News & Media


Rodman: Letarte fine-tunes his public image online

April 10, 2012, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com



Rodman: Letarte fine-tunes his public image online
From the Notebook: Celebrate with Kenseth; welcome to The Rock

Maine native Steve Letarte has seen a lot in his chosen sport, since sweeping the floors at Hendrick Motorsports as a teenager in the mid-1990s.

But the veteran Sprint Cup Series crewman and budding television personality couldn't have imagined where his public persona would go when he was named Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief prior to the 2011 season.

"Steve has a dynamic personality and deep knowledge of his craft. Fans will get a better appreciation for everything Steve is involved in and has interest in."

--CHUCK TATE, RACERSITES CEO

So Letarte, whose first crew chief position was with another household name, Jeff Gordon, has launched a new website, www.steveletarte.com, to extend his personal brand and better connect with the fans.

Letarte, who for better or worse made an instant connection with the nine-time Cup Series' most popular driver massive fan base, Junior Nation, earlier this season entered the Twitter universe and in short order has developed a following of 27,928, as of Tuesday morning.

That he continues to pick up dozens of followers a day is no surprise to the CEO of the company that has developed websites for a number of racers.

"Steve has a dynamic personality and deep knowledge of his craft," said Racersites CEO Chuck Tate. "What we set out to do was to build a site that was uniquely 'him,' at and away from the track. Fans will get a better appreciation for everything Steve is involved in and has interest in."

The website includes information and content aimed at extending Letarte's brand and personality to include personal endeavors beyond the race track, including dates as a speaker for paid and charity engagements.

Letarte grew up working on race cars built by his father, noted New England chassis builder Don Letarte. After the family relocated to North Carolina, Steve Letarte caught the eye of neighbor Ray Evernham, who at the time was Gordon's crew chief and hired the 14-year-old to mow his lawn.

That's among the tidbits available on Letarte's newly-designed site, which contains his Twitter feed and news items such as his designation as the winner of the 2011 Papa Joe Hendrick Award of Excellence, the racing organization's highest honor.

Letarte, whose latest Tweets featured photos of an Easter egg hunt with his two young children, became a Hendrick crew chief for Gordon at the 27th race of the 2005 season and won in their sixth race together.

He's finished in the top 10 in the Cup Series standings for the past six seasons, including second and third, with Gordon, in 2007 and 2009, respectively.

Arpin back in harness at Texas

Steve Arpin, a former dirt racing car builder and champion racer who won in his first ARCA Racing Series start at Texas Motor Speedway, will finally get back in a NASCAR ride this weekend when he straps into Turner Motorsports' No. 30 Chevrolet tended by their best crew chief, Trent Owens.

Arpin, who has struggled the past couple seasons in a troubled economy to stay behind the wheel, gave the politically correct answer of "learning as much as I can and staying ready" while on the sidelines. Then, he laughed and became "just Steve."

"It is the most irritating thing that [ticks] you off and eats at you more than you could possibly dream of," Arpin said. "You can't stop saying 'I need to be out there.' "

Thanks to long-time supporter Mike's Hard Lemonade's "Mike's on the Rocks" brand, that chance happens this weekend.

"I sat there at one point and tried to think about one thing I didn't like about Texas and I couldn't do it," Arpin said. "Steve Turner is a racer and I can't tell you how much it means to have someone like that in charge, who puts everything in place to make us able to win.

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"Mike's has been a great supporter of mine, they had success in the other programs we did and they decided to give the Nationwide Series a shot. We did the same thing in ARCA, at Texas and Talladega, and they decided to do more races so we'll see what happens."

Can't wait to see JJ

Maybe no one's arrival at Texas Motor Speedway will be more eagerly anticipated than Jimmie Johnson. On the racing side, Johnson's run back into the top 10 in the Sprint Cup standings is one of the more intriguing stories in this early season.

But on the visual front, it'll be more interesting to see how Johnson's weathered his Easter weekend at the beach, which he forecast late last week.

"Yeah, I'm going to the beach. ... Get some family and friends and go to the beach," Johnson said. "I wish I could get a tan, but I'll probably just fry and come back red as could be."

