Saturday, September 16, 2006

Change in attitude makes RCR formidable again

Change in attitude makes RCR formidable again

Organization has chance at first title since Earnhardt won in 1994

By David Newton, NASCAR.COM
September 15, 2006
01:14 PM EDT (17:14 GMT)

WELCOME, N.C. -- Danny "Chocolate" Myers slid behind the counter at the front desk of Richard Childress Racing on Monday and offered the receptionist a stick of gum.

"Ouch!" she shouted.

"Gotcha!" Myers said with a laugh.

Myers was having a little fun with a magic store package of gum designed to shock the recipient that tries to remove a stick.

But he wasn't the only person in the 86,000-square-foot headquarters of RCR's Nextel Cup program enjoying this sun-splashed day. Everyone, from the man mowing the grass to the top engineer, had an extra bounce in their step.

And with good reason.

For the first time since NASCAR went to the Chase for the Nextel Cup format in 2004 the organization that produced six championships with Dale Earnhardt will be represented in the 10-race playoff that begins Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway.

And not by just one driver, but two in Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton.

It's like a huge burden has been lifted off the backs of the employees in this 13-building complex hidden behind the railroad tracks off Old Highway 52.

"Anybody that says making the Chase doesn't matter, they're lying to themselves," said Myers, who has been with RCR since 1983. "It's kind of like saying the Daytona 500 is just another race."

It matters especially to an organization that exemplified the term excellence from 1986-1994, when Earnhardt won six of his seven titles and collected 39 of his 76 career victories to put the town of Welcome on the map.

"Everybody is stepping a little higher," said Chris Hussey, the director of engineering. "We have tons and tons of meetings on Mondays, and there was a lot more smiling and a lot more handshaking, quite a few more compliments being passed around than this time the past few years.

"You look forward to going to work now. You look forward to going to tests. You look forward to everything about the place right now."

It wasn't that way a year ago.

Nerves were frayed knowing the organization and sponsors again would not be represented in the Chase or the season-ending banquet in New York City where the top-10 teams are recognized.

Monday morning competition meetings with the crew chiefs and drivers often were as combative as they were productive.

"I've left competition meetings before with everybody looking at me like I was the biggest butt in the whole entire world because they didn't like what I had to say," said Harvick, who stormed into the Chase with his third victory of the season Saturday night at Richmond.

In the end, Harvick and others got their message across. Childress made wholesale changes in every aspect of the company.

He finally enjoyed the fruit of his labor at Richmond, where Harvick clinched the third seed in the playoff and Burton finished the race ninth to lock down eighth place in the Chase.

"Everybody is more proud of where they work today than they were this time a year ago," shop manager Royce McGee said. "They enjoy working here without the stigma of, 'We're not competitors. We're not contenders anymore.'

"That can wear on you after a while."

It particularly wore on the few left of the Earnhardt regime who weren't used to failure.

"We were always on the inside looking out before the past couple of years," Myers said. "The last two years we were on the outside looking in. That's not a good feeling."

The Earnhardt effect

On the wall in front of Bobby Hutchens' desk is a picture of Earnhardt with a trophy holding up four fingers to acknowledge his fourth Cup title.

RCR's vice president for competition can only imagine what Earnhardt would have felt about the organization the past two years.

"Embarrassment," Hutchens said. "He would have been pretty embarrassed about us not making the Chase. It was an embarrassment for all of us."

The picture is a reminder to Hutchens of what RCR is all about. It's also a reminder of the role Earnhardt's death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 played on the downfall of the company.

Earnhardt finished every season but 1992 in the top 10 in points from 1986 until his death. He was second in 2000 with 24 top-10 finishes.

His replacement, Harvick, finished 14th or worse in three of the past four seasons.

"I'm not going to sit here and say that at some point in time that [his death] didn't play a part in our troubles," Hutchens said. "We went through 2001 on adrenalin. We had a great year, even after Dale passed away.

"But we fizzled off the last two months of the season. We all ran out of gas. I don't even remember 2002, that's how bad it was."

Harvick finished 21st in points in 2002, collecting almost as many DNFs (six) as he did top-10s (eight). Things were so bad that Childress wasn't sure he wanted to remain in the business.

"I was burnt out after 2001," he said.

