It’s been an eventful year for Casey Mears. When we last talked with the 31-year-old veteran, he was just beginning a long list of changes that would come to define his 2009 season. Besides mulling a change of scenery – eventually moving from Hendrick Motorsports to RCR this February – Casey was in the midst of becoming a father for the first time.
But while life off the track couldn’t be better, Mears’s debut season at RCR has proven to be a far more difficult transition than expected. Amy Henderson caught up with the driver of the No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet to talk about those struggles, his own personal crew chief carousel, and the joys of being a parent.
Amy Henderson, Frontstretch: Last year at this time, you were still deciding what you were going to do this year. What was the process like for you deciding to come over to Richard Childress Racing, and what has the transition been like?
Casey Mears: The process was like any other – you’re just trying to find the best fit, what’s going to work the best, and what’s the best opportunity. By far, RCR was the best opportunity that I had. I’m just really excited to be a part of this organization. It’s a great opportunity, and I’m just having fun so far.
Henderson: What’s your assessment of 2009? You’re five months in with a new team… but you’ve really had a second new one, too?
Mears: I’ve had a lot of changes throughout my career. I’m very happy with the team and the organization I’m with. The guys that I’m working with right now, Todd Berrier – I’m really happy with all of them. I liked Gil and all those guys, too, that I started the season with. When there’s change, there obviously is more learning to do, so I think as much as it moved us forward, it’s also set us back a little bit, too. We’re trying and having to learn each other. But now that things have kind of settled down, I’m really happy where I am, and I think we’re making a lot of progress. We certainly need to make our finishes better. It seems like something little happens and we don’t get quite the finishes we need, but we definitely have some speed and I think we’ve got what it takes to win races. Hopefully in these next few weeks here, we can show them what we’ve got.
Henderson: You’ve had a lot of different crew chiefs, with Todd Berrier as the latest. Is it hard to learn to communicate with each different one?
Mears: The communication’s been really good. It’s not that. But he’s worked with Kevin [Harvick] for 10 years or eight years, so the biggest difference is not trying to figure out our communication, because our communication has been great, but where does he start [with the car]? Does he start like he did with Kevin at some of these races last year, or do you kind of take some of what we’ve learned in the last few races and try to apply it to the next track you’re going to, or do you just take that stuff you learned last year? So, those are the things that take time, and maybe take up time in practice. While we’re trying to figure that out, guys that have been working together for two or three years already know where they want to start. So that’s kind of our learning process. It’s not so much communication. I think our communication is really good. It’s just actually where do we start the weekend?
Henderson: Last time we talked, you had just seen your first ultrasound, and now you have a little girl, Samantha. How has that been?
Mears: She’s almost nine months old. It’s been awesome. It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve been having a blast with her. She comes to pretty much every race weekend. She’s missed a couple, where she’s stayed with Grandma – Grandma needs her time! But I’ve just been loving it. It’s been really fun watching her grow. She’s really close – almost crawling, so we’re kind of waiting for that to happen.
Henderson: What’s the hardest part of being a parent?
Mears: Probably just the everyday stuff, really. There’s nothing that’s really the hardest, but it is a fairly big change in your lifestyle and obviously, she’s the priority now. When it comes to when you get up and what you do in your own routine in the morning, getting her ready and getting me ready, it’s definitely a little more hectic. But the good stuff far outweighs the little hectic stuff that you have!
Henderson: Did you have a “welcome to parenthood” moment?
Mears: The first diaper I changed, I got there too late. I got the first one off and went to go change it and you know… it got out all over the table before I got the next diaper in there. I guess diaper changing 101 – I learned that you need to have the next diaper staged and ready to go. That’s not quite the time to unwrap it.
Henderson: Take us through race morning.
Mears: I used to have certain routine things that I did, but really, every race morning is different. Typically, I get up, eat breakfast, see the baby and Trish for a little while and then shoot off to do my appearances. That’s typically signing out of our souvenir trailer and for one or two of the sponsors on the team. After that, I come back to the truck and get with the guys for about 30 minutes, and then it’s time for the drivers’ meeting. After that, I have about 45 minutes to an hour to come back, grab something to eat, get changed and relax a little bit before the race. Then, we have driver intros.
Henderson: You seem to really enjoy meeting your fans, you sign at the trailer a lot more than many other drivers do.
Mears: I started doing it pretty early, and saw how much the fans enjoyed it, and I’ve just always continued to do it.