2010 is a make-or-break year for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Rick Crawford, as the down economy has forced the longtime backer of his No. 14 Circle Bar Racing team, Ford Motor Company, to cut back its funding. Add in the departure of another longtime sponsor to Mike Skinner’s No. 5 team at Randy Moss Motorsports, and you’ve got one of the series’ longest-tenured drivers suddenly finding his career on life support. Down a teammate (after Circle Bar Racing shut down the No. 10 truck) and with no money entering the season, Crawford came to Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend unsure how much longer he could keep coming to the track unsponsored. Crawford spoke with Frontstretch’s Doug Turnbull Friday about his current problems, telling us where he goes from here while reminiscing about his past Truck Series success – all before finishing ninth in Saturday’s E-Z-Go 200.
Doug Turnbull: Rick, I guess it’s been your most uncertain start to a season, because you don’t know from week-to-week what’s going on. Give us a status update of your team.
Rick Crawford: I would say we’re pretty close to signing a sponsor for the 2010 season and ’11 and beyond. [Not having a sponsor on the No. 14 entering 2010] was a fact of meeting a sponsor late in the year and them [needing the time to] get their marketing efforts together. They’re new to NASCAR. We’ve got the contracts ready for them to sign. The Circle Bar Ford has got a bunch of racers on this team, and everyone has done a heck of a job to be under pressure, as we are, and not know if we’re going to run another race or not. So, the guys brought me a good truck and I know we’re going to have a good race tomorrow.
Turnbull: This is your first year of the last few that you have been down a teammate. Has this added to the pressure, and does that put you behind the ball even more, in comparison to some of these other teams?
Crawford: No, that relieved a lot of pressure. We probably never got to run the second team the way we wanted to at Circle Bar Racing. It was a good step for us to learn that, but it was also a good thing for us to sell it to Jennifer Jo Cobb. She’s going to do well with that team and I wish her the best, but it was a headache that we didn’t need to have.
Turnbull: How much does Ford assist with the teams? They’ve cut back some in recent years. They’re not as many teams to pool information with, but you do have Cobb’s racing team. How does that work?
Crawford: We have four or five teams out here. It’s basically working on your own. Yeah, we’re factory-represented, but it’s not really what we’d want to have. We do the best we can with what we’ve got. I’ve been racing for over 30 years, and that’s the way you have to do it.
Turnbull: And now you’re kind of passing the torch. Like you said, you’ve been racing over 30 years, and probably see the end coming a little bit. I saw you last season at a late model race at Lanier Speedway (in Braselton, Ga.) assisting in Tommy Praytor’s pit. Tell us a little bit about your relationship with him.
Crawford: Thomas Praytor is one of the up-and-coming drivers in the pro late model division. He tries to branch out and race at races other than his home racetrack. I admire a 19, 20-year-old kid for doing that. He’s going to be good one day; he’s got some good equipment. We’re just good friends, and whenever I can I’ll give some advice or help them with their setup or we’ll go racing. That’s fun watching them racing, and I still enjoy racing. I’m glad you didn’t mention the ‘r’ word.
Turnbull: Not at all. I’m just saying you have a lot of experience. And someone you had a lot of experience with is [Kevin] “Cowboy” Starland, who’s no longer your crew chief after a long time together. It must be tough. It’s just like putting on a new pair of shoes, right?
Crawford: I can still beat him in golf. I played him in golf the other day. We’re still good friends, and he has to realize and knows that the reason for departing Circle Bar Racing had nothing to do with his performance. I miss Cowboy. We shared a lot of success and won some races. Maybe one day we can work with each other again.
Turnbull: Atlanta Motor Speedway has always been a track you talked highly of. What is one of your favorite memories here, either from the Truck Series or from the Cup Series as a fan?
Rick Crawford: Well, I don’t know. I was going to make a Cup race here one time, back in 1993, and we had a blizzard here in Atlanta. Then I came back here in 2005 and set a track record in qualifying, so that’s my fondest memory. Atlanta Motor Speedway was one of the first tracks I came to as a kid. My grandfather brought me here, and that was back when the Cup guys, or Grand National guys back then, were running the big blocks and they would shake the fence… I used to have a good time [coming here].
Listen to Doug weekly on The Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury Speedshop racing show with host Captain Herb Emory each Saturday, from 12-1 p.m., on News/Talk 750 WSB in Atlanta and on wsbradio.com. Doug also hosts the “Chase Elliott Podcast” and the “Bill Elliott Racing Podcast” on ChaseElliott.com and BillElliott.com.
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