Ronnie Hoover, who manages the fabrication shop, said it was obvious when he arrived two years ago that Earnhardt's death took the organization down a few notches.

"My perception was I thought Earnhardt was such a talented person that he made up for a lot of weaknesses in the organization that they didn't realize they were weak in," he said. "They ran so well most of the time that they didn't think they were broke.

"By the time they started getting beat, the next thing they know they were behind."

Hutchens said the low point came in the middle of the 2003 season when he tried to hire talent to turn things around.

"There was a time in there when the best of the best would call us," he said. "Then we got to a point where we didn't get those calls and we had to seek out those people, and we were having trouble hiring them.

"You understood. We weren't competitive like we wanted to be. We weren't running up front."

The organization had only one win the past two seasons and only four since 2003, with two of those coming from former driver Robby Gordon on road courses.

"I'll be honest with you," said Harvick, who had the other two wins. "I would have fired my butt three or four years ago. But you know, Richard is the type of person that gives you a chance and let's you explore the world and try to realize who you are."

Childress also got more involved, putting aside his grief from Earnhardt's death and looking toward the future. He realized these were different times and that he couldn't survive on one man's talent as he had.

He spent the money to move out of the cramped No. 3 shop that now serves as his museum and build the new multi-million-dollar complex that includes a new Cup and engine shop.

He separated the research and development department from the engine shop and hired new people with fresh ideas, leaving only a handful of employees remaining from the Earnhardt regime.

He came up with a plan and stuck to it.

"He's excited to be at the racetrack," Harvick said. "He's at the shop too many hours during the day. He drives himself crazy over every situation, but I mean, that's what it takes."

Hutchens, glancing at Earnhardt's picture, agreed.

"I see him as pumped up today as in 1988 when I came here," he said of Childress. "He's leading the charge."

"The people who get on in the world are the people who get up and look for the circumstance they want. And if they can't find them they make them.''

These are the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw. They are on a poster behind Hoover's desk in the fabrication shop explaining Shaw's interpretation of the word "Attitude."

"That's what's happened here," Hoover said. "You've got to make things happen to change. You determine your own destiny. You make your own luck. No excuses."

Burton has had a big impact on attitude. He's led the way Earnhardt once did, quietly putting together one of his best seasons in the process.

"I knew that we needed that for our organization," said Childress, who hired Burton from Roush Racing with 14 races left in the 2004 season. "Kevin had been around for five years or so and the other drivers I had had in the car didn't have that ability.

"Jeff had the experience. He won a lot of races. He's a leader. He's a great spokesman for anyone."

Childress also credits Harvick for keeping on the pressure to make changes, particularly in the engine department.

"I may not know how to express it the correct way, but I think they all heard where I was coming from and it wasn't just me," Harvick said. "You know, at some point you have to stop and re-evaluate everything that's going on.

"Nobody was pointing fingers and everybody just stopped and Richard said, 'Here is what we're going to do. We're going to come up with a new plan.'"

Finding a direction

Nine shiny orange No. 29 (Harvick) cars are in line beside nine shiny No. 31 (Burton) cars beside nine shiny black No. 07 (Clint Bowyer) cars in the middle of the Cup shop.

"There was a time last year when we had more cars in the fab shop being repaired than we have out here now," McGee said.

The plan that began midway through last season was to tear down the old cars and build new ones all equal. The goal was to make sure no team went to the track with one car better than the other as happened often in the past.

"There ain't no saving old cars anymore," McGee said as he surveyed the fleet. "The worst one of ours we cut it up and made it better, so if we do tear a car up the crew chief and the driver is not thinking, 'Oh, we can't win in this car.'"

The engines undergo the same scrutiny as the bodies. A commitment was made to build each one within four horsepower of the other, whereas some left the shop last year with a 10 horsepower differential.

Rick Mann, the engine shop manager, said finding a direction and sticking to it has been key. That and separating the engine shop from the R&D shop.

"We were working almost on top of each other, getting engines done at the last minute," he said. "We got to the point where we felt we were far enough off that it was almost a panic situation. It was almost like we were trying to re-invent the wheel.

"You're sitting there thinking you're doing everything you can to move the thing forward and not getting anywhere. It's almost like you're drowning."

Now engines are being built and delivered ahead of schedule. Panic has turned into order. Crazy work hours to make up for lost time have been replaced by standard 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. days.

