A longtime veteran of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, David Starr has a new lease on life, switching to the Red Horse Racing Toyota #11 Truck for 2006 after several years of driving the #75 Chevrolet owned by Wayne and Connie Spears. With that change has come new challenges, but with three finishes of 17th or better to start the year, Starr seems more ready and able than ever before to overcome all obstacles before him and return to Victory Lane for the first time since the 2004 season.
I had a chance to catch up with David this week before he headed off to Martinsville, getting his opinions on everything from his new team, to Mark Martin’s presence in the Truck Series, to his undying love for Texas Motor Speedway.
Tom Bowles: Like many drivers this offseason, you switched teams. It’s the first time in 4 years you’ve been with a different group"¦after all that time with the #75 bunch, how hard was it to leave?
David Starr: Well, to leave the Spears team"¦that was a tough decision to make when somebody gives you an opportunity of a lifetime like they gave me. I was a struggling race car driver in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series back then, looking for a sponsor and trying to get with one of the top teams that had major funding. That was the tough part (of my career)"¦and then Spears hired me, and I had an opportunity to race full-time. I never worried about a sponsor when I was there, and I knew we were going to have everything we needed to have a winning team. It was just an incredible dream come true. To win races and finish high in the championship points 3 out of 4 years we ran, that’s pretty good"¦so, I have mixed emotions about it. You always want to have loyalty to the people that brought you here, and Wayne and Connie Spears gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, the big break I needed.
But, it ran its course. We were together for 4 years. We did everything I think we could do together. I think that, after 4 years, it was time for a change. They needed to try another driver, and I needed to try another team. I had an opportunity become available to go become involved with Red Horse Racing and to get to drive their Toyota Tundra, and I thought that was a new opportunity for myself, and an opportunity for me to join a group of guys that had a winning team. Red Horse won a race in 2005, while with Spears, we went winless. It was a tough decision"¦but once I made the decision, you just keep moving forward.
Bowles: Now, when you move from one team or another, do you change the way"¦do you evaluate yourself as a driver, change the way you’re doing things from one week to the next? Or is it the same old routine?
Starr: Well, it’s pretty much"¦nobody’s more focused or more dedicated to racing than me. I live, sleep, and eat it. I live in Dallas, but the last three weeks I’ve been in Charlotte with my team, getting to know the guys, taking them to lunch. Just getting to know everybody and letting them know I’m a team player. I think when the driver works at the race shop with the team, it lets the guys see the dedication, the passion behind what they’re doing. And I think they appreciate that.
The transition from being with the same team for the last four years to moving over to a new group of guys, a new manufacturer, a new owner, a new crew chief"¦everything’s new to me. I think we’re still in that transition phase right now"¦we’ve been to three races, and definitely haven’t run up to our expectations and our potential. We’re a lot better than where we’ve finished. We lost some tape on the grill at Daytona, and then the motor was too cold right there at the end of the race, and the motor wasn’t running up to its potential because it was so cold. California, I thought we were going to have a Top 5 finish, had a wheel come loose right there with 20 laps to go and had to make a pit stop. We went to Atlanta and"¦sounds kind of funny"¦but my seat wasn’t mounted right in the Truck, and I was kind of falling out of the seat. So, the transition for me to the Toyota trucks, and me working with Jamie Jones and all my guys, and them learning what I like in a Truck and how it handles and everything, I think that with the transition phase, we’ll be working on that, maybe 5 or 6 more races. But it’s all positive"¦we’re learning things, and making our team as a group better.
Bowles: Because of that transition"¦do you modify your goals for the season? Does it become"¦the first 8 races, you simply try not to knock yourself out of championship contention? Or is the mindset clearly to win the race every time out?
Starr: Well, you know, our mindset is obviously to win a race, but we know there’s a transition period there. The setups that Jamie Jones runs are something completely different than something I’ve ever run in my career. So there’s a"¦there’s a feel to the way our truck’s handling, and the ride that you have in the truck is such a new feel to me. Once I get that, then I’m learning when I tell them it’s loose or it’s tight, how tight or how loose it really is. And my team understands that"¦they know it’s going to take time.
Right now, our goals are Top 10s. We haven’t finished in the Top 10 yet, but we’re close. We’ve been in the Top 10, we just haven’t finished there. Once we start finishing in the Top 10 on a consistent basis, then we’ll set our standards to Top 5s, and after you run in the Top 5 week in, week out, your wins will come. But right now, with everything, them learning me and me learning them, I think our realistic goal is just to keep getting our Top 10s, and once we do that, we can set our goals higher. But right now, if everything lives up to its potential, we’re capable of winning races.
Bowles: Now, you’re also driving a Toyota for the first time this year. Is there a different feel to a Toyota as opposed to a Chevy? Or are the templates to the point now where it’s so similar it doesn’t make a huge difference?
Starr: Well, I don’t think it’s so much where it’s a Chevy to a Toyota. I think the difference is in the resources we have, the engineering we have, and the things that Toyota brings to the technical side, the engineering support. Everything that goes behind that"¦I can’t believe how much there is compared to what I’m used to. So that’s the difference I see.
