A Chat With Robbie Loomis

In December 1999, Robbie Loomis made an upward career move by leaving Petty Enterprises in Level Cross, North Carolina and heading to Hendrick Motorsports in Harrisburg, North Carolina for the opportunity to serve as crew chief for Jeff Gordon. The 2000 Winston Cup season has been an up and down one for the DuPont team. They have posted three wins and have nine top 10 finishes in the last ten events heading into the season finale in Atlanta. However, Gordon will finish 9th in the series points standings- his lowest points finish since his rookie season. Through it all Robbie Loomis has been able to adapt to Jeff Gordon's driving style and vice versa. The consistency from September through the end of the season is proof positive. There are great expectations heading into the 2001 season as Gordon has talked openly about challenging for a fourth Winston Cup title. Loomis was a guest on "This Week in NASCAR" hosted by Allen Bestwick on Speedvision on Thursday, November 16. Following is the transcript of the discussion that took place.

Allen Bestwick: We'll get the conversation rolling with a thought about your Homestead race from Sunday- started 28th, finished 7th. How do you think your race went?

Robbie Loomis: After we got through on Friday qualifying it really went good. That's one thing about those guys, they will work on that car and work on it, work on it and the complement when you put a driver in there like Jeff makes it that much easier.

Allen Bestwick: You had the hood up at one point. What happened?

Robbie Loomis: We fought all day long. Like you said we started 28th and that track's a little bit hard to pass on but he really came up through there and we got settled into third pretty good with about 60 to go and we had kind of a unique situation. The throttle return spring broke. It got hung in the carburetor and the throttle hung wide open on him going in turn one. We were very fortunate and sometimes it works out and we've definitely got to look at that thing real hard.

Allen Bestwick: You had the throttle hang and don't end up in the wall. Talk about your 2000 season- 2 poles, 3 wins, 10 top fives, and 21 top tens through 33 races. How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with those numbers?

Robbie Loomis: I'm really, really proud of the team and the job the guys have done on the team. When I lay down at night there are some things that I don't feel that strongly about as far as the job I did coming in. There's some things that I should have took a little more by the horns instead of being gentle with it. But I have a saying 'people never care how much you know until they know how much you care.' With our team we've worked under that principle throughout this whole year and now we really have the teamwork and chemistry going good and that's probably the thing I'm most proud of when I lay down at night. I know that when I go in there we can have a bad day now, just like qualifying Friday at Homestead, and those guys are going to respond well, work hard, and at the end of the day Sunday it's going to be a lot different from where we were at on Friday.

Allen Bestwick: First win of the season came in your ninth race at Talladega. At that point, the start of the season was just kinda going along and then you started 36th and won that day. How much pressure was building to that point and how did winning affect that for you?

Robbie Loomis: The pressure was there since the second week of December when I went there. I mean the pressure was just continually building but when you don't do it and you have a driver as good as Jeff and you have all the guys who have won championships on your team and all the resources there at Hendrick Motorsports that we have, it was starting to work on me a little bit mentally. To have Jeff and the support of Rick to tell you, 'It'll be OK, we're gonna get through it. We've been through a body change, we're going through a lot of different tires this year with Goodyear,' that really gave me a peace of mind to be able to concentrate on my job and just try to keep the guys rallying together. So, like you said, that was a weekend again where Friday the way we looked- the way we looked Sunday at the end of the day really showed that if we keep working on it and keep doing it, that was just one weekend. If we can do this over a year or over two or three years then we can get up there to be like Jimmy Makar and Bobby Labonte are right now.

Allen Bestwick: Second win of the year came at Sears Point in late June. That was your first top five finish since the Talladega win. Why were the top five finishes so hard to come by in the first half of the year? You mentioned the body change and a lot of different tires cycling through and so on. Were those really that big of a factor for you?

Robbie Loomis: I think that was a pretty big part of the mix but I had a circle of stuff that I had been working under for the last few years and all of a sudden I came in and there was another plate of stuff laid out there that Brian Whitesell and the guys had been working under. So we had to be real careful how we mixed that stuff. Brian and I as time has gone on, a lot of communication and relationships got a lot better and we've found out what we can mix together from what we did and what they've done to try to help complement this 2000 Monte Carlo.

Allen Bestwick: You're referring to your Petty Enterprises "stuff" and their Ray Evernham "stuff" if you will. Were there significant differences between the two?

Robbie Loomis: There really were. When you look at some of the shock stuff and some of the different things we had going on between the two teams there was really a lot. In fact I questioned Ray at a couple of racetracks. I stopped him and said, 'How come you did this?' Ray's been there and he told me when I took the job back in December if there's anything he can help us with. He's been a great support too.

