By Tommy Goudge (November 26, 2011) – Perhaps by now you’ve heard about the press conference Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That would be the one in which newly-crowned NASCAR Sprint Cup series champion Tony Stewart said competing in dirt track events helped to get him energized during the long and laborious NASCAR season.
Stewart’s NASCAR effort was not up to his standards for a large portion of this season. It was possible he might not even qualify for the 10 race “Chase” playoff. We know now that he made the cut, and won half of those final races to secure his third Sprint Cup title.
How much did winning his first World of Outlaws Sprint Car feature at Ohsweken Speedway in July affect his late-season NASCAR surge? Who really knows, but we do know he considers it to be one of his most important career accomplishments.
“I don’t know that people really truly understand,” Tony told Ontario Oval after that Outlaw win. “They think just because we got to NASCAR that there’s nothing bigger than that, and it’s not that this (win) is bigger, but this is the best in this field, and to be able to run with these guys and be competitive and have a shot to win the main tonight, that’s more than I dreamed we would have done, this early.”
Much has been made of Stewart’s connection to Canada after his win at Ohsweken, but it’s not his only link to this country: A Canadian has helped to guide Tony Stewart Racing since day one. Jimmy Carr is as quiet and reserved as his boss can be brash and outspoken, which may be partly why many people don’t know who he is. He is now the Race Director at Tony Stewart Racing, and he had a huge hand in what Tony accomplished that night in July at Ohsweken.
Urban sprawl in the Vancouver area has long since swallowed them up, but local short tracks once dotted the countryside in British Columbia. Frank Carr was among those on the local racing circuit in the 1960’s, racing at Haney Speedway until it’s closure in 1965, then moving to Langley Speedway, and other tracks around the province.
Racing is often passed down through generations, and it was no different for the Carr family. Jimmy’s first race car was actually a dragster that he purchased from a neighbour in what is now Maple Ridge at age 16, and raced in Seattle “a few times”, but it wasn’t long before he ended up on the ovals.
“My dad was an oval track guy, and he got on my ass because he didn’t think much of drag racing. So I quickly got rid of that straight-line car and got into oval track racing.”
Jimmy became a contender in the west coast Sprint Car scene quickly, and was busy during his twenties racing on the weekends and working at the family gravel business during the week. Langley Speedway was in decline in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and finally closed in 1984. It was also a paved track, and Jimmy found dirt to his liking, which made for long hours on American highways.
“Everything was at Skagit Speedway or even further south. I spent a lot of time on I-5, racing in Washington, Oregon, and California on the weekends.”
Almost a decade passed with Jimmy racing on weekends and working a day job too. Then he made a decision that changed his life.
“1990 rolled around, and we decided we’d go out on the road and do a little touring around. That worked out really well for me. It did really well and kind of paid it’s own way, so in 1991 I decided I’d run for rookie of the year with the (World of) Outlaws and see how it worked out. Eventually, it was the middle of the season and we were still going, and it was still paying the bills on it’s own, so we went ahead and finished that year. I haven’t had a real job since 1989.”
Jimmy did indeed win the rookie of the year title in 1991, and finished 8th in the World of Outlaws series standings behind champion Steve Kinser. That turned out to be his highest career finish in the World of Outlaws standings. Carr continued as a driver for most of the 1990’s, but racing for a living was becoming increasingly difficult.
“There was a time in Sprint Car racing when weight became a huge adjustment, and it became a huge dollar figure. The motors went from $18,000 to $40,000 basically overnight, because they went from 400 pounds to 280 pounds, and I couldn’t afford to do that on my own budget.”
Jimmy was a mechanic for Danny Lasoski on Dennis Roth’s Beef Packers #83 in the late 90’s, but also continued to dabble with driving too. Jimmy and Danny also befriended then open wheel star Tony Stewart, and a seed was planted.
“I got to know Tony a little bit. I went to the Chili Bowl, and I raced some of the Chili Bowl. Danny Lasoski and I got to know Tony pretty good. That was when Tony was still IRL racing. Tony always wanted to have a World of Outlaws car, and when he first started in NASCAR, he got together with Danny and I, and decided we were going to start a World of Outlaws team.”
They methodically planned and prepared for an Outlaw assault, while Jimmy continued to do some driving. His transition from driver to full-time mechanic had almost arrived though.
“That was in late 1999 we started putting it together, and I did a little bit more racing. In ’99 I raced a few cars out in Pennsylvania (one was the Dyer Masonry “Brickmobile” #461), and a car out of Dallas, Texas, but in 2000 we were full-on building our team for the 2001 start with Tony. Brooke Tatnell got hurt in the Casey’s General Store car, and I filled in for him for probably ten races there, and that’s probably the last car I drove.”
Jimmy and Danny went out on the road with the World of Outlaws full-time in 2001, and immediately found success. They had a very consistent season, won the Knoxville Nationals, 4 World of Outlaws features, and came out on top in one of the most closely contested championships in series history. The final points standings show them ahead of Mark Kinser by just 30 points.
Carr has been involved as either crew chief or in a management role for more than a decade now, accruing countless feature wins, helping to build Tony Stewart Racing into a dominant racing team, and one that produces future driving talent. 2011 NASCAR Nationwide series champion Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is just one of many young drivers who have spent time as a Tony Stewart Racing driver.
2011 was another good season for Tony Stewart Racing. It included another Knoxville Nationals win with Donny Schatz, and USAC National Sprint Car and Silver Crown titles with Levi Jones. Stewart’s first World of Outlaws feature win was probably as big a highlight as any though, and Carr was right in the middle of it as Tony’s personal crew chief for his Sprint Car appearances.
“That’s a huge notch in my belt to put (Tony) in victory lane at an Outlaw race,” Carr told Ontario Oval in July. “That’s probably one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me. In all the years I’ve raced, I didn’t get to race in Canada very often, but when we did I never got to win, so this is a first time win for me too. I’ve been behind a desk at the shop for a couple of years, and it’s only when (Tony) races that I get out, so every chance I get it’s really cool.”
Carr estimates he won “60 or 70” features during his driving career, and there might have been a track championship or two in there as well. He knows his stats as a mechanic and race director better, and they are impressive: He’s had a hand in 7 Knoxville Nationals victories, 3 World of Outlaws championships, and 5 United States Auto Club championships.
“We won the Knoxville Nationals and the (World of Outlaws) championship in the first year we had our team full going, and now here we are 12 years later. Now we have a huge building in Brownsburg, Indiana, with 5 teams that I look after.”
All of this, and Jimmy is not yet 50 years old. That milestone awaits him in October next year. Brownsburg, Indiana is a long way from the greater Vancouver area, but there is no mistaking his humility, politeness, and quiet demeanor as stereotypically Canadian.