Is there a difference from the Chevy Truck to the Toyota Truck? Not really. The difference is in the way we run the setups, the "feel." It’s such a different feel to me, the way the truck rides and how it goes through the corner and everything. Jamie Jones (my crew chief) knows what these Trucks need to go fast, and he knows that’s what it takes, but that feel and what that Truck takes is something that I’ve never felt before. It takes a little bit of time"¦ I’m surprised that it’s taken this long, to be honest with you, but it’s going to take 2 or 3 or 4 more races to get that. But every race we run, we’re getting better and better.
Like my seat in Atlanta"¦we went and tested at Caraway 5 days after we ran the Atlanta race, and we moved our seats around. Man, I was so comfortable at the test at Caraway, I’m looking forward to going to Martinsville because we figured out just where we need the seats now. And it took going to a high-speed race track where you run real fast, it took me being uncomfortable in the seat to figure that out.
Bowles: Now, the most well-known owner on your team is current FOX analyst and former Nextel Cup crew chief Jeff Hammond. How has he involved himself with the team and helped you as a driver so far this season?
Starr: It’s been amazing. Tom DeLoach and Jeff Hammond are my two bosses, and they own the Five On Five Off Pit Stop School in Mooresville. Jeff, him being involved as an owner, when I go over to the pit facility and do pit stop practice, he’s always there. At the races, at Daytona, he sat down with me and Jamie Jones, and we talked about some things. He came over to talk after the last practice before the Daytona race, and I talked to him again after the race. Again, in California, I talked to him after practice, and again after the race. Atlanta, he was down before the race, and during practice, he was right there. He’s pretty much a hands-on owner. He’s not at the shop every day where the race team’s based, but that’s his racing team, him and Tom. He’s working on sponsorship, and I’m constantly in contact with him. To have an owner like Jeff Hammond and the things he’s accomplished in this industry"¦it’s incredible because when I have a question or need a question answered, he pretty much can answer it.
Bowles: A lot of the buzz over the first three races in the Truck Series has been about Mark Martin’s strong performance. With all the Nextel Cup regulars invading the Busch Series, are you a fan of Martin coming to race in the Trucks? Or do you think they should keep a current Nextel Cup regular out?
Starr: No, I like it. You have to look at what we race against every week. The Cup experience"¦Steve Park. Brendan Gaughan. Todd Bodine. Mike Skinner. Ted Musgrave. There’s so much Cup experience full-time in the Truck Series. You know, we race against the Cup experience pretty much our whole career already because the Truck Series is just full of former Cup drivers. When you have a Mark Martin, a Kevin Harvick, and a Tony Stewart race, people like that, I think it’s a good thing, because once we get through this transitional phase with my new team and I learn the setups, I think I’ll be up there fighting with Mark Martin. But we’re not at that level yet. We’re going to be"¦but we’re not there yet. If you can beat a Mark Martin, beat a Todd Bodine, and beat these Cup guys that race full-time in the Truck Series, then you can measure yourself up with the best. So I welcome them"¦I’m glad Mark Martin’s won the first two races. I’m glad Todd won the third one. They’ve set the mark high, and I want to be the best I can be.
Bowles: Let’s talk about Texas Motor Speedway a minute. It’s always interested me that most Nextel Cup drivers look to make their Cup debut at Daytona, Indianapolis, or other legendary tracks"¦but you’ve always looked to make your Cup debut in Texas. How has the Speedway held a special place in your heart?
Starr: Well, we tried to make the Cup race a couple of years ago. My uncle, who owns the Team Texas Driving School here, bought a car from Childress and had a Childress motor, and my crew was all the guys that work here at the driving school. We didn’t make the race, but we thought it was fitting that the first time we tried, we try here in Texas. It’s always been a special place to me. Eddie Gossage, the General Manager, when this place opened up in 1996-97, my uncle bought a shop right across the street from the race track. We were here while it was under construction, the first time they let any car on the race track, and we were given a racing school here. Over the years, the people, Eddie Gossage and his staff, they have brought me sponsors, introduced me to people"¦so they’ve been a big help in my career. The race track’s been really good to me and my family. Just being from Texas here, too, it’s a neat place.
Being a race car driver, I love the Texas Motor Speedway, but man, I’m looking forward to going to Martinsville. People always say, what’s your favorite race track? I always say I like them all. But you know, Texas holds a special place in my heart. Your family comes and watches you race. Your friends, the people that have kept behind you over the years and helped you and given you the opportunity to move onto the next level, they’re all here. So it’s just a neat place.
Bowles: A few fun questions before we wrap up. If you’re racing me one-on-one at any Craftsman Series Truck on the schedule, what is the greatest strength you have as a driver that would propel you to beat me?
Starr: Just giving it my all. Relaying back to my crew chief what the truck is doing and then making the right adjustments, getting it where I can get everything that truck will give me out of any given day. I just think that’s my biggest strength"¦ giving it 110% and being on top of my game.
Bowles: If you had an opportunity to race one-on-one with anybody through the years in racing, living or dead, who would it be?
Starr: A.J. Foyt. Because he’s the greatest race car driver ever. He could run a NASCAR stock car, an Indy car, a dirt Sprint car, a road racing car, he was just an all-around good driver and could win in anything.
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