We'll see...

Kenseth revisits Daytona 500 victory

It'll be just as interesting to see if the post-Easter school-vacation week enables a number of fans to attend two-time Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth delayed celebration of his February victory in the "Great American Race" on Wednesday.

The original champion's breakfast, in which Kenseth was scheduled to meet with fans and media and watch his winning No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford get placed in Gatorade Victory Lane inside the Daytona 500 Experience, was postponed when the race was completed early Tuesday morning.

Kenseth's win, which was RFR's 300th in NASCAR's three national tours, will now be celebrated with a lunch that's open to fans and includes a "fan forum" question-and-answer session with Kenseth, crew chief Jimmy Fennig and team owner Jack Roush.

Doors open at 10:45 a.m. ET and fans will have the opportunity to have their picture taken with the winning No. 17 Ford Fusion, which is on display at the facility for the next year. Guests will have the opportunity to get a tour of Daytona International Speedway.

Tickets for the original Feb. 27 champion's breakfast event will be honored for Wednesday's champion's lunch.

Gresham falters, Elliott Racing sweeps Slocumb 208

An apparent mechanical failure blunted Camping World Truck Series rookie of the year candidate Max Gresham's effort to win last weekend's Beau Slocumb Memorial 208 Pro Late Model race at his home track, Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga.

Bill Elliott's son, Chase Elliott, won his third Late Model race in the past three weekends, besting teammate T.J. Reid in the process. Elliott, a Hendrick Motorsports development driver, is a K&N Pro Series East regular.

Gresham, who was fastest in practice and qualified fifth for the three-segment main event, was leading with 60 laps to go when his car suddenly veered into the outside wall. Gresham ended up 14th.

Ratcliff made good use of break

Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Jason Ratcliff's Cup Series driver, Joey Logano, won the most recent race in the Nationwide Series, three weeks ago in California. But while the Nationwide Series had a two-week break, Ratcliff's crew was only off last weekend. That's OK to the veteran mechanic.

Sneak peek


Three Truck Series drivers hit Rockingham Speedway in March for a scheduled tire test -- a day-long coming attraction of sorts to the full-length feature Sunday.

"It just gives you a breather," Ratcliff said. "You don't really get caught back up -- I don't know that you ever get caught back up -- but it does give you a chance to catch your breath. You take that time and make sure you spend two or three days with your family and just really enjoy that."

Burton supports The Rock

Add Jeff Burton to the list of drivers who support NASCAR's return to Rockingham Speedway, where the Cup Series last raced in 2004 and the Truck Series will race for the first time this weekend.

"They will leave Rockingham loving it," Burton said of the 41 Truck entrants, 36 of whom will start Sunday's main event. "It's one of the coolest race tracks we ever ran on. It was hard and it was really, really tough. You would burn the tires off the thing and it would get really hard to drive.

"We tend to think about all the bad stuff about it because we don't do it anymore but it was one of the hardest tracks we would go to. You would take off and have new tires on and you would feel like Richard Petty and a few laps later you would feel like you had never been on a race track before in your life."

At least one of Burton's Sprint Cup competitor -- Kasey Kahne -- will travel from Texas to Rockingham to do the race. Burton won't, but he thought about it.

"I actually contemplated trying to run the race because it would work in the schedule," Burton said. "But it really wasn't in my best interest to do that. But there will be a lot more fans once they leave there."

Kahne finished second at Rockingham in his second career Cup Series start, in 2004. So when the chance came to race there in the Truck Series' debut at The Rock, he didn't hesitate to jump into a Turner Motorsports Chevrolet.

"I've always liked racing at Rockingham," Kahne said. "When I saw it wasn't on a Cup race day, it wasn't on a day I couldn't do it so I thought it would be pretty fun. Steve Turner has great trucks and Brad Sweet will do a good job preparing it, getting it ready and stuff and I will get to race it on Sunday.

"I like the track. I've always enjoyed sliding around at that track. I'm pretty excited to be able to go back there and race."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.