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Baldwin Out To Make New Memories

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, February 1 2010
Tommy Baldwin Jr. will be back at Daytona this week as a team owner. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Tommy Baldwin Jr. will be back at Daytona this week as a team owner. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Tommy Baldwin Jr. simply would not let a recent talk about racing turn into a mushy, emotional look back at Speedweeks 2009. He deftly turned aside questions about being one of the great stories of last year’s Daytona 500 during a phone call last week. He gave short answers to the questions he did answer about that.

The reason for that became obvious as the talk went on: No desire to reminisce, and no time for it.

Baldwin, it became obvious, is all about becoming this year’s big story. And next year’s and the year’s after that.

“Last year,” Baldwin said when asked about ’09, “it was very satisfying to get in that race. This year, we’ve got to do the same thing. Last year was a long time ago.”

While Baldwin doesn’t really want to spend much time looking back at what happened to him and his team a year ago, others might. Especially those people who like a good story about how hard work and persistence by a little guy resulted in unexpected success against a bunch of big guys.

Baldwin was a very little guy last year.

A former Daytona 500-winning crew chief (for Bill Davis Racing with driver Ward Burton in 2002) he developed a plan to become a team owner prior to the 2009 season. And not only did not let the chaotic economic times which had descended upon the sport stop him, he took advantage.

When he decided to put together a Sprint Cup team for the 2009 season, he did it using castoffs from other teams. Most of his crew members and even his driver, Scott Riggs, were people who were chucked aside as several waves of layoffs struck the NASCAR shops last winter.

In announcing the formation of his team in 2009, Baldwin explained his plan this way: “With tough economic times upon us, the timing for starting this team is right. Our overhead is low and we have a great group of talented mechanics and specialists to choose from. We can offer sponsors the chance to get into Sprint Cup racing at a fraction of the costs, without compromising on-track performance, due to our low overhead.”

Not many gave Tommy Baldwin Racing much of a chance of making the 2009 500, much less hanging around for the entire season.

But Baldwin’s team quickly became the hot story of qualifying. Riggs drove his way into the field and started the race 17th. He would finish 25th.

After Daytona, Tommy Baldwin Racing scrapped its way through the rest of the season. On the business front, it waged a war of attrition to sign sponsors. On the tracks, it started 25 races with five different drivers.

TBR, led by the native of Long Island, N.Y., then scrapped its way through the offseason and continues scrapping as you read this.

With Speedweeks now just days away, Baldwin said his team will be ready to roll. Kind of.

“We’re ready. Well, we’re not ready, but we’re ready,” he said.

And ready with a different look.

“I think we put some key ingredients in place over the winter,” he said. “Some things that fit our game plan a little bit more.”

One of the new ingredients which has been announced is that veteran Mike Bliss will be the driver of the No. 36 Chevrolet.

“It’s awesome to have somebody like him ready to go,” Baldwin said of Bliss. “I mean look at his record. His career speaks for itself. We just got to get our stuff to drive good and he will take care of the rest.”

A second new ingredient is the addition of a crew chief not named Tommy Baldwin Jr.

Baldwin is stepping down from the pitbox this year and handing crew chief duties over to veteran Kevin Buskirk.

“The game plan is for me to concentrate more on the business side and develop the relationships that we have been working on over the past year,” he said.

Asked if he would miss having his hands prints all over his cars this year, Baldwin, who has been working on cars since his father drove Modifieds in the Northeast, said not really. He said he has to do what he has to do in his drive to be a team owner.

“I just have to shift my thought process to another level,” Baldwin said. “You can’t do both (be owner and crew chief). Unfortunately, we had to do both last year and it hurt. It hurt on both ends because you had concentrate 50 percent on both rather than 100 percent on one thing. Bringing Kevin on board has definitely helped that.”

The plan, he said last week, is to run the 36 car in 22 to 24 races this season.

But in recent days, word has leaked out that he made add a second car for three or more races in 2010, one which would be driven by Johnny Sauter.

That would just make Baldwin’s good story better.

OK, but about last year. The memories must have keep him warm this winter, it was suggested.

Baldwin still would not bite.

“Well, a lot of things have gone on since then. We feel good about our chances for this year.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, February 1 2010
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