News & Media

Bowyer, Pattie start team-building exercise with Disney test

December 15, 2011, Dave Rodman,

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When brand-new Michael Waltrip Racing crew chief Brian Pattie scheduled a three-day test session this week at Walt Disney World Speedway, "the plan coming in was 10 percent technical and 90 percent team-building."

Upon hearing the news of his first outing in an MWR race car, Pattie's driver, old buddy Clint Bowyer, said he told Pattie, "Buddy, I've never tested three days in my life -- what the hell were you thinking?"

Clint Bowyer takes his first laps in his new ride in a test at Disney. (Getty)

"I'd never been in anything but an RCR car. I was really curious ... to get in it and see what it felt like."


But after one short day of running on the oddly shaped, 1-mile layout, Pattie changed his estimation -- literally overnight -- of what he hoped to achieve, to "70 percent technical, 30 percent team-building."

Quite simply, his squad's chemistry -- despite the fact Pattie had only started assembling them less than two weeks before -- was that good. And the veteran crew chief and his wheelman knew it.

"Right off the bat, everybody just kind of fell into place," Bowyer said Wednesday afternoon as he relaxed in a chair behind his team's test hauler. "I'm telling you, you will learn as much sitting down at a table to dinner and talking racing, getting to know each other and bench racing a little bit -- building that trust and respect within one another, this early in the game -- as you will at the race track, going through the motions and changing shocks and springs.

"We were way behind on that, time-wise, but it's been a lot of fun to get to know each other and that's why we're down here."

Pattie said his deal with MWR is "probably the best opportunity I've ever had" and his relationship with Bowyer makes him look forward to it even more.

"We got put together because we are good friends and it's a deal that I feel very fortunate about and I think [Bowyer] feels the same way," Pattie said. "It's a good time to show everybody what we have to offer."

"[NASCAR] put its testing rules in place for a reason, to keep people from testing, and there's not a lot of value in coming here other than as a team-building exercise, and we need that in a big way," Bowyer said. "We've got to catch up there, every chance that we get [because] this team was just assembled in the last two or three weeks."

"We've put together people from four or five different race teams [including MWR's No. 00] to assemble this team," Pattie said. "It's neat, because it's the first time I've ever had a chance, since I first started back at Joe Nemechek's when I was building the [Nationwide Series] deal in the late '90s -- it's the first time I could actually build a race team.

"In that sense, I'm excited as hell because you can put the right people in the right places that you know work together well. That learning curve gets shortened, because of that."

Before the test, Bowyer said "these cars we are working with today are so even that it's the people and the decisions that those people make, that make up the difference."

After his first couple runs Tuesday, he knew even better what he was talking about.

"I was pleasantly ... I shouldn't say surprised, but I was," Bowyer said of his initial reaction. "I was really nervous about getting in the car because I'd never been in anything but an RCR car. I was really curious, more than anything, to get in it and see what it felt like."

But new number, paint scheme, manufacturer and engine combination -- MWR uses Toyota Racing Development engines -- turned out to be irrelevant, and Bowyer was thrilled.

"When you get out of a Chevy Impala and get into a Toyota Camry rental car, they sure seem a lot different, but when you get into these race cars, with the rules package and the restraints that we have -- they're the same," Bowyer said. "The roll cages are the same, the bodies are the same and even the engines are a lot the same any more, especially with all this EFI [electronic fuel injection] stuff in 'em.

"So I was shocked. When I got in it, it doesn't feel any different than my RCR car did. I was worried about that, getting in it [for the first time] -- not that it's wrong, or worse or better than what you were in, but it's just different. But man, I'll tell you, I didn't feel much different."

Bowyer laughed and said MWR had bought several of his seats from RCR while waiting for his new seats to be built, and that helped. He laughed even more when he said "the ignition switch is on a different side is the only difference, but it really is business as usual as far as me inside the race car as far as what I see."

But the players agreed the interaction they were seeing at this test was the biggest measure of what their potential success might be.

"Obviously the communication, the engineering and their thought process and what they go about attacking certain situations is different," Bowyer said. "That's what you have to learn and that's what you're here for. We're here to get on the same page with one another and learn as much as we can about one another and the communication back and forth."

The qualities that endear Bowyer to his teammates -- a low-key, fun-loving nature sometimes embodied in goofball pranks -- might mask how intense a competitor he is, and how well he does his job.

"His talent level definitely does get lost a bit," Pattie said. "You just look at his past, and his results -- he's pretty damned good, I'm not gonna lie. He brings talent to the table, but he brings the fun back in racing, and sometimes that gets missed with all the stress about results and all that other stuff.

"If you continue to look over your shoulder worrying about people, and all this stuff, you kind of miss what's in front of you. I think that won't happen here just because it's fun and we're working together and pulling in the same direction and we're all here for the same reasons.

"We had objectives coming down here, and we accomplished two out of the three [Tuesday] -- I'd say, before lunch. So we changed some of our test plans."

Bowyer tested a car, the latest version of MWR's new-car evolution, that teammate Martin Truex Jr. had success with in the last couