by Mike Snow - Orleans Racing
Las Vegas – (2-Sept-05) --- Facts are facts ---- in NASCAR Racing there is precious little available to a race team that allows them to separate themselves from the guy in the next garage stall. With NASCAR’s rigid inspection process there is not a lot room for creativity --- and for the most part all the parts available to team “A” are also available to team “B”.
So what is it that makes some teams rise to the top? It’s not the bits and pieces that go on the vehicles; No, it’s preparation and chemistry that get the job done.
Enter the 2005 efforts of the Jasper Engines Dodge. The year started with preparation that was complicated with the start up efforts from a one Dodge truck operation to a two truck operation. This issue demanded attention, and it was a task that was handled by some of the best in the business.
“When the Jasper team started this year Steve Park, Billy Wilburn, myself and Charlie Wilson all sat down and we knew that we were a mess,” said driver / general manager of Orleans Racing, Brendan Gaughan from the team’s Las Vegas headquarters. “Steve Park got us a win to get us some early, early momentum and early good, warm fuzzy feelings but we knew that we weren’t ready to go compete every week. (Early season crew chief) Billy Wilburn worked his tail off for the first part of this year. He threw stuff away and cleaned stuff up and got rid of old systems and old pieces and parts. With Billy working on that we let Charlie Wilson worry about just getting the trucks to the race track so we could keep competing and trying.”
It took time for the combined efforts to take hold but the trucks that Orleans Racing were fielding were starting to look a little snappier when they rolled off the transporters that hauled them to the track each week.
With the hardware becoming less and less of an issue the search was on for the next piece that would propel the Jasper Engines and Transmissions Dodge to the next level. That piece was going to be the hardest commodity of all to attain --- chemistry.
Enter Tony “Rambo” Liberati. Liberati came to Orleans Racing on an interim basis beginning with the May Mansfield, Ohio event. The pairing of Gaughan and Liberati was clearly an unknown; the two had hardly spoken together before that weekend.
The team hadn’t even completed its first practice that weekend when it became abundantly clear that these two racing veterans spoke the same language. There was seemingly instant chemistry – a chemistry that was back the following week in the event run at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
Knowing what they had, a deal was struck that would keep the dynamic duo together through at least the end of the 2005 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule.
“First of all, the reason why I came to this team was because at Mansfield and Charlotte I saw that there was a lot of potential with the guys and they had everything they needed to run good,” said “Rambo” describing the item that cinched the deal for his season long involvement.
“This team has gelled faster than any team I’ve ever been with. Everybody is on the same page and everybody is doing a really good job,” added the crew chief of the #77 Jasper Dodge. “Like I said, it was there the whole time and I was just lucky enough to realize that. We just gelled very quickly and everybody is working in the same direction.
“It’s a good team environment and that’s what it takes to run good.”
“Rambo has got the whole 77 bunch to the point where anybody who has listened to our radio communication for the last couple of weeks knows how much fun we’re having and knows that Tweedledum and Tweedledummer are just making fun of each other and going at it,” Gaughan adds with a laugh. “Pretty soon our website will have a link where you can actually listen to the radio conversation between the 77 team. I think you could charge for tickets as comedy.”
With a far more serious tone Gaughan adds, “But we’re fast again. Steve Park and the 62 bunch has been the steady group. They’re running good. Steve has had that snakebite thing for awhile. But now we’ve got all the trucks at the shop to the point where everything is back where we think it needs to be. Now we think not only about consistency but we think we can go out and win.”
But “Rambo” did have one big issue that he needed to get hammered out --- and quick – and that was restoring the driver’s confidence in his abilities.
“Brendan spent last year having everybody tell him that he couldn’t get it done, couldn’t get it done, couldn’t get it done,” Rambo said shaking his head. “Sooner or later, if people keep telling you that, you’re going to believe them. I think that his confidence was low and I think that a lot of this turnaround has also been due to the fact that I came in here and said, ‘You can do it. I don’t care what you say. You can do it.’
“For instance, he was trying to pass a lapped truck at Charlotte and he was being tentative and he was going to crash. I said, ‘Go on. You can do this. Just do it.’ Then he started realizing, ‘Maybe I am OK.’ He started doing it and he started driving like he’s supposed to.”
Now smiling Rambo continues, “Before every race we beat on each other. Before the race starts I say, ‘From Lap 1 I want you go. This isn’t a Cup race. We’re not running 500 miles. You’re gonna have to go from Lap 1.’ At Indy, from Lap 1 he got up on the wheel and never stopped until it was over. At Memphis he was the same way.
“I just think that he finally realizes that he’s got the confidence to know that I’ve got the confidence in him and his team’s got confidence in him to know that he can do it. So all he has to do is just do it.”
Gaughan is the first to admit that Rambo has helped him get back into his swing --- to get his swagger back.
“I’m the happiest I’ve been in, goodness gracious almost two years,” Gaughan said of the strong pairing of him and his Ohio native crew chief. “Rambo’s got me feeling like a race car driver again. The boys in the shop are walking around spraying Silly String at everybody and just goofing around with everybody.
“I worked in the shop last year and I’ve been on a lot of race teams. Tony Liberati has been around a lot of race teams. But I’ve never seen a race team do this stuff,” Gaughan continued. “This team is smiling, goofing with each other, laughing, going to pit stop practice and ripping off 15 second stops. Heck, even the 77 team, which was the slower of the two is now ripping off 16 second stops.
“Everybody is making fun of each other. Everybody is laughing with each other. We’re getting that swagger back,” Gaughan says of the Jasper Engines team’s chemistry. “And it’s that chemistry that’s going to win us races.
“With chemistry you just can’t lose --- and without it you don’t stand a chance of winning.”
Whole Lotta Locks (Of Love)
Some folks look at the rapidly growing hair of crew chief Tony “Rambo” Liberati and driver Brendan Gaughan and wonder if they’ve gone hippie on the world. Nothing could be further from the truth – especially for former Marine Liberati --- who’s always had a tightly trimmed head of hair.
The two were made aware of an organization, Locks Of Love, and thought they’d like to contribute to the needs of children through methods other than tossing a check in an organization’s direction.
But it’s how Locks Of Love came onto the radar for Liberati and Gaughan that makes for a neat story.
Rambo explains: “It is something that is pretty unbelievable. I went to my five year old son, Alex, and said, ‘We need to go get a haircut.’ He said, ‘I don’t want to get my hair cut.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘Because if you don’t get your haircut you can give it to sick kids that don’t have hair. They make hats for them.’ Hats meaning wigs. I said, ‘Really? Where did you learn that?’ He said, ‘We learned that in school.’ he said, ‘So you want to grow your hair so you can give it to a sick kid?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ And this kid is five years old. I said, ‘OK, we’re going to grow our hair together.’
“This started probably around January or February. I can wear a hat and pull it back to get it out of the way but it sort of got to him a little bit so he went ahead and got a haircut. But because he said that to me, that’s what I’m going to do.
“I want to make sure that I set the record straight to the fact that I’m not trying to look like Brendan,” Liberati adds. “I’m not trying to be a hippie. I’m doing this because my five-year-old son said that he wanted to grow his hair for Locks of Love.
“I’m going to grow my hair eleven inches and I’m going to cut it off. I’ll shave it off bald in front of anyone who wants to watch and give the hair to Locks of Love because that’s what my son said and I was so impressed that he came up with something like that.”
More info on Locks Of Love can be found at www.locksoflove.org.