Amy Henderson · Wednesday October 23, 2013
Ever wonder what it’s like to own a team at NASCAR’s highest level? For many in the garage, it’s not glamorous, but it is rewarding. For Tommy Baldwin, Jr., racing has always been a way of life. He grew up watching his father race in his native New England and raced himself in NASCAR’s Modified division before becoming a successful crew chief. Baldwin was on the box for four of Ward Burton’s five career Cup wins, including the 2002 Daytona 500.
When Bill Davis decided to close his race shop, Baldwin took the plunge into car ownership, and has spent the last five years building his two car team in the Sprint Cup ranks. He currently fields the No. 7 of Dave Blaney and the No. 36 of JJ Yeley, and the team is carving a niche for itself in the sport. Baldwin sat down with Amy Henderson in Charlotte to discuss his team’s past, the future…and why he’ll always be a Modified guy at heart.
Amy Henderson, Frontstretch.com: You were known for many years as a top crew chief in the Cup garage. What led to the decision to become a team owner?
Tommy Baldwin: I’m not going to say I was forced into doing it, but the position I was put in, it was December of whatever year it was when Bill Davis sold out his company and it was so late to get a good job. So I just decided, ‘the heck with it, let’s give it a shot.” Five years later, here we are.
Henderson: Talk about the road that your team has taken—it’s been a struggle to improve. It’s a struggle for all the small teams with lack of money, lack of sponsorship.
Baldwin: It has been (a struggle), but we’ve been able to overcome a lot of things. We’ve been able to understand a lot about the business and where we are and the realities of what we have to do. I think now, we’re secure enough in our plans and what we do that we know what we have to do and now we just have to focus on getting some more money for us so we can do even better than what we’re doing.
Henderson: How does a small team set its goals? For a big team, it’s easy: win races and make the Chase. What are realistic goals for your team and how do you meet those?
Baldwin: We understand who we’re racing against. We understand when we’re running real well, who we’re racing against and how much money they have. We kind of thrive on beating those guys that have a lot of money. That way when we go into meetings (with potential sponsors), we can show these companies that if we had more money, we could do even a better job. It’s about building relationships. This stuff takes time. We’re relatively new; we’re only five years old in the business. It takes a long time to build trust with companies so they know they you’re going to be here for a long time and they know that you’re going to be able to sustain yourself in this business. I think we’re getting to that point now.
Henderson: You have picked up some new sponsorship this year. The team has stepped up the game a lot this year; last year you had to park early a few times, but that’s not happening this year. What has changed? It is just money or something else?
Baldwin: We’ve got some great partners on board this year for sure with United Mining Equipment, Golden Corral, and Accell. SANY coming on board this year was huge. It’s just helped us along. We’ve got two cars now, and it’s a solid two-car team. They both race all the races and have made all the races. It’s going well. I’m proud of how far we’ve come to get to the position we’re in now. It’s good.
Henderson: Has the Gen-6 car helped the smaller teams be more competitive?
Baldwin: I think it has. It’s put us all in a little bit better box. Until you get yourself the proper funding to have all the tools, it’s really not going to do any better than what we’re doing, especially with the money we have. We’ve been fortunate enough with the partners we have now that they’ve done a good job and have reaped the benefits of doing it and want to come back next year.
Henderson: Do you know what your plans are looking ahead to 2014?
Baldwin: We don’t know yet; we’re still trying to figure that out. We’ve got a lot out there, a lot on the table, so a lot of things going on. Hopefully the next three weeks or so will tell the tale.
Henderson: NASCAR is testing some options for the aero package for 2014. Is that going to level the playing field a little bit?
Baldwin: I don’t know. We don’t know what they’re going to end up doing. There are a lot of things out there that they’re throwing at us. We’ll see what happens. I’m not a big fan of what they’re doing, but we’ll see.
Henderson: You got your start in the Modified ranks in New England. Is the Whelen Modified Tour NASCAR’s most underrated series?
Baldwin: Absolutely. It’s very competitive. They put on good shows everywhere they go. Unfortunately, it’s gotten to the point now (where it’s hard to compete). That division was always more like a hobby. There were maybe three or four teams that would run the series with full time guys. It’s hard, with some guys taking off work. I think for it to get better, there has to be some adjustability there that these guys can do everything, have a job and race. Hopefully they’ll take a look at some things and do some schedule changes to help.
Henderson: You have found ways to stay true to those roots even in the Cup Series. You ran the Richie Evans tribute car a couple of years ago, and this year you changed the car number to the No. 7 in memory of your father. How important is it to you to stick to those roots?
Baldwin: It is (important). I have a lot of friendships from those days, a lot of history. It’s good to stay true to that and hopefully we can make everybody proud up there.
Henderson: What’s your proudest moment as an owner so far?
Baldwin: I’d say just having cemented a place in the sport that we’re comfortable with. Everybody knows that we’re here. I’m proud that we don’t owe anybody any money and that we can keep racing. We’ll just keep building and building and building and get better.
Right now, we’re bringing a knife to a gun fight. We understand that. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, some good thing will happen to us and we can get our gun loaded.
Henderson: Finally, life off the track: what do you enjoy doing?
Baldwin: I’ve got half a football team at home with four boys, so I keep busy. My wife helps with the day-to-day operations of the company, so she’s got three full-time jobs: full-time mom, running the company, and handling me. So that’s three full-time jobs for her! I do love playing golf and hanging out with the kids and having a good time.
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