Doug Richert has been there and done that in a long career in Sprint Cup racing.
He’s been to the very top, winning the Cup championship with driver Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 1980, one of three crew chiefs who rode to the sport’s high ground with the man who won more titles than anyone other than Richard Petty.
Richert has been bouncing around the sport since those halcyon days with the Intimidator, and his latest project is the growth and nurturing of the BK Racing team, one that has shown some bright spots this season despite getting a ridiculously late start on proceedings.
The Daytona 500, the first point race of the new season was run Feb. 27. Richert walked in the door of the team shop on Feb. 1.
“On Feb. 1, we got the keys to the shop,” Richert said. “We had to deal with the EFI system and the ECU units, with a new radiator package – there was a lot to do in a little bit of time. It was just like a mountain, but we got what we could get, begged and borrowed what we needed to, pushed it and made it.”
The team and drivers Landon Cassill and Travis Kvapil haven’t knocked down the door to the promised land. But their cars have been reasonably competitive in the broad sweep of things, considering the circumstances, and there is reason to think the second half of the season will hold better results.
“I’m happy with our progression so far,” Richert said. “We’re doing pretty good for a team really just getting going. Considering we started Feb. 1, we’ve come a long way.”
Richert means that both short-term and long-term. Half the battle on a weekly basis in Cup racing is arriving at each track with cars generally in tune for the track and ready to be massaged for that extra slice of speed that can make the difference between top-10 runs and finishes in the second half of the field.
“The sooner we get the cars prepped, the more time we have to work with it at the track,” he said. “The more options we can set up. The first part of the year, basically we loaded to show up. We didn’t have any prep time. Everybody talks about having a notebook. We didn’t have that in the beginning. That’s hard to come by. We had to make our own notebooks. You build your processes every week.”
Being with a lower-tier Toyota team, Richert and his mechanics and engineers aren’t first on the list for assistance at the TRD racing facility in Salisbury, N.C., a circumstance Richert says he fully understands. But the team has access to the seven-post rig and other equipment there.
The problems come in trying to build a team while also keeping up with the flow of the season.
“We’ve already had an aero change this year that we don’t know anything about,” Richert said. “Changing the side skirts on the cars affects the side force and the total downforce. When you start talking about little things and you don’t really know where it starts, it’s hard. You make a change, but what do you change? That’s hard.”
Wrecks and the resulting extra work in the shop also hit a smaller team harder than the assembly-line structure of wealthier teams.
Richert sees progress, however, and he says he’s a patient man.
“These things don’t happen overnight any more,” he said. “We have just as good an opportunity to walk ourselves up the ladder – that is, if we can keep our momentum going.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.