(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Former NASCAR executive Robin Pemberton sheds light on why some decisions were made

11 Comments

Although he’s no longer at NASCAR, Robin Pemberton isn’t retired and said Tuesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio “I’m not done by any means.’’

Pemberton, who spent 11 years with NASCAR before leaving after last season as senior vice president of competition and racing development, spent 90 minutes on the “Late Shift” with co-hosts Brad Gillie and Kenny Wallace. Pemberton shared insights into how NASCAR does things and stories from a career that spans 37 years in various roles from mechanic to crew chief to series executive.

Pemberton said he’s joined his son, Bray, who has started a consulting business in the sport, but Pemberton said he’s also looking to do more.

Before joining NASCAR in Aug. 2004, Pemberton worked on teams with such drivers as Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Kyle Petty. Pemberton scored 26 wins in 17 seasons as a crew chief.

He revealed Tuesday that he had planned more than a year ago to make last year his final year with the sanctioning body, deciding a change was needed after more than a decade in one place.

While there, Pemberton was in the middle of many key decisions from the Chase to the cars to various rule changes. He shed some light on some of those decisions.

Although the elimination format in the Chase debuted in 2014, Pemberton noted that it was not a new topic in NASCAR, saying “there was a lot of talk for years prior to that” about such a concept.

He also shared a reason why NASCAR went to fuel injection in 2012 in place of carburetors.

“It was a time a number of years ago, there were some different meetings going on and it was about technology and it was about the potential of new manufacturers coming in, which happens all the time,’’ he told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Some of the feedback was ‘Your engines are antiques. There’s no fuel injection.’ So, we got kind of slapped around that there wasn’t enough technology from what people viewed NASCAR.

“You and I both know,’’ Pemberton told Wallace, “that there was a lot of technology in those engines. It just didn’t have the fuel injection and the computer running everything. That was the first tap on the shoulder. Yeah, we need to step up a little bit and get some fuel injection.’’

Another key move made while Pemberton was at NASCAR was the series moving to what was then called the Car of Tomorrow, which debuted in March 2007 and featured a rear wing.

The rear wing was not well received and series officials eventually replaced the wing with a spoiler.

“We were getting a lot of static on the wing,’’ Pemberton said. “The wing is very efficient. It’s the way to go. It’s low drag. It makes a lot of downforce. It was right for one application, but so many people said that stock cars are not winged cars, stock cars are spoilers.

“Best I can remember, we got a lot of static about it. I’m thinking we turned that thing around in six months from doing all the runs in the wind tunnel.

“When a car turned around and got airborne, these cars can get airborne. The thing that we did learn is that the wing was efficient and didn’t develop a lot of drag, so when the car turned around, it never slowed down. With a spoiler … you can feel that thing start to grind to a halt, it’s a lot of drag, it’s a big parachute hanging out when you start to spin. The wing wasn’t necessarily causing it to fly, it just wasn’t slowing the car down when the car got out of shape and turned around.’’

Pemberton also discussed how NASCAR reviews potential infractions in the control tower during races.

“There’s a tremendous replay system in the tower that is NASCAR’s only,’’ Pemberton said. “Every camera is up on a display and you review and look at different things. It really helps you try to improve your calls. It has minimized some of the potential bad calls at times.’’

Pemberton noted how cameras played a key role in NASCAR deciding to penalize Jimmie Johnson’s team in last year’s season finale in Miami and what happened after that.

NASCAR ordered Johnson to pit to fix a body panel issue after the jackman leaned into quarter panel to push it in to give it an aerodynamic advantage.

“I think when you look back at the penalty on (Johnson’s team) at Homestead when they caved the body in during a pit stop, that was something we saw from an in-car camera or something else on pit road,’’ Pemberton told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Our liaison told NBC what happened and they found the footage themselves and Steve Letarte was able to explain it (on NBC’s broadcast). That’s what you need. Fans want proof. You have to do everything you can to help educate them of the calls.’’

Mother of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller dies at 65

JR Motorsports
5 Comments

Brenda Jackson, mother of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller, has died following a battle with cancer, JR Motorsports announced Monday. She was 65.

