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Minter: Ren and Ron Show Puts Spotlight On The Crew Chief

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, August 27 2009
Rick Ren has played no small part in Ron Hornaday Jr.'s incredible truck-racing career.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Rick Ren has played no small part in Ron Hornaday Jr.'s incredible truck-racing career. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Some Thursday Observations:

*An off weekend for the Sprint Cup Series gives the Nationwide and Camping World Truck circuits a chance to share top billing.

The trucks run at Chicagoland while the Nationwide set is on the road course in Montreal.

At Chicago, Ron Hornaday Jr. and crew chief Rick Ren will be trying to start another win streak, the most recent, historic five-win run having been broken by Kyle Busch at Bristol.

The streak has been a PR bonanza for the veteran Hornaday, but it also has cast light on his crew chief Rick Ren. Typically crew chiefs in the divisions below Cup don’t get their share of attention, but that hasn’t been the case of late with Ren.

He’s setting records of his own, becoming the Dale Inman of the third-tier series.

Inman, the legendary crew chief in the Cup series, steered his cousin Richard Petty to seven titles and nearly 200 wins, then led the effort on Terry Labonte’s first championship.

With his recent win at Nashville Superspeedway, Ren became the truck circuit’s winningest crew chief. He now has 27 victories with five different drivers – Hornaday (16), Johnny Benson (5), Andy Houston (3), Travis Kvapil (2) and Rick Carelli (1).

Ren told reporters recently that unlike Inman, he didn’t grow up in a mechanically oriented environment.

“My dad was the guy who could barely change the oil and put gas in,” he said.  “We never had old cars or worked on cars. My extent (with cars) growing up was tearing a bicycle apart. When I got old enough to buy a car, I started with a ‘55 Chevrolet and started tinkering with it.

“As soon as I got old enough to drive, one of my buddies took me to the races, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’m pretty much self-taught.”

Ren, like many of the most successful crew chiefs, spent some time behind the wheel himself, racing dirt Late Models. And he has a knack for dealing with all kinds of drivers with all kinds of personalities.

Ren’s current driver, Hornaday, recently recalled for reporters one of his first interactions with his crew chief.

“He looked like a professor,” Hornaday said.  “We went down and tested Daytona for the first time and we wanted to try something and he couldn’t figure out how to do it.

“I said, ‘Where’s Rick? We’ve got to go back out.’ I walked in the hauler and there’s papers scattered everywhere from the floor to the top. He’s got seven years’ worth of notes trying to find this one little thing he tried that would pick the thing up a half of a tenth.”

* Because of the off-weekend for the Cup circuit, the double-dipping Cup drivers in the No. 2 series will be able to focus all their attention on the Nationwide effort.

Instead of commuting back and forth to a Cup venue, they’ll be there for every practice session, greatly improving their odds for great finishes.

Last year’s Montreal winner, Ron Fellows, who will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick, said on this week’s NASCAR teleconference that he welcomes the competition.

“It’s great,” he said. “These are the guys that have the profile, Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards.

“The opportunity they have this year is certainly a lot better in being able to come to the event and be part of all the practice sessions. In the last two years a lot of them have missed the practice sessions because of Pocono and parachuted in….

“I think it’s going to be a lot more difficult because the regulars that are competing are going to be there for the entire weekend.  They’ll be tuned up and ready on Sunday.”

* The old substitute school teacher in Carl Edwards came out last week at Bristol when RacinToday’s Jeff Hood asked him what he’d do with the cash if he won a $200 million lottery prize.

Edwards started by saying he already felt like a winner, having earned more money already than he ever dreamed possible. Then he got down to his real answer.

“If I were to win $200 million right now, what I’d do right now is I’d hire the smartest people I could and try to put that money to good use for education,” Edwards said. “The more and more I see going on with this country, the more I feel like we can Band-Aid all of these little things that we Band-Aid with all of this money and all of this talk and everything, but I think that it comes down to education. I think that’s where we are lacking.

“So, if I could win $200 million, that’s what I would do, is figure out how I could apply it to cutting these problems off from the beginning.”

* Beau Slocumb, the short tracker from middle Georgia, will take another step in a remarkable comeback this weekend when he enters the ARCA race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Back in February, Slocumb was set to move to Charlotte and run a limited ARCA schedule. His long-time fishing buddy Ryan Newman had offered lodging until Slocumb could find a place of his own.

But his pre-season physical exam detected a mass in his lung. The diagnosis was Synovial Sarcoma, a tough-to-beat form of cancer.

After months of intense treatment at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Slocumb returned home and made his return to racing a few weeks back in a Legends event at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Earlier this week, he called from the Win-Tron Racing shop in Minnesota, where he was helping the crew install the seat in the No. 32 Toyota he’ll drive in his first race on a 1.5-mile track.

“I’m ready to go,” he said.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, August 27 2009
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