about the car, who can check the tire temperatures and chassis settings and then can say back to you, "OK, here's what you're feeling. You might be too tight ..." If you have somebody like that to bounce things off of, it can make a big, big difference. I didn't realize how much a difference it made until I did that.
CT: You advised earlier that a fledgling team needed to invest in a reliable engine as a first step. Is there an area you would advise teams to stay away from? In other words, buying a reliable engine is a definite do; is there a definite don't for Saturday-night racers?AP: My world is so much different now than it was before. There are a lot of don'ts in what I'm doing now! If I were to give a piece of advice, it would have to be, try not to spend money unnecessarily. There's going to be some limit on your budget; there's hardly any team in racing that doesn't have a limit on its budget. Try to make sure you don't spend money in the wrong place. For instance, don't go out and spend a bunch of money on fancy chrome wheels or a fancy trailer, and then not spend money on a good engine, new tires or good parts for your race car. Make sure you're spending money in the right place; don't spend it in a frivolous way. You don't want to spend $100,000 on a rig and then not have any money left to spend on the things you need to go fast. If you want to be successful, be successful on the racetrack because that's where it counts. If you can do both, that's ideal. But if you have to choose where to spend the money, spend it on the race car itself.
CT: Once you get the good, reliable engine in place, what's the next priority?AP: Why, the race car, of course! You need to have good running gear, brakes and all the rest. You have to have the first two things, which are a good engine and a good race car. Past that, you have to be able to put good tires on it every week. You don't want to spend all your money on other things and not have any left for tires, because that's going to make as big a difference as anything once you get on the racetrack.
CT: When you raced, was there a tire rule?AP: We had a tire rule, yes, but you could put new tires on every week. It wasn't like you had to run used tires on the left side. A lot of tracks are doing that now, and that does help from a cost standpoint. When we ran, it was a 50- or 75-lap race every weekend, and you could put new tires on every week. If you didn't, you weren't going to be one of the guys anyway. If you tried to run your tires for two weeks or tried to put just two tires on, you usually weren't going to be one of the guys who were there at the end.
CT: In terms of sponsorship, what would your best advice be to team owners who are looking to land the "big deal?"AP: The first thing, the absolute first thing, is performance on the racetrack. The next thing is your image. Do you have a good image? Is your hauler clean? Do you have a nice shop? Is your image polished? If it isn't, how can you clean that image up? But the first thing has to be your performance on the track. The better you do, the more you are noticed.
CT: What are the things a good team owner looks for in a driver for hire?AP: You look at what he's done in the past. That usually gives you a pretty good idea. Even at the Late-Model level, the driver has probably run Street Stocks or something similar. You're looking for a winner, somebody who has been a winner in their division, in whatever they've done. That's what it boils down to in the end.
CT: Is there a formula for getting the help you need? If you don't have a machine shop close at hand, what's a good way to get some help for your race car?AP: You can be creative with it. Go out and find somebody, like a good machine shop, and trade them some signage for a little head work, or some other work you need done. It's a good way to get things done that you need, it doesn't cost you much, except for painting the name on the side of the car, and it can open the door for other sponsorships down the road. It's a very good way to go.