Formerly Brenda Gee, she married Dale Earnhardt in 1972. Together they had Kelley (1972) and Dale Jr. (1974) before separating.

Jackson was one of two daughters and four children to NASCAR fabricator Robert Gee, a Virginia native who built winning cars for racers, including Earnhardt.

After her separation from Earnhardt, the children stayed with her as Earnhardt tried to establish his racing career. After a fire claimed their home, Jackson moved back to Virginia while the children went to live with Earnhardt.

She remarried in 1985 to William M. Jackson Jr., a firefighter in Norfolk, Virginia. When he retired they moved back to North Carolina with step-daughter Meredith. Jackson joined JR Motorsports as an accounting specialist in 2004 and remained there through 2019.

Jackson is survived by her husband; her children Dale Earnhardt Jr. (wife Amy), Kelley Earnhardt Miller (husband L.W.), step-daughter Meredith Davis (husband Jonathan); her grandchildren Karsyn Elledge (18), Kennedy Elledge (13), Wyatt Miller (7), Callahan Davis (16), Claudia Davis (13), and Isla Rose Earnhardt (11 months); her brothers Robert Gee (wife Beverly) and Jimmy Gee; and her beloved Pekingese dog, Scully.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Piedmont Animal Rescue or Hospice and Palliative Care of Iredell.

Nashville Fairgrounds promoters respond to claims of contract breach

Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville
1 Comment

Last week Claire Formosa, the VP of Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, and a lawyer representing Formosa Productions pushed back against allegations made by the Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners that the company had breached its contract to run the track.

On April 8, the Fair Board commission sent a letter to the Formosas informing them that it was exercising a breach clause in their contract over two items: the track breaking its designated curfew of 7 p.m. on a school night and unpaid concessions commission of $31,930 from last year.

A third issue had been resolved regarding late office rent payments for the first three months of the year.

The claims by the commission come as the Formosas and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. face obstacles in their attempts to bring NASCAR back to the short track.

“To suggest that Formosa Productions breached its contract … that’s a serious allegation and I don’t believe that’s well-founded,” said Jim Roberts, the Formosa’s attorney, during the monthly Fair Board meeting on April 16.

Roberts observed that the language of the contract does not state when the concession payments are due.

“So I would submit that it’s impossible to be in breach of a contract when there are no payment schedules to find,” Roberts said.

Roberts argued concession payments would not be due until the end of the contract on March 23, 2023.

“That’s not how things are normally done, but let’s just be honest, that’s what the contract as drafted says,” Roberts said. Roberts also claimed the Formosas were not aware the concessions payments were part of the contract and that they’d never received an invoice.

“There’s been no invoicing, I think the board needs to be aware of that, no invoicing of these concessions until last week,” Roberts said, who added the Formosas asked for the invoices and received them on April 9, but that the provided invoices totaled $28,430 and not the $31,930 referenced in the April 8 letter.

The Fair Board’s letter alleged that the track broke its 7 p.m. curfew on March 27 when Kyle Busch took part in a test session for the All-America 400.

The Board claimed this violation came after a verbal warning for curfew violation on May 10 of last year. Roberts said the Formosas have no idea what event was held on that date to warrant the warning.

Regarding Busch’s test date, Roberts claimed the Formosas understood that if they received permission from the principal of a nearby school and the neighborhood association, there would be “no objection or problem” with a late track running time.

Roberts said they have a letter from the principal and the permission from the neighborhood association allowing the test.

Formosa said she had gone to the March neighborhood association meeting and was told she was cleared to go ahead with a late track rental, as long as she had the support of the school principal in the area.

Board member Jason Bergeron mentioned a series of emails from before March 27 where Formosa was told by Executive Director Laura Womack that they’d still be limited by the curfew and he noted that the principal’s permission was not part of the contract.

“She let me know and I told her ‘OK’,” Formosa said. “It was a complete miscommunication between myself and my office staff.”

With the test going beyond 8 p.m., Formosa, who was not on site, traveled to the track and shut it down by 8:17. p.m.

