Cup drivers garner a lot of attention at Nationwide races. Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Brad Keselowski seem to have a steering wheel, an autograph-seeking fan, or a microphone in front of them all weekend.
On a cloudy and warm race morning at the Nashville Superspeedway, NASCAR veteran and Nationwide Series team owner Jimmy Means sat alone, unrecognized, and on the pit wall sipping a drink. There were no cameras, reporters, or for that fact anyone even near him.
I seized a golden opportunity to introduce myself and spend a few minutes chatting with Means.
The team owner image most fans are accustomed to is one of khaki pants, a sponsor-logo shirt, an expensive watch, and flying in on a private jet to stay in a luxury motorcoach. Means does not even come close to fitting that mold. He was dressed in black work jeans and a gray mechanic’s shirt. And for a good reason. He works on his own cars.
Means first caught my eye as he pushed a cart with four tires on it to his team’s garage stall. I found out later, he was not his team’s tire specialist as he appeared, but was moving used tires he “absconded” from other teams. Means cannot afford new tires so he makes due with whatever used sets that friends on other teams will let him have.
Years ago he was part of the group of independents that used to drive on the Grand National tour, long before it was known as the Sprint Cup Series. Now he is a Nationwide Series team owner. He still is trying to compete against his well-financed competition without a whole lot of money himself.
He spoke of how the Nationwide COT chassis is better overall for a team like his.
“We race better,” Means said. “Before (with the former chassis) we would practice around 40th. Now we can practice around 28th to 30th. The bigger teams could go to a wind tunnel and work around the templates. They can’t do that now.”
Means also described the downside of the new car.
“If you bend the body, it will not fit the templates,” Means said.
He went on to compare his car to a shoe box bottom and the templates to the box top.
“If you crush the bottom, and straighten it out, you can’t expect the top to fit,” said Means.
This results in replacing most of the body when only one corner has damage. Means’s driver Tim Schendel scraped the right side of the car at Texas and the team had to replace all but the left door and fender.
“The spoiler sticks out so far, when you hit the wall it bends everything. Even the roof,” Means said.
Means races weekly with no back up car. He had a single chassis that he entered in 26 races last year. In his own words he races “Every race, one race at a time.”
Brake failure dropped his car from the Nashville race. That same machine will be headed to the next scheduled event at Richmond. A fact Means was not sure of until the car was loaded into the hauler.
He actually directed the loading process and then shook the hand and thanked volunteers that donated their weekend. Means has but one other employee beside himself to run the entire Nationwide tour.
Today’s racing superstars do make for good stories. But much more can be learned about where the sport is, where it is going, and most importantly where it came from by taking time to talk to racers like Jimmy Means.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Mondays at 7pm ET/4pm PT. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com.)