Allen Bestwick: You talked about Brian Whitesell earlier. He has been obviously with the team for a long time. Most of the guys on your crew have. How did you go about assimilating yourself into that group? Was there a specific plan?

Robbie Loomis: I begged them to accept me. (laughs)

Allen Bestwick: Got down on one knee, huh? (laughs)

Robbie Loomis: That's been among the funnest parts is all the new relationships. The years that I was at Petty Enterprises was great and developed a lot of good relationships there. I was real nervous going into the Hendrick Motorsports complex- it's real big, there's a lot of resources there. But the people have really been great and it seems like over time it's kind of evolved. And you can really feel, you were talking about the difference in the top fives the first half to the second half, a lot of it's just about people and how we work together, how we interact with one another, and me believing in them and them believing in me.

Allen Bestwick: From Labor Day on things have really been solid for you. The results have been very steady. How do you and Brian go about splitting up the responsibilities of running the team?

Robbie Loomis: That's one of those same areas that we talked about where we're really going by touch and go. We've learned that's one thing that's been real good especially of late here in the season. We can tell kind of what is one person's area and what's another person's area and we really work together on a lot of the decisions that we make. We kind of blend together and we say, 'Did you think about this?' We're getting now to where we can read each other's body reactions and say, 'He's saying it's OK, but he's really not agreeing with that.'

Allen Bestwick: Let's talk about your driver- Jeff Gordon. 'Jeff Gordon is different than I thought...' How? You had to have a preconceived notion coming in of what he would be like to work with. How's he turned out different than that?

Robbie Loomis: One thing Ray told me, he said, 'If I got run over by a train,' he said, 'This is a great job for anybody because this is really, really a special driver.' And he really is. He's got a unique way of describing the car and being able to relate what he's feeling to what he needs in a racecar. That's one of the things that has really helped me and especially here since September we're getting better and better at communicating over the radio on what we need for adjusting the car. But probably the most unique thing is when you see someone from outside looking in, you're like, 'Is that guy really that nice of a guy? Is he really that genuine?' Jeff Gordon, he's really a man that... I say all the time- if you want to see what Jeff Gordon's really like, look at somebody that's in the Bible. And that's kinda how he lives his life.

Allen Bestwick: Jeff interacts with you during the week away from the racetrack, how? He lives in Florida and you're here.. the shop is in the Charlotte area. How do you two interact and discuss things? A lot of telephone?

Robbie Loomis: We do use the telephone. That's probably our best way for communication during the week. Jeff will come to the shop- usually about once every two weeks he'll come to the shop and talk to the guys. But most of the time we'll talk usually on Tuesday. He'll give me a race report.. most of the time he'll give me a race report (laughs)... it's like pulling teeth sometimes. He does give me a race report and he tells us everything from restarts to communication- how he felt about the car, the engines and all that stuff- so that really helps that part.

Allen Bestwick: Jeff and Ray had such a tight relationship that I'm sure was a little intimidating for you at first to try and begin to build your lines of communication within. Did you set out in your mind and say, 'OK, I have to go about doing this in this way,' or did you just say, 'OK, let's just see what happens'?

Robbie Loomis: Did you say intimidating at first? (laughs)... No, it's gotten a lot better. That's one thing I had to really overcome is like when you work with someone new, and the respect I had for Jeff, he told me going in at Daytona, he said, 'I want you to treat me like I'm any other driver you've had.' It's one thing saying that and another thing doing it. But it really has and that's what he wants. If I see something he's doing out there on the racetrack, he wants me to tell him, 'Guys are running a little bit lower' or 'They're diamonding the corner'.... whatever specifics it might be. But that part has really gone along good.

Allen Bestwick: You've had a little experience at that trying to deal with a high profile driver telling The King what his line's like in the corner and that kind of thing. So it wasn't exactly all new for you.

Allen Bestwick: Time for the GM Fan Forum where we take your calls and questions for Robbie Loomis, the crew chief of the DuPont Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Steve from Roanoake, Virginia: (called in to ask a question) Why does a Winston Cup car run a 14:1 compression. Busch cars run a 9:1- they don't need the restrictor plate. Why don't they lower the size of the motor to 10:1 for Winston Cup at Talladega and Daytona instead of doing all this restrictor plate stuff?

Robbie Loomis: Compression is always a hot topic and NASCAR does a real good job of policing that. But when you deal with NASCAR... and all the drivers, that's the hard part for NASCAR is throttle response. It's all about throttle response so that's why they look real hard at not limiting and taking too much compression away from the car so that drivers will have some throttle response in the cars.

Allen Bestwick: It was just a couple of years ago before they put the compression limit in, weren't some of those plate engines running like 19 and 18:1 compression?

Robbie Loomis: Yeah, they got up really big and some of the qualifying engines especially got real big. I think the big thing is the drivers really like throttle response because that's another tool they have to help drive the cars and help the handling. But when you look at it, it's like they came and gave us a bigger restrictor plate at Talladega. They're always looking at ways to try and make it better and keep the racing competition real close.

Allen Bestwick: Let's go back to the phones to Atlanta, Georgia and Melissa you're on with Robbie Loomis.

Melissa from Atlanta, Georgia: (called in to ask a question) I'm a huge Jeff Gordon fan. It's been great to see the team gel. I was wondering are you under contract with the 24 car? Will you definitely be there next year?

Allen Bestwick: Straight to the point (laughs).

Robbie Loomis: Let's hope so (laughs). I am under contract. Although my relationship with the Hendricks is no different than with the Pettys. I told them, 'As long as you're happy with me and I'm happy with you, then we'll keep doing this thing and going down the road.'

Allen Bestwick: Long term goals for you. Have you thought much about 10 years from now, 15.. 20 years from now what you might like to be doing?

Robbie Loomis: My main goal has always been to win a championship and I feel like I've got the tools around me, definitely the driver, and surrounded by the people at Hendrick Motorsports. But long term, I'd like to get into, probably somewhere down the road, not full ownership- I would like ownership with like Jeff Gordon being there over me.. or Richard Petty.. or Mr. Hendrick. Somebody over me that's gonna sit in there and have all the years in the sport that's seen everything. Not ownership out there on my own- I'm not looking for that.

Allen Bestwick: You don't want to be writing all those checks by yourself either.

Robbie Loomis: That's right.

Allen Bestwick: Let's talk about Atlanta this weekend. What are some of the issues and ideas that come to your mind as you try to prepare your car for an Atlanta race?

Robbie Loomis: We're real excited about Atlanta. The guys are back preparing the car right now. It's the same car we sat on the pole with at Charlotte and had a real strong run. Atlanta the first time this year we really didn't have a good feel for each other and the team and we qualified seventh there and we ran in the top three or four all day and wound up finishing tenth. So we feel real good about it. Our body stuff has got a lot better since March and our engine program- Randy Dorton and the guys at the engine shop have done a great job up there.

Allen Bestwick: You can't move up or back from where you are in points- you're ninth. How does that change your approach to the weekend or does it?

Robbie Loomis: We talked about that before the Homestead race. I told the guys, 'I hate being ninth or tenth in points. I'm not proud of that fact at all. But at the same time we have won three races.' And we can make it four down here at Atlanta so we're looking forward to that.

Allen Bestwick: How far into preparations for 2001 are you at this point and in what areas are you already beginning to work?

Robbie Loomis: At season's start, you're preparing midway through the season really working preparing for the next season. We're working real hard getting the people on and try to make sure we keep these families and stuff to where they enjoy each other and have lives and still be able to get the job done at the racetrack too.

Allen Bestwick: How involved do you get in long term planning with Rick and John Hendrick- with budget meetings and people issues and so on. How much of a hand do you have in that? How much of a hand do they have?

Robbie Loomis: We have a lot of input into it. Gary Dehart, Tony Furr... we have crew chief meetings every Tuesday and John and Rick are present in those. We talk about a lot of things. We throw out on the table ideas and what we need to do to give the guys a little more time off and still be able to get the job done. The main thing is to get the job done and next year we're looking forward to winning the series championship.

Allen Bestwick: After the struggles in the first half of this season and the steady, if not spectacular, performance in the second half- you've been in the top 10 almost every week since Labor Day, how do you feel about your team's potential to make a run at the championship in 2001?

Robbie Loomis: I feel really, really good. The way things came the second half of the year, the team is really uniting well together and it's just a matter of getting out there and doing it. I think if we put ourselves in a position and it comes down to the end of the year, hopefully we'll be the ones up there like Bobby Labonte and Jimmy Makar. They showed that it takes trial and error and doing it time and time again and now they're up there doing it.

Allen Bestwick: Any fears at all as far as the Dodge's coming in and that kind of thing? Or do you feel pretty comfortable about taking an existing body style in?

Robbie Loomis: I'm real excited. You know I was in the past- especially a year and a half ago about the Dodge's coming in. I really look forward to it. I think it's great for the sport and I think we'll see a lot of fans get real excited about it too.

Allen Bestwick: Robbie, thanks for taking the time to come down. Good luck in Atlanta this weekend and in 2001.

Jeff Gordon Online

Copyright 2000 Jeff Gordon Online.
Transcribed by Jeff Gordon Online.
All rights reserved.