INDIANAPOLIS – When Furniture Row Racing closed its doors after the 2018 season, engineer Pete Craik was facing the same dilemma as a few dozen of his co-workers.
How to remain a resident of Colorado but also continue a full-time career in a national racing series?
There were no shortage of offers to stay in the NASCAR Cup Series, including following crew chief Cole Pearn and Martin Truex Jr. to the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing, but all would have required a relocation to North Carolina.
Having settled in Denver, Craik and his new wife, Abby (whom he met after moving to Colorado four years ago), decided they wanted to stay.
He found empathy in the decision from Pearn (who jrecently discussed his own reservations over leaving Colorado in an interview with The Athletic).
“Cole said, ‘That’s fair enough. We really want you (at Gibbs), but I get it,’” Craik said. “I just decided initially to say unless I can stay here, I’ll figure something else out.”
The Australian managed a good compromise.
Craik, who came to America in 2012 to work in the NTT IndyCar Series for three seasons before his NASCAR stint, joined Ed Carpenter Racing in January.
He still lives in Denver, staying in touch with ECR team members in Indianapolis daily through instant messaging programs. He travels the 18-race IndyCar circuit and visits the shop once a month.
There’s a parallel to the relationship that Furniture Row Racing had with top engineer Jeff Curtis, who worked remotely from the Charlotte area while the team’s headquarters were in Colorado.
“It’s not like you’re out of the loop at all,” Craik said while standing outside his team’s Gasoline Alley garage stall four days before the Indianapolis 500 last month. “It’s just you’re either in the office here or my office at home.”
Craik is the race engineer on the No. 20, which qualified second and finished sixth in the Indy 500 with Ed Carpenter (who will race the Dallara-Chevrolet this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway).
“I really like this series,” said Craik, who spent three seasons at Andretti Autosport before moving to NASCAR with Furniture Row in 2015. “The cars are good. It’s competitive. I’ve always said that it pains me that it’s not more popular, because I think it’s a great series. It was an easy decision once I spoke to (ECR). It’s a good team, and hopefully I can try to contribute something to that.”
Craik is one of a few Furniture Row Racing veterans who joined IndyCar teams since last year. A few others remained in Denver to work at team owner Barney Visser’s machine shop. But many naturally decamped for North Carolina.
“Honestly I don’t know that many people in Denver anymore because they all moved,” Craik said. “I didn’t have time to go and make friends because we all had each other.”
The camaraderie was a hallmark of the success for Truex’s No. 78, which won the 2017 championship and made the title round in three of four seasons. Craik said a key to the tight-knit group’s success was putting the finishing touches on chassis supplied by other teams (first Richard Childress Racing, then JGR).
“The cakes were baked, and we were putting icing on the cake,” Craik said. “We obviously were heavily sim based and relied on that a lot. We just had a good group. We just wanted to win. I think everybody does, but we were a bit of a ragtag group of guys.
“We had a lot of fun. We just got along well. Everybody was pushing in the same direction. There wasn’t a bad egg amongst them.”
He remains in touch with many of them. Team owner Barney Visser attended a Denver wedding reception in January for Craik (he was married in Australia last December to Abby, who is pictured above during a visit to IMS).
“Barney was putting in a lot of his own money, having health issues and wanted to spend more time with his family, so I get it,” Craik said about Visser’s decision to walk away from NASCAR. “Hey, I wouldn’t want to spend that money myself, so I totally get it.
“It was a good time, but the time’s over. You’re not going to get it back, so there’s no point in looking back on it and wishing it still was.”
The bonds from that team remain strong, though, particularly with Pearn and James Small, a fellow Australian who helped recruit Craik to Furniture Row but went to the No. 19 this season.
“We all still get along,” Craik said. “There’s no hard feelings about it at all. I think everybody’s ended up in good positions otherwise, whether it’s in Colorado not in racing, or in racing. Some people didn’t want to move, but it ended up that way. I feel really fortunate I didn’t have to move, and I get reminded of that by James and Cole every day.
“They text me and are like, ‘Man, you really got a good deal.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I did.’ ”