Bergeron said he’s heard from people in the neighborhood “that they don’t feel like they can count on that 7 o’clock curfew” when it comes to track rentals.

Formosa objected to this assertion.

“We have these monthly neighborhood meetings for this very reason,” Formosa said. “I can tell you that I never heard an issue raised by either one of the neighborhood associations. If there were issues raised, this is certainty the first time I’m hearing about them.”

K&N Series’ Jagger Jones, Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme pair up for Baja race

Photos: Richard Shute/Auto Imagery
Leave a comment

Jagger Jones is going to spend Spring Break not in Daytona Beach or Fort Lauderdale – but he’ll be seeing a lot of sand nonetheless.

About 1,300 miles worth.

The 16-year-old rookie NASCAR K&N Pro Series West driver will be taking part in his second consecutive National Off-Road Racing Association 1000 off-road race (also known as the Mexican 1000) from April 28 – May 2 in Baja California, Mexico.

Sitting alongside Jones and splitting driving duties will be legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme, who will also be competing in his second Mexican 1000.

It’s not an easy race, for sure,” Jones told NBC Sports. “It’s long, it’s five days, it’s hot, the end of April and the start of May. Don really liked being in last year’s race, but I could tell he was unsure if he was up to do it again. Then my dad and I threw out the deal where we split the race and Don was on-board with that. We both just jumped on that idea.”

MORE: Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme pairs with Parnelli Jones’ grandson for Mexican 1000

While other teenagers may be intimidated to be paired with one of the most legendary names in motorsports, Jones isn’t. He’s used to being around iconic racers, most notably his grandfather, Parnelli Jones. And his father, P.J., is not only a noted racer himself, he also built the Polaris off-road buggy that his son and Prudhomme will drive in the 1000.

It’s really cool to be able to do a race with the one and only Snake, who has been such a legend in the drag racing community,” Jones said. “I’m only 16 years old, so I think it’s pretty awesome.

I’ve always been around the off-road scene and watched my dad do a lot of races off-road. I grew up around Robby Gordon and off-road places like Parker (Arizona), where we always go there every year and go camping. I’ve always wanted to do off-road racing. My brother and I both enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of different than the pavement stuff. It’s really fun when you’re sideways and stuff.”

Prudhomme is looking forward to racing with Jagger.

Doing it with Jagger, he’s a young, real aggressive driver and he’s really fast,” Prudhomme said. “I couldn’t think of a better kid to be my co-driver.”

Jones is able to take part in the Mexican 1000 because the K&N Series West is on a six-week hiatus, his next race not being until May 11 in Tucson.

He’s done well in his first two K&N races, finishing runner-up in his series debut at Las Vegas (was knocked out of the lead on the final lap) and fourth at Irwindale Speedway.

Jones sits tied for third in the K&N West standings, three points behind series frontrunner Hailie Deegan.

I think we’ve had a great start to the season,” Jones said. “It was definitely a bit of a learning curve, but … so far for a rookie season, I don’t think it’s too bad of a start.”

Jones competed in last year’s Mexican 1000 with younger brother Jace. The pair were in the lead when the transmission on their off-road buggy failed, ending their hopes of a win (their father won in another class in the same race). Prudhomme finished 95th in a field of more than 150 drivers in the same event.

Much like Prudhomme feels he has unfinished business in Baja, Jones feels the same way. Now paired with the “Snake,” Jagger is ready to go for the win.

We definitely have a shot at winning,” Jones said. “It’s like an endurance race. First, you have to finish to win. That’s probably going to be our biggest goal.

We want to do good, but if we can just finish, I think we’ll wind up in a good place. If we finish, anything else is a bonus. To win would be awesome. My dad won last year, so if we could follow that up this year, it’d be super cool.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Michael Annett feels like ‘I belong here’ after best start of Xfinity career

Getty Images
Leave a comment

If Michael Annett‘s dog could talk.

The owner of three dogs, Annett has had Paisley, a miniature golden doodle, for 13 years.

That’s more than the entirety of his full-time NASCAR career, which began in 2009.