The reward was two cars in the Chase and Bowyer (16th) with a shot at finishing as high as RCR's best driver the past two seasons, when Harvick was 14th.

"That feels great," Mann said. "The past couple of years it was, 'Well, if we'd done this or that we might have made it.' You always second-guessed yourself."

Return to excellence

Beside the front door to the Cup shop is a bronze eagle holding a checkered flag with a No. 3 in the upper left corner and the words "RCR celebrating decades of success" engraved below.

Not far away in a glass case are Childress' six championship owner trophies.

Everything about the building exudes success, which made the past two seasons particularly painful when the Chase began.

"This place has tons of history," Hussey said. "Just making this Chase is obviously not good enough for this place. This place is accustomed to winning championships.

"There's a lot of guys that have been here 12 and 20 years. Those are the ones that are most enjoyable to watch right now. They're the ones that struggled the hardest the last few years."

RCR is a contender because the company turned the negativity of not making the Chase into a positive, using the final 10 races of last season to get ready for this season.

"We felt like we were two months ahead of the curve going to testing at Las Vegas, and we came out of the box strong at Daytona," McGee said.

Hutchens fed off the negativity, watching the banquet on television as "punishment" to further motivate him.

"The top dogs are there and receiving awards and talking about what a good season they had," he said. "Just to not be considered in that group, that was tough."

Now there is a renewed sense of pride in the complex. There is a feeling of accomplishment instead of a feeling of disappointment.

"We as a company want to get recognized as winners and contenders," McGee said. "Robert Yates said it two weeks ago that he didn't want people ashamed to work in his facility.

"There was a time you kind of felt that way here two or three years ago. These guys in here have busted their butt to get us back. They're now proud to say, 'Hey, we work at RCR.'"

McGreevey Soap Opera Update (9/16/06)

Bill's Pre-Comment: I haven't done one of these in a while, but the timing could not be better. To give you a synopsis of things, I will be concise.

Former NJ Governor James E. McGreevey will appear on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" this coming Tuesday, September 19. (It was taped on September 12). Also on this day, his long awaited personal memoir, "THE CONFESSION", hits the bookshelves. The following Tuesday, September 26, the book will be available on audio cassette. (For those who plan to go that route, I recommend that you DO NOT have it on in the car. I will let your minds wander on that one.) I will provide a link with some excerpts later. (Warning- it is graphic!)

First, I will provide the story about his Oprah appearance, then the link from New Jersey 101.5-FM (WKXW, Trenton, NJ).


Former N.J. Gov. Tells Oprah of Affair

By ANGELA DELLI SANTI, Associated Press Writer

Thu Sep 14, 1:27 PM

TRENTON, N.J. - Former Gov. James E. McGreevey revealed during an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he was having an affair with another man while his wife was hospitalized for the birth of their child, according to audience members.

The nation's first openly gay governor told Winfrey he believed he was in love with the man, who would become a central figure in his downfall, said two audience members who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity. Winfrey asked them not to divulge the contents of the broadcast, which was taped in Chicago on Tuesday.

A dozen friends of McGreevey who attended had to sign confidentiality agreements for Regan Books, which is publishing McGreevey's political memoir. The hourlong program will be broadcast Sept. 19, the day McGreevey's much-anticipated "The Confession," hits bookstores and he embarks on a national book tour.

McGreevey, 49, stunned the nation on Aug. 12, 2004, when he said he had been involved in an affair with a man and would resign. McGreevey later identified the man as Golan Cipel, though Cipel has repeatedly denied being gay. The lawyer who represented Cipel, Allen Lowy, would not comment Wednesday.

In the interview, the audience members said Winfrey explores McGreevey's lifelong struggle with his sexuality.

McGreevey recounted going to the library as an adolescent to look up the word "homosexual" in a dictionary. When he found it included terms like "perverse" and "psychiatric disorder," the Irish-Catholic said he quickly learned to repress his feelings, audience members said.

The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from a list of mental disorders in 1973.

The interview also explores how McGreevey came out to his wife and parents, how his life is more authentic today, and what life is like with Australian financial adviser Mark O'Donnell, whom he refers to as his "life partner," the audience members said.

O'Donnell also appears on the program, audience members said.

