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Pedley: Frye Has Red Bull Charging Toward Chase

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, August 21 2009
Red Bull took its first checkered flag in Sprint Cup last weekend at Michigan. This week, the team and its general manager, Jay Frye, solidified its future by signing driver Brian Vickers to a new contract. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Red Bull took its first checkered flag in Sprint Cup last weekend at Michigan. This week, the team and its general manager, Jay Frye, solidified its future by signing driver Brian Vickers to a new contract. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Trips to Austria on the company tab. NASCAR race team on the rise. Generous backing from a corporation which has solid financial footing. Brains. It would be pretty dang easy to envy Jay Frye these days, to want to live his life, except then you would have had to deal with some very bleak times in the recent past.

Frye is the general manager of Red Bull Racing. His head poked up above water last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway when his team, with Brian Vickers driving, got its first-ever Sprint Cup victory.

The joy was evident for Frye.

But it was joy which simply had to be mixed with relief.

Many got their first introduction to Frye last week. But the thing is, he’s been around the sport for a long time.

The former starting lineman for the University of Missouri football team spent his early years learning the racing business from Rick Hendrick.

Then came a long slog-of-a-gig with MB2 Racing, as its general manager.

MB2 was never one of the financially blessed teams in NASCAR. It had a couple owners who loved racing and a GM committed to racing but never the big bucks it now takes to be consistently competitive in Sprint Cup.

There would be two victories – one by Johnny Benson at Rockingham in the fall of 2002 and one by Joe Nemechek at Kansas in ’04.

There would be hope as Frye lured Mark Martin to the team – and nearly won the 2007 Daytona 500 with him as a driver – and then Bobby Ginn came on board in 2006 as a money-guy owner.

There would be reality –the good times rolled straight to the garbage dump.

It turns out that Ginn had fish hooks in his deep pockets.

Financial problems set in and Frye actually had to meet payroll by dipping into his own personal checking account.

At home, Frye seldom got to see his infant daughter and also spent way too much time explaining to wife Danielle why the credit cards were being maxed out.

In 2007, the team was bought for its driver points and its race shop by Dale Earnhardt Inc. in a deal that was billed as a merger.

And Frye was left to do the dirty work.

The dirtiest aspect, the one which he refers to as “the worst thing” he’s ever had to do in his life, was fire old MB2 employees – some of whom stayed with the team out of shear loyalty to Frye.

Frye held a meeting of employees to read a list of employees who would not be transitioning to DEI Ginn. The first name he read was Jay Frye. He would later say he could never fire loyal long-time employees and then continue to keep working himself – Frye would not make it as a newspaper editor these days.

I never doubted that Frye would pop back to the upright position. I figured Rick Hendrick would track him down and hire him as Hendrick and Frye remained close over the years and Hendrick has this tendency to hire talented people.

But it was Red Bull which made the acceptable offer. In January of 2008, Frye became general manager of the team.

It was a good move for both Frye and Austrian team-owner Dietrich Mateschitz, the founder of Red Bull energy drink. On-track improvement was almost immediate and impressive. Among those impressed was Tony Stewart.

Stewart, who was forming his own team, recruited Frye to help run Stewart Haas. Mateschitz successfully countered.

Last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Frye joined Vickers and crew chief Ryan Pemberton – whom served with Frye at MB2 – in Victory Lane.

Quite a scene. One which probably looked improbable back in the Ginn days.

“Obviously, the team has come a long way in the last two and a half years,” Frye said.  “I’m sure in 2007 Brian (Vickers) had some questions about what the future was going to hold.  One of the things we did last fall with the change was hiring Ryan (Pemberton, crew chief), when we got him to come over here.  Really at that point there was never any question in my mind about putting two people together that would have great success for a very long time.

“I think they’re both in similar stages in their careers, where they’ve done great things, but together I believe they can do some really great things. I think today was a culmination of that.  So obviously winning the race, get the most points – won the race, only 12 points out going into next week.  We’re still obviously eligible for the ‘Chase.’  Our goal this year is to win a race and make the ‘Chase.’  We’ve accomplished one of our goals.  We’re still eligible for one of our other ones.”

As Frye said that, the future of the team was up in the air. Contract negotiations with Vickers were still being conducted.

Two days later, they were completed.

This week, many are saying that Vickers and Red Bull and especially Frye have become long-term players in Cup.

It is tough to argue against that one.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, August 21 2009
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Doobie says:

    Great story!

    Ryan Pemberton reminds me of Tommy Baldwin…when he takes over as crew chief, the team almost immediately becomes a contender.