Crew Member Profile: Donnie Wingo

Hometown: Spartanburg, S.C.

Date of Birth: Feb. 13, 1960

Organization: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

Team: No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge

Driver: Juan Pablo Montoya

At-Track Job: Crew chief

Shop Job: Crew chief

Family: Wife Kim; daughter Erin, 20; son Coleman, 15

Racing background: Donnie is a veteran NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series crew chief whose multi-decade experience gives him a unique perspective.

He began his NASCAR career working as a crew member for fellow South Carolinian and driver/owner James Hylton. His next racing job came with another driver/owner, Jimmy ?Smut? Means.

Donnie?s first opportunity as a crew chief came when he joined owner Bud Moore?s team in 1989. He worked with drivers Brett Bodine and Morgan Shepherd and remained with Moore?s team for 10 years.

Next? A seven-year stint at Haas-Carter Motorsports, which fielded teams for drivers Todd Bodine, Jimmy Spencer and Joe Nemechek. When that organization closed, Donnie joined his current team, Chip Ganassi Racing with the Felix Sabates, in 2002, where he?s worked with drivers Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears. His present driver is Juan Pablo Montoya, which brings us to. …

What it?s like working with a former Formula 1 and Indianapolis 500 winner: A native of Columbia, Montoya?s in his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season and also his first in stock-car competition.

?He?s adapted well everywhere we?ve gone and there?s some places we?re going to go to where he?s going to struggle,? Donnie says. ?Like going to Darlington ? he?s not really fond of the place. It?s probably going to be one of the places where you think you?re going to struggle, but then you go there and you run well. It?s just kind of hard to tell. He?s adapted so well everywhere we?ve been.?

On learning to speak Spanish: Montoya is bilingual. Donnie isn?t.

?My kids are trying to teach me a little bit, but it hasn?t gone over too well,? he says, chuckling at the thought. ?That?s kind of too far above my head.?

Montoya?s a good fit off-track, too: Rapport and chemistry aren?t a problem for the rookie driver and his team.

?He?s a jokester and carries on with everybody,? Donnie says. ?He?s good to be around. He?s got good humor. But as far as just being around him and something?s he?s done that?s kind of stupid, I haven?t seen that yet.?

How the crew chief position has changed: A team leader for nearly 20 years, Donnie has watched his job evolve from lead mechanic to head coach. Today, he concentrates on the performances and duties of No. 42 road crew, while using Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates? engineering corps as a resource. But he still loves pouring through research data.

?That part of it I really still enjoy,? Donnie says. ?I enjoy trying to fix a problem with the car or try to make something better. Eventually when I get out of doing this, that?s what I?d like to do ? I?d like to be a part of the testing part of it because I think I?m pretty good at that.?

Why Darlington Raceway is his Holy Grail: He hasn?t won there, yet, although he?s endured some painfully-close top-five finishes at his home track.

?That wasn?t the first race I went to,? Donnie says of childhood pilgrimages, ?but it was probably the third race I went to. And we?ve been so close like three or four times ? or maybe more than that.?

The worst was a top-five finish in 2002, after a mangled pit stop negated the opportunity for a Darlington victory.

?To win at Darlington would be huge for me,? Donnie says. ?To me, that?s where a lot of the racing got started. That?s where probably the first big speedway race was when they started racing. So to win at Darlington would be huge. I?d love to be part of a win at Darlington.?

His Darlington tips for Montoya: Grin and bear it.

?Just tried to explain to him how the car?s going to react after so many laps,? Donnie says, ?and how you can?t have one end sliding and the other end gripping. You gotta have both ends sliding the same to have a good car at Darlington. And you gotta run right next to the wall and that?s something he?s not very fond of. But he?s getting better at it. I think everywhere we?ve been, he?s been the first guy to go up to the top.?

Funniest-ever prank (as a participant): Long ago, Donnie and fellow co-conspirators noted team owner Bud Moore?s habit of parking his personal car next to the team transporter in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup garage, in preparation for a speedy exit. One day, they jacked up the rear of Moore?s car, then waited for him and his son, Greg, to make their trademark getaway.

?He?s sitting there spinning the wheels and it won?t go anywhere,? Donnie said. ?And Greg punched him on the shoulder and said, ?Daddy, I believe we?re in some oil.? ?

Most embarrassing moment: Years ago, when he worked for Jimmy Means, Donnie and his crew borrowed the occasional part or tool from Petty Enterprises. He remembers one race ? at Darlington, he thinks ? when his car lost an important part off an axel. Noting that Kyle Petty had just wrecked and was headed to the garage, Donnie hustled down to meet him.

?I asked him, ?Ya?ll going to get back out? Can I borrow that dust cover?? ? Donnie says. ?And he said, ?Why?? I said, ?Well, we lost one.? He said, ?Well I can tell you where it?s at ? it?s right over there because I just ran over it and blew a tire.?

Best friend(s) in the garage: It helps to have them. Donnie?s include former co-workers and respected peers whom he counts on for straight answers ? or none at all. People like Larry Carter (Jamie McMurray?s crew chief), Todd Berrier (Kevin Harvick?s crew chief) and Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Jimmy Elledge (Reed Sorensen?s crew chief) and Steven Lane (David Stremme?s crew chief).

?You got certain guys in there that you trust because if they come to you and ask you something, you tell them straight,? Donnie says. ?And if you ask them something, they tell you straight. If they don?t want to tell you, then they don?t answer. I?m kind of the same way.?

What it?s like to work at Chip Ganassi Racing: ?It?s different with having so many teams,? Donnie says. ?It?s more of a factory instead of being a shop like I came from. With the other people I worked for, you just have this small group of people. But the way we are now, scheduling?s so important. You gotta schedule things out months in advance to be able to get the job done with all the cars we have to get done.?

What he does for fun (not kidding): ?The biggest thing I do ? and they aggravate me a lot about it at work ? is when I tell?em I gotta leave and go home and cut grass,? Donnie says, ?cause they can?t understand why I cut grass and don?t pay somebody to cut my grass. But to me, that?s kind of a release. When I get out and I?m working in the yard, it kind of clears your mind about what?s going on at work.?

Golf also makes Donnie?s hobbies list. But what he really enjoys is spending time at home with wife Kim, daughter Erin and son Coleman.

?I just like to be around the family cause I?m gone so much,? he says.

Don?t do as I do: Donnie and Kim have two children, 20-year-old Erin and 15-year-old son Coleman. The eldest is an avid NASCAR fan.

?She?s my Monday-morning crew chief,? Donnie says. ?She watches the races and she always tells me what I do wrong. I usually get that from her every week when I get home and 99 percent of the time she?s right.?

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