McGreevey has been publicly silent since stepping from the public eye. A lawyer, he has pursued education policy initiatives, including work on behalf of a Kean University campus in China.

Winfrey landed the interview with McGreevey because of her sense of faith and spirituality, according to friends of the former governor. McGreevey is said to be a fan of Winfrey's education and anti-poverty work, two issues to which the former governor is devoting more time in his post-political life.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


McGreevey Details Battle With Homosexuality in New Book (warning: graphic content)
Friday, September 15, 2006 - Associated Press

Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey decided not to tell federal prosecutors about a $50 million extortion plot against him because it would expose his secret life as a gay man, he writes in his tell-all book "The Confession."

A copy of the book, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, detailed how McGreevey ultimately decided to come out on his own after the blackmail threat was made by a former male lover. In a political stunner, he went public at an Aug. 12, 2004 announcement where he confessed to an extramarital affair with another man and announced his resignation a year before his term was up.

McGreevey's book, due in bookstores Tuesday, details his inner battles with his homosexuality, his rise in New Jersey politics and his double life as a married father and a closeted gay. He described bedding the man whom he claims blackmailed him while his wife, Dina, was in the hospital after delivering their daughter.

He recalls how New Jersey state troopers were parked outside as he met with Golan Cipel, the man he would later put in charge of New Jersey's counterterrorism efforts despite having no experience. Cipel repeatedly has denied that he is gay.

McGreevey recounts how he took Cipel by the hand and led him upstairs in December 2001.

"We undressed and he kissed me. It was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean -- it sent me through the roof," he wrote. "I was like a man emerging from 44 years in a cave to taste pure air for the first time, feel direct sunlight on pallid skin, warmth where there had only ever been a bone-chilling numbness."

"I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I'd always dreamed: a boastful, passionate, whispering, masculine kind of love," he wrote.

The affair continued and in 2002 Dina McGreevey confronted her husband, asking if he were gay. McGreevey thought about telling her the truth, but said nothing.

The affair soured and around Easter 2004, McGreevey had one of his last phone conversations with Cipel. Cipel said he had told his parents he had an affair with McGreevey, according to the book.

McGreevey said Cipel demanded to see him, but McGreevey said he could not.

"If I don't hear from you I'm going to have to take action," Cipel says.

On July 23, 2004, the steps leading up to McGreevey's resignation began when an aide told him that Cipel has threatened to file sexual assault charges against him if he did not pay $50 million. Weeks of back and forth with Cipel's attorney went nowhere, and while flying over New Jersey in a helicopter, McGreevey thought about resigning.

McGreevey and his closest associates contemplated their options, including going to federal authorities.

"I knew it would stop the extortion campaign, but it would do nothing to protect my secret," McGreevey writes. "Once an official complaint was made, I knew my heterosexual pretense was over. My story would land in the pantheon of messy love affairs."

McGreevey first must tell his wife he is gay and he may have to resign. He writes how his marriage had been deteriorating for some time.

Dina McGreevey reacts with silence, before finally saying: "Where are we going to live?"

McGreevey started telling friends he's gay. He finally told his parents.

"My father's first response was, "You make a choice, Jim --
Coke or Pepsi. You were married twice, you have two wonderful daughters. Why don't you try to make that work? Why don't you make the regular choice?"

McGreevey says: "Dad, I've known my whole life. This is who I am."

His father says he'll always be his son and the two shake hands.

Before making his resignation speech at the New Jersey Statehouse, McGreevey and his wife pray together. Minutes before the speech, McGreevey said Cipel tried to blackmail him again, asking for $2 million and a charter for Touro College in New York to open a medical school campus. Allen Lowy, the lawyer who represented Cipel, refused to comment Thursday on the book.

McGreevey said he ignored the demand and gave his speech, uttering the famous phrase "And so my truth is that I am a gay American."

McGreevey retreated into private life and remained silent until he spoke with Oprah Winfrey on Tuesday about the book -- that show will air Sept. 19. He works now as an university-level educational consultant and an childhood anti-poverty advocate. McGreevey, 49, lives in Plainfield, N.J., with his partner, Mark O'Donnell.

McGreevey is set to embark on a monthlong book tour, arranged by publisher Harper Collins. The 359-page book costs $26.95.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)