Hamlin no Brooklyn dodger
BROOKLYN, Mich. (June
Kevin Hamlin pours over some
numbers. It's been a long journey from a lawn business to NASCAR's top touring series.
Michigan native Kevin Hamlin looks forward to his regular
twice-a-year trek to Brooklyn, Mich., and Michigan Speedway. Hamlin, crew chief of the No.
3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus team with driver Dale Earnhardt, visits every June and August
as the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit invades the 2-mile oval for some of the most exciting
races of the year.
Hamlin began his racing career by accident when he had
a lawn-care business in Kalamazoo, Mich. Another Michigan racer, Butch Miller, was a
client. Hamlin, who always had a love for dragsters, was doing his job at the Miller home
when Butch was working on his race car. Hamlin stopped his mower and started a
conversation with Miller as he was working on his race car. Miller needed some help so
Hamlin lent a hand.
That was the beginning of Hamlin's racing career. Eventually
the racing took over for the lawn-care business as Hamlin and Miller worked together
racing in the ASA series, winning two series championships as driver and crew chief.
In 1990, Miller and Hamlin moved south to the hotbed of auto
racing, Charlotte, N.C. Hamlin worked for Travis Carter's race team and immediately showed
he had what it took to be in NASCAR.
But Hamlin never thought in a million years that being a crew
chief for the legendary seven-time champion was in his future. In fact it all came about
because of some unusual circumstances.
Hamlin joined Richard Childress Racing in 1997 after Richard
Jackson closed his shop where Hamlin served as crew chief since 1994. Hamlin was the
leader of RCR's second team with Rookie driver Mike Skinner. RCR's first team was the
famous No. 3 Chevrolet that Earnhardt took to six NASCAR championships. After experiencing
a disappointing start to both RCR's team in 1998, owner Richard Childress knew he had to
do something. His decision was going to be the biggest change in Hamlin's racing career.
That was two years ago this week when Childress decided he
needed to swap his two crew chiefs in hopes that the chemistry between the two chiefs and
drivers would help the teams turn the corner towards success. Hamlin went from working
with a rookie driver to calling the shoots for the man known as the
"When Richard called Larry (McReynolds) and me into his
office, none of us knew what was coming," Hamlin said. "His thinking was that
Skinner needed someone with Larry's experience and I'm not too sure what he thought I was
going to bring to Earnhardt. But what ever it was we were going to start it
So the RCR teams packed up the trucks and came to Michigan
Speedway. It never occurred to Hamlin that his first race under the new position was going
to be in the back yard of his hometown of Kalamazoo. nted to talk to me," said
Hamlin. "I literally went from 'inconspicuous crew chief' to 'Kevin who?' "
That was 66 races ago and in that time Hamlin has made a name
for himself. His team has put together four victories and accumulated 18 top-fives and 40
top-10's. So far this season the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Goodwrench Service Plus team
has 10 top-10 finishes in the first 13 events and is third in the Winston Cup points
"It's been a tremendous success all the way
around," Childress said. "Dale and Kevin have really worked well together, as
have Mike and Larry. Kevin is right for Dale. They have the same demeanor and
understanding of what they want and need from a racecar to be successful. Putting Kevin
over here with the 3 team really worked out better than I could have ever predicted."
Those sentiments are shared all around, especially from the
guy holding the steering wheel.
"We have a good understanding of each other,"
Earnhardt said. "It reminds me of the connection Kirk (Shelmerdine) and I had. We've
come a long way and it has been a team effort. Sometimes things just click and that's been
the case with Kevin and I. If I'm thinking about going one way or the other with the car,
he's thinking that same direction. You don't always have that and we've seen many teams
that never find it. I honestly don't believe we've reach our potential, we're getting
there and I'm looking forward to getting into that zone."
Hamlin left Michigan a decade ago chasing the dream of NASCAR
racing. He returns this week in his second full season as the leader of one of the most
famous teams in racing in hopes of clinching his fifth victory in auto racing's premier
series. With all the success Hamlin never forgets where he came from.
On the few days when he's not working to get the No. 3 car
into Victory Lane, you can find him at home -- mowing the lawn. Back where it all started.
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