Growing up just five miles from Daytona International Speedway in nearby Ormond Beach, a 6-year-old Alan Gustafson would hear engines roaring around the famed 2.5-mile speedway in the distance from his own backyard. Years later he would go to the track and watch great crew chiefs from Gary DeHart to Ray Evernham and dream of being in their position.
Now, after a breakthrough season with a driver he grew up idolizing, Gustafson and driver Mark Martin returned to Daytona in 2010 and earned one of the most prestigious achievements of Speedweeks – pole position for the Daytona 500.
In the process, Martin became the oldest driver in NASCAR history to sit on the pole for the event. His first career pole for the race.
“Mark has enough records to have his own record book, but when you can get a new one with him, we’ve done it a few times since he drove his car, I’m really proud to be able to do something he’s never done, because he’s done an awful lot,” Gustafson said. “That’s really cool for me.”
While Martin will get most of the accolades for narrowly nipping teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., he’ll be the first person to tell you at a track like Daytona, winning a pole is more of a tribute to the team than the driver.
Various drivers with differing levels of accomplishments have sat on the pole for the Daytona 500, from David Gilliland to Jimmie Johnson, but every team that has sat on the pole has one common link – a great crew chief. As a historian of the sport, Gustafson understands what a pole at Daytona entails and knows the company he is now in.
“For me it’s a huge deal. Being a crew chief, this is a situation where you can really shine,” he admitted. “You’ve got an opportunity to put a well-engineered, fast car out there and run faster than anybody else for the biggest race of the year.”
Next Sunday, Gustafson will sit on top of the pit box and watch his car be the first to take the green flag. 200 laps later – if his car is the first to take the checkered flag – it will be a dream come true.