Amy Henderson · Tuesday November 19, 2013
Many race fans remember Frank Stoddard as the man on the pit box for Jeff Burton at Roush Racing from 1998-2002. Stoddard called the races for two-thirds of Burton’s career victories during that time, and every year, it seemed as though it would only be a matter of time before the pair would hoist the biggest trophy of them all, then the Winston Cup. That never quite happened, and after the 2002 season, Stoddard left Roush Racing for Bill Davis Racing, where he served as crew chief for, ironically, Jeff Burton’s brother Ward. Stoddard bounced around the Cup garage in the mid 2000’s getting involved in team ownership through a partnership with driver Boris Said. That first attempt didn’t last, and neither did a second team, Latitude 43 Motorsports.
When the Latitude 43 deal fell through, Stoddard realized that he wasn’t the only one affected by it, and so he partnered with Said to form FAS Lane Racing, which fields the No. 32 Ford in the Sprint Cup Series. Veterans Said, Terry Labonte, and Ken Schrader shared 2013 driving duties with an up-and-coming rookie driver, Timmy Hill. The team faces the struggles that all of the small teams in the sport face, trying to compete with a small budget and fewer employees, but they made some strides and remain committed to bring sponsors real value for their money. Stoddard wears two hats on race day as crew chief as well as car owner, but he was able to take some time from his busy schedule at Martinsville to talk shop with Amy Henderson.
Amy Henderson, Frontstretch.com: What led to the ownership decision after being a successful crew chief for many years?
Frank Stoddard: Really and truly, I was back doing a full time deal that I had part ownership in, and the partners in that deal weren’t all on the same page at the end of the year. There was a bunch of people who were going to be out of work, and I thought there was an opportunity to field something at the back of the field and try to help some people keep their jobs. Really, it was just by circumstances. It wouldn’t have been a dream of mine to go do it, it was just circumstances.
Henderson: Talk a bit about the day-to-day struggles of a small team in Sprint Cup.
Stoddard: The disappointment is that the sport only covers ten, 15 people. Most of the time it’s about eight or ten people. That’s not ESPN’s fault; their job is to cover stuff the best way on the racetrack, who’s racing for the lead, and I get all that. The disappointment for me comes that something like NASCAR.com hasn’t had an article on Timmy Hill all year. He’s 20 years old, out of Maryland. He’s a young kid who’s run 17 or 18 races for me and he’s hardly scratched the car up, but nobody’s ever come around wanting to do an interview. They have control over that, and it’s a disappointment that they don’t spread that across the garage area.
Henderson: How does a small team set goals and what do you consider successful?
Stoddard: Paying the bills every week. Keeping people employed, getting to the racetrack, and doing a good job for the sponsors and the people who have supported us all year long. There’s a heck of a value back here. We’re not going to go contend for the win this weekend, but for the cost that we have versus what it is to run in the top 5, we give a heck of a value to the sponsors. We try to make sure that we do a good job for them. There’s disappointment that we don’t get enough coverage from the governing body, but it is what it is.
Henderson: You have run several drivers in the No. 32 this year. What’s the strategy behind doing that instead of a single driver?
Stoddard: A lot of it comes down to funding and sponsorship. Federated Auto Parts has been with Kenny Schrader for years. C&J Energy Services, we got to know them through Terry. He’s from Corpus Christi, and that’s where their headquarters were originally. They’ve since moved to Houston. They’re a hometown company of Terry’s and they like to support him, and he likes to go do three or four races a year, so we put him in the plate races, and it works out well for us. He likes to do Daytona, so it works out good.
Henderson: I saw Timmy on top of the hauler watching Ken Schrader during practice. Obviously he can learn a lot from them; what does he take away from working with them?
Stoddard: It’s great that he shows the enthusiasm to get here. In this day and age, there’s a lot of young kids who take it for granted and when they’re not in the car, they just don’t show up. He drove to Daytona this year and helped us. He drove to Kentucky when Schrader was in the car, on his own, just to be there and to watch and listen to how a veteran talks on the radio, how he works traffic, different things like that. It’s been good that Timmy shows that enthusiasm. The guys dig in and work even harder for him when he’s in the car.
Henderson: He’s got talent, too.
Stoddard: He’s run some great races. I was just telling Doug Yates that he has scratched the right side of the car one time. You look at some other guys who have come into the sport years ago—Kyle Busch couldn’t leave pit lane without wrecking. He finally figured it out and he’s one of the greatest drivers in the sport, but Timmy has chosen to do it the other way: run smart, run within his means. Our race car is not good enough to go run in the top 5 and I don’t want him to go try to do that.
Henderson: You come from an area of New England that’s produced an exceptional amount of racing talent, but was it harder to get into the sport coming from the northeast than some of the guys from the south.
Stoddard: I don’t know. Obviously, yes; back in the 90’s, it was harder just because you didn’t have any connections. Most of the jobs that became available, it was people who already knew somebody. There were people back on Junior Johnson’s back in 1980 or something like that, and he knew somebody who got him a job. It was a local deal. When you’re in New England, trying to know somebody to get a job is harder, but in the last 15 years, honestly, well, I was one of the first northern crew chiefs, I guess. Ray Evernham is from New Jersey. From New England, I was probably one of the first. I think that Ray opened a lot of doors. I brought a lot of people down with me, and now those people know people. There are more people down her from New England then there ever were.
Henderson: So what makes North Haverhill, NH such a hotbed of racing talent?
Stoddard: Stubby (Fadden, a local racer and New England racing legend) was a great guy, just the best. You couldn’t ask for a better guy to mentor you, to aspire to act like, away from the race track and on the race track. It’s just people like that.
Henderson: As an owner, what are you most proud of?
Stoddard: I don’t know. Like I said, it wasn’t a goal of mine, so I guess the fact that I’ve been able to keep people employed the last three or four years and that we’ve been able to do a good job for the sponsors, enough so they wanted to come back. US Chrome has been with me for 20-something years. Southern Pride trucking, C&J…we have a lot of people who come back and continue to support us because of the value we give them and how we treat them at the race track. When they get here, they’re like family. They can go in the lounge with the kids or whatever they want. We’re not as buttoned-up as the top of the field. Our hauler is basically open so anyone who wants to go in can go in there. But I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve been able to keep some good people employed.
Henderson: What’s life away from the track for you? Do you even get one?
Stoddard: I’m getting ready to in the next few years! I have two kids, 11 and seven now, and they’re playing softball. We try to get on the lake. My wife and I just try to spend time doing stuff with the kids. We flew up to Boston to go to Game 1 of the World Series for the Red Sox. I do a lot with them. We travel a lot. We’ll go out west this winter, and we have a house in Vermont, where we go for a couple of weeks during the Winter, go snowmobiling and stuff. Life is good. 36 weeks is a grind, but the last three years have been fun, and hopefully we’ll get to do it again next year.
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