Along with his girlfriend at the time, Paisley was a passenger in Annett’s car in February during the seven-hour drive back from Daytona International Speedway a day after Annett scored his first career Xfinity Series win.

“She’s seen it all,” Annett told NBC Sports. “I’m sure she was pinching herself, too. It was just pretty special to have that time in the car, honestly. It wasn’t a bad thing I drove because it gave me those seven hours to really digest everything we did the day before is pretty special.”

Annett’s win locked him into the Xfinity playoffs, which he was unable to take part in last year in his second season with JR Motorsports. Annett and what was then the No. 5 team finished 16th in a season that saw Annett work with two crew chiefs for most of the campaign’s 33 races.

The second crew chief, the man who leads Annett’s No. 1 team now, was Travis Mack.

A former car chief at Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne’s crew chief at Leavine Family Racing, Mack joined Annett’s team after 19 races had been completed.

The change came as the series entered Annett’s worst stretch of races.

“He came in and we had three road courses (Mid-Ohio, Road America, Watkins Glen) and Bristol right away,” Annett said. “I told him leading up to it, ‘This is where I’m the worst, road courses. I’m sorry they’re throwing you to the wolves like this.'”

Annett didn’t finish better than 12th at the road courses, but he snagged a seventh-place finish at Bristol, his first top 10 through 22 races. He’d round out the season with three, including a ninth in the finale in Miami.

“We left Homestead everybody was just really pumped for February to come,” Annett said.

Annett approached the ensuing offseason differently than at any other point in his career.

“A lot of guys when you leave Homestead we kind of scatter,” Annett said. “Honestly, the whole offseason I was at the shop almost every day. Team lunches with guys, dinners with the guys. The crew chief, Travis Mack and I, working out every morning together. Just always bouncing ideas back and forth and if it wasn’t about racing it was team camaraderie and just building that relationship, wanting to make sure everyone on that 1 team’s going to hold the end of the rope for you if you’re hanging by it. That’s what you need, you gotta to have everybody bought into the same goal and I think just building that relationship and unity`has been a huge benefit for us.”

It didn’t just benefit Annett at Daytona.

After eight races, Annett is off to the best start of his NASCAR career. He has two top fives (Daytona and Las Vegas) and five top 10s, two shy of the seven total he had when he returned to Xfinity from Cup in 2017.

“Going to Atlanta and being fast in practice, didn’t have the best race, finished 12th. Last year at that point, man, we’d be high-fiving for a 12th,” Annett said. “Just continued to grow and it’s still continuing to grow. We’re not even close to where we want to be right now.”

Annett’s performance in 2018 came back to bite him early in the season when two of the first three races had qualifying rained out. That caused the field to be established by last year’s owner points. He started 16th at Atlanta and Las Vegas.

As a result Annett missed out on getting more stage points than he thought he was capable of.

“That put us in a pretty big hole right away,” Annett said. “But even those races, honestly is when we got the most (12 total). It’s hard to say. I’m not a genie or anything, but I feel like we’d have more bonus points at this point, but I still feel like those were some of our best races for some reason.”

With his Daytona win and being locked into the playoffs, Annett’s team has taken gambles he’s never been able to, like staying out on old tires in the middle of Stage 1 at Richmond. It didn’t work out and Annett finished the race in 13th.

“It took a little bit (of adjusting) just because I was hungry for those top fives and when you don’t have a top-five car you know if it doesn’t work out you’re going to be outside the top 10,” Annett said. “That part’s been tough. Really had to get in my head and figure out what’s going to help us go through rounds in the playoffs. Once I really got that in my head it was easy.”

What has Annett learned about himself as a driver in the months since Mack was brought on board?

“I think that just that I belong here,” Annett said. “At some point you beat yourself down long enough you start to wonder if you remember how to drive a race car or if you belong. But once you start to show that consistency and you’re passing cars that you know that could have a chance to win a race and you’re driving by them, it’s moments like that. When you’re driving past race-winning cars that’s when you start to get that confidence and ‘Yeah, you still remember how to do this.'”