by Brendan Gaughan
This week, I want to write about something I have neglected far too long Ė the Orleans Racing NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team.
But before I begin, to the fans that were in Darlington waiting for me at the souvenir trailer, I apologize for not showing. To be honest, I got side-tracked with my truck team and completely forgot my commitment. I thought I said I would go out after the truck race, and I did. But apparently, I went too late because the trailer was locked up tight.
Not that it will make you feel better, but I also bagged out of the yearís last bowling tournament to watch the truck race from the Orleans Racing pit. Apparently, my not being at the bowling tournament didnít make a difference. Penske Racing still kicked butt, so congratulations to all of the guys who participated.
Now, as I mentioned earlier this year, these truck guys are like family to me. This team has done a tremendous job this year overcoming a very difficult transition from the Brendan Gaughan-Shane Wilson era to the Steve Park-Charlie Wilson era.
Steve took a lot of heat early this year when he did not come out of the box winning races. I donít think the fans realize that Steve did not have the luxury of the same equipment that I had. NASCAR decided the Dodges had to have a new body, which meant all of those great trucks that Shane had built for me had to be cut apart and rebuilt.
Also, when Shane left it meant that not only the crew chief, but also half of the general managing duo left the team in disarray. This transition was not without its hiccups. We had to go through a couple of general managers before we could get that part of the program settled, and believe me, a strong general manager is crucial in this sport.
Next, we had to find the right chemistry between the team and crew chief and the driver and crew chief. Of course, as all fans know, without chemistry a team has no chance of being successful. After the first couple of races, all of the sports reporters were writing about their favorite subject Ė rumors Ė regarding Steve and the Orleans team. Well guess what? They were all wrong.
Steve and the Orleans Dodge finished the Darlington truck race in fifth and they have moved all the way from 25th to eighth in points. I donít think I have ever been more proud of a group of men and women.
Charlie Wilson, who was Scott Lynchís Winston West Series championship crew chief, took over the reins for the Orleans Dodge midway through the season and has turned into a fantastic crew chief. He makes decisions decisively, which was not always the case this year. Dodge gives us many resources and our Dodge engineer has really meshed with the team seamlessly. Of course, there is Steve Hibbard, our shock specialist, who is enormously responsible for the Orleans teamís success the last few years. He has helped Charlie make decisions and kept the ball rolling in the right direction when the going got tough.
The crew has come so far. The crew from last year really took a beating. Our rear tire changer moved up to the crew chief position for the Yerf-Dog Dodge in the Winston West Series. Our front tire carrier returned home to California, and our jackman moved to another team. So where did we find a whole new crew? We went to our Yerf-Dog West team and moved those guys to the truck team.
After benching the team for a brief period for lack of performance midway through the season, our veteran employee, Harley Rauch, who is our pit crew captain, took control of the situation, and wow! Two consecutive pit stops this weekend at Darlington in the 16-second bracket. I cannot say enough about the pride and appreciation I have for all of these guys. Their perseverance through this season has been incredible.
To the Orleans team and all of our sponsors, especially Dodge, thank you for your support. I promise that next year the Orleans team will be back in its championship form and back to having the most important thing there is in racing that many people in this sport overlook. In the words of my good friend Doug Bawel of Jasper Engines and Transmissions, we are going to keep "doing it right" and have fun.