History The Earnhardt Connection

Redemption for Larry McReynolds
CBS SportsLine Wire
Daytona Beach, Florida (February 15, 1998)

The first person Dale Earnhardt embraced after ending his personal nightmare Sunday with a victory in the Daytona 500 was crew chief Larry McReynolds.

Nothing could have been more appropriate. Although McReynolds had nothing to do with 18 of Earnhardt's first 19 defeats in The Great American Race, he was held largely responsible for seven-time Winston Cup champion's first winless season in 16 years.

He was criticized by many in the huge legion of Earnhardt's fans for not working hard enough, and lambasted by some for doing television commentary on weekends when there was no Winston Cup racing.

"I remember there was one particular fan that wrote a letter to the editor of Winston Cup Scene about halfway through the year that said, `We're really getting tired of seeing Larry McReynolds on television,' " he said. "He needs to be practicing pit stops or something."

"That hurt me because I know how hard I work. I wanted to get this person's number and call him one night about 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning when I still had an hour's drive home and say `Is it OK if I go home now?' "

Despite a highly successful career that included 22 victories with some of NASCAR's top drivers, McReynolds was considered a flop in his first year as Earnhardt's crew chief with Richard Childress Racing. Perhaps the focal point was the team's failure last year at the Daytona 500, when shockingly slow pit stops helped lose the race.

McReynolds regrets that, but offers no apology.

"We made the call on race morning that we would not let guys go over the wall because of some things that went on the night before," he said. "Just like a football coach, if you had some teams members that didn't adhere to the rules you would make a call to leave them at home."

The substitutes performed so badly that Earnhardt was losing about five seconds on every pit stop. That forced him to overdrive the car, and eventually he flipped on the backstretch at Daytona International Speedway, the hallowed track that seemed destined to haunt him forever. He was fortunate to escape without a serious injury.

But McReynolds was determined to improve that situation, and the team began to get better about the middle of last season. On Sunday, it completed its long journey. Quick stops helped keep the seven-time Winston Cup champion in front.

"I don't know what he thought was going on after last year," said Earnhardt, who came into the season-opening Daytona 500 mired in a career-worst losing streak of 59 races. "He came back this winter with the look in his eyes."

It was a look of determination, but McReynolds admitted he had some doubts.

"If you're successful and focused, and you go a through a period where you don't win, I think there's always this little voice that haunts you," McReynolds said. "Until you actually do it, there's a little voice that haunts you. Hopefully it went away today."

McReynolds insists that there was no lack of chemistry between himself and Earnhardt despite reports to the contrary.

"I honestly think there was never a non-click between Dale and I," said McReynolds, who came to the team in 1997 after several seasons preparing Fords for Robert Yates Racing. "It was me understanding Chevrolets, understanding what Dale Earnhardt was looking for in a race car."

Now, all that hard work has paid off.

"It was a tough year last year, but nobody gave up," McReynolds said. ``We kept pulling together, and it paid off.

"And we pulled that Goodwrench Chevrolet right into Victory Lane today. That's awfully special."

1998 Unimount Enterprises