Crew Member Profile and Podcast: Robbie Reiser

Hometown: Allenton, Wis.

Date of Birth: June 27, 1963

Organization: Roush Fenway Racing

Team: No. 17 DEWALT Ford

Driver: Matt Kenseth

At-Track Job: Crew chief

Shop Job: Crew chief

Family: Wife, Tracy; sons Ryan (10), Rhett (5) and Reed (5)

Racing background: Robbie grew up in Midwestern short-track racing, hanging out in his father John?s race shop. He became a driver during his high school years, competing in the four-cylinder division at Milwaukee-area tracks. He won three track titles and one area title there, before switching to late models in 1984.

Robbie enjoyed his greatest driving success from 1990-92, winning 14 late-model track, area and regional titles during those three years. He competed in the inaugural NASCAR Busch Series event at The Milwaukee Mile in July 1993, and decided to move south to pursue bigger stock-car dreams. Reiser Enterprises was formed in October 1993. In early 1994, Robbie opened a race shop in Denver, N.C.

He competed in four NASCAR Busch Series races in 1994, financing each run himself. He ran 17 races in 1995 with a sponsor ? and only three cars. Late that season, Robbie took a hiatus from his team and joined Hut Stricklin?s NASCAR Busch Series team.

A year later ? in late 1996 ? Reiser received an offer from Kraft Foods to field a team for driver Tim Bender. He became a fulltime owner and crew chief for the ?97 season, but eight races in, Bender was injured at Bristol Motor Speedway and resigned. Robbie called on fellow Wisconsin native and one-time driving rival Matt Kenseth to fill the seat.

The partnership bloomed. Kenseth completed the remaining 21 races on the ?97 schedule, and in ?98, he and Robbie won three NASCAR Busch Series events and finished second in the final standings. They won four races in ?99, finishing third.

By then, Reiser no longer had to run his own team. He and Kenseth made their NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut in 2000 with Roush Fenway Racing. Kenseth earned Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors that season, and in ?03, the two collected their ? and owner Jack Roush?s ? first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup title.

Career highlight: Not what you?d think. Although deeply appreciative of his and Kenseth?s ?03 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup title, Robbie cites the second NASCAR Busch Series event of 1998, at North Carolina Speedway. Running with his under-financed Reiser Enterprises team, he and Kenseth pulled off a last-lap win, springing themselves onto the sport?s front pages and collective consciousness.

?Without all of that coming together, I don?t think we would have ever had an opportunity of any of the stuff that?s happened over the years,? Robbie says.

The victory ? their first ? came over another future champion, Tony Stewart.

?We started 27th that day and worked our way up all day long,? Robbie says, ?and in the last six or seven laps, Matt started battling Tony Stewart for the lead and on the last lap, the fourth turn ? you know, all the things that go with it ? he beats him to the finish line and we win the race. It was pretty exciting.?

How empty was Reiser Enterprises? treasury that February? Kenseth wore the only uniform.

?We had a pair of black jeans and our polo shirts,? Robbie says. ?That was before all the regulations came on pit road, and pretty much everybody that worked at our shop went over the wall. So it was pretty much a family-run team. We had a bunch of part-time help to make it all work and it was something you just don?t see every day.?

It?s a long way from ?98: Robbie and his driver are in their eighth NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season together, 11th overall. They?ve finished in the top 10 for the past five seasons, including last year?s runner-up effort behind eventual champion Jimmie Johnson.

?Everything happens so fast, you don?t even look back at a lot of things,? Robbie says. ?We just keep looking forward at all the things we are trying to accomplish. I mean, this year we are trying to run for a championship, and do all the right things, so you just look at that. Occasionally when it?s late at night and you can?t sleep, you think about some of that stuff.?

His favorite Jack Roush story: Robbie probably would have to quit before sharing it.

?Geez, I don?t really know,? he says, hemming and hawing. ?We have had, so many, so many ? he?s been mad at me so many times. I remember the best ones, but I can?t even talk about them, he?d be mad at me for talking about them.?

Does it involve ?the hat??: Roush nearly is unrecognizable without his wide-brimmed, trademark khaki topper. Robbie swears the hat isn?t involved in any untold stories.

?No, no,? he insists. ?I have seen a lot of things happen to him, but I have never really done anything to him. It?s just, we have had some pretty funny conversations at times over the years, not only myself but Matt, (team engineer) Chip (Bolin) ? all the guys that are part of this race team ? have had some memories with Jack that we probably gotta keep in this trailer.?

The Matt Kenseth his crew chief knows: The ?03 series champion is a quiet guy who can ratchet up intensity on a dime, when required. He?s also got a dry sense of humor ? and an occasionally playful one, according to his crew chief.

?When he is racing, that?s probably Matt,? Robbie says. ?We?ve got things to do on the car, and we aren?t running as well, you?ll probably see a more straightforward Matt. Outside of racing, that?s a different guy. It depends on the day. He?s got his up and down moods like everybody else, but some days, all about aggravating and putting on the practical joke, and some days, it?s all strictly business. It just depends on what he gets up in the morning and feels like doing, is what we end up getting.?

His favorite Kenseth story: Come on, Robbie. We won?t tell.

?You?re putting me in a spot for a lot of things here,? he says, finally admitting that, ?the biggest chuckle I get out of Matt is when we are running well, you can?t shut him up. He talks and talks and talks. When we aren?t running well, he don?t talk to you at all.?

Climbing that proverbial brick wall: It doesn?t happen often, Robbie says.

?Most the time we aren?t running well, he is mad at me, so he don?t talk to me at all,? Robbie says. ?And then we are running well, you can?t get a word in edge-wise, but you know he is a great guy and has done a lot for us over the years and I enjoy racing with him.?

Robbie says he?s never had to say Time out on the radio.

?He?s got a lot of kid in him,? he says of Kenseth. ?I mean, as he gets older, he?s still got a lot of kid in him, and he?ll bug me about stuff and won?t leave me alone, and he?ll just keep pushing on me until I pretty much gotta do something to throttle him down, but he is a fun guy.?

Most embarrassing moment on the pit box: When Kenseth ran out of gas in the closing laps of the September ?06 event at Dover International Speedway ? while leading. Even worse, he was attempting the season sweep there, having won the May event.

?It embarrasses you,? Robbie says, ?but you are also gambling trying to win a race, so sometimes you sit back and look ? ?Hey, we?re just doing everything you can do.? But on the other hand, we?re supposed to know what we are doing and at times it looks like we don?t. That was a bad time.?

No 2 on his list is a ?99 NASCAR Busch Series event where Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were involved in the same on-track accident ? while battling for the series title. Both cars required garage repairs, and Robbie and Earnhardt?s crew chief, Tony Eury, Sr., had to control more than damage.

?Tony Eury and myself had to keep our crews apart and get everybody back to the garage and focused on what we had to do,? Robbie says, ?but we did not fix the car properly, and when the car went back up on the race track, Matt made two laps and we broke another part on the thing and it hit the wall. And it was my mistake at not looking at what was broke on the car and that was pretty embarrassing that day, too.?

On his pit crew: The No. 17 crew members who go over the wall annually are considered one of the sport?s best units. The lineup has changed over the years, but Robbie?s insistence on excellence is one reason his and Kenseth?s crew is feared up and down pit road.

Another reason: Despite the advent of pit crew coaches, Robbie has continued to drill his team himself. But in the last three months, he?s given way to Roush Fenway Racing?s pit crew coach, Andrew Carter, and others, to capitalize on their talents.

?I get involved if we got trouble, or if there is something I want to work on pit road that I see we are not doing right,? Robbie says. ?Or if there is something special for a certain race track that I want to get involved in. Then I will go out and I?ll make sure we got that all down. I like to drill them every once and a while just to make sure that they are up on, you know, if we run out of gas or if we have a flat tire.?

On having done most crew-member jobs: Robbie?s racing experience extends from the driver?s seat to the jack. He fulfilled multiple roles when he and his father, John, struggled to maintain their NASCAR Busch Series team, so he can relate to everyone who works for him. And he?s glad he got dirty, greasy and frustrated along the way.

?It probably gave you lessons in life,? Robby says of past hardships. ?But taught you all the things about the car from painting them to cleaning them, to changing engines in them ? knowing what it?s like when it?s 90 degrees out there and you have to change a gear. I mean, all those things taught you lessons and other people that were there trying to work with you, and you understand what they?re experiencing.?

On the advent of engineering in NASCAR: Robbie?s entry into NASCAR came the classic way ? working through the short-track ranks. With engineering now part of the garage fabric, he leans heavily on Bolin, the No. 17 team engineer, and on other Roush resources to broaden his own knowledge.

?Some of the things that I try to help him with, he helps me with,? Robbie says of Bolin. ?We end up being a team working back and forth, with all of our guys that are on our team. Between all of us, Chip comes up with the ideas, we try to figure them out how to make them run through the shop and go to work and that?s kind of how our team operates.?

It?s a lot more complicated than it looks: Well, sometimes.

?Some days it?s very complicated,? Robbie says. ?Other days, it?s like, ?Geez, uh, a 5-year-old could have figured this out.? But it?s just no different than any other business. It?s just part of what we do and how we do it and what we have to do to stay competitive. And, that?s the outlook you have to have every day to try and stay competitive in the series, otherwise, you get passed by.?

His hero: His late father, John Reiser. The elder Reiser played a central role in Robbie?s career, having served first as a role model from the driver?s seat. John Reiser was quite the short-track ace back in Wisconsin, a late-model standout who began competing in 1957 and was named Milwaukee Area Champion in 1973. He also was one of the principals in Reiser Enterprises, maintaining an active presence even after Robbie and Kenseth joined forces with Roush Fenway Racing.

?I think my dad did so much for me when I was younger that he always kept me at bay,? Robbie says. ?He challenged me, he pushed me. He made sure that I was where I needed to be, and when I was out of line, he was there with a stiff hand to pull me back in line. Sometimes his hand wasn?t stiff enough to get me back. He would always make sure that I was grounded.?

Other significant influences: Team owner Jack Roush and many others within the Roush Fenway organization.

?Jack tried to keep me grounded and tried to teach me what it was like to have all these departments and how everything was kind of fanned out,? Robbie says. ?And you had to learn how to use all those systems throughout ? Roush Racing and the resources they had to make your team as strong as you can make it. I think in the last eight years I?ve worked there, I think a lot of people have put pressure on me and taught me how to work within that system.?

On what makes Robbie and Kenseth tick: In their eighth NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season, they?re one of the sport?s most enduring driver-crew chief partnerships. But Robbie says the connectivity runs through the entire team, beginning with the fellow Cheeseheads who worked on Reiser Enterprises? late-model and NASCAR Busch Series teams, who transitioned to Roush with them.

?I think that relationship is bigger than just me and him,? Robbie says of Kenseth. ?I think that relationship is large throughout our team. If you look at our whole 17 team, they?ve all stuck together. There?s a lot of people who have been here a lot of years. Matt and myself come from upbringings of our dads involving us in racing and when we got together, we had grown up in the same area, had the same upbringings so we understood. Both of us wanted to win.?

Those similar backgrounds paved a smoother path when the former short-track driving rivals became co-workers in 1997.

?Once we got together, I wanted to have everything perfect for him just like if I was driving the car,? Robbie says. ?I think he expected it to be that way, so it was kind of a mutual respect. If you go back to us racing against each other, there was a little bit of respect there because every night we were fighting each other for the same spot. So, I think when we got together both of us understood what we wanted in racing. Both of us looked at it the same way. It was just I was doing the working end and he was doing the driving end.?

There is no ?I? in team: Listen to Robbie explain Kenseth?s contribution to their longevity.

?A lot of these guys give up on the people that are working,? Robbie says of drivers. ?In Matt?s situation, a few times we?ve gotten ourselves in a spot where we weren?t competitive, and it wasn?t like Matt came back and said, ?We have to fire the crew chief,? or, ?Hey, we?ve got to fire the team, we got to do this or we got to do that.? He came back and said, ?Okay, guys, we got sit down, we got to work on this. We?ve got to figure it out.?

?I think all of our team members didn?t say, ?Hey, Matt can?t drive the car.? I think they all came back and said, ?Man, we got to figure out what?s wrong.?

?I think Matt over the years has had a lot of respect for that. I think he knows that the people in this trailer here are going to do everything they can, and if that?s running thirtieth on a Sunday, or running first, they are going to give everything they got and he ain?t going to give up on people like that. So, I think he deserves the credit for that.?

Life outside racing: Yes, he has one. Robbie and wife Tracy are the parents of three sons ? Ryan and twins Rhett and Reed. Ryan plays baseball, football and participates on a swim team. And he likes hunting. The twins lean toward swimming and baseball.

?My wife spends a lot of time with them,? Robbie says, ?and I?ve got to commend her, with all the time I?m gone, she does a great job for those kids.?

On the next generation of crew chiefs: Robbie says he subscribes to the same strategy as his father ? as long as offspring are happy and successful at what they choose to do, that?s what matters.

?I don?t think I?m going to get out of this easy ? that all three of them will walk away and not be in some type of racing,? Robbie says. ?I?m sure one of them is going pick it up and want to do something in it. My son Rhett is the one that shows the most interest and he?ll probably be the guy. I own 65 acres of a wooded piece of property and the boys got four wheelers, and they get pretty nuts at times. I?m sure somewhere along the line I?ll have some boys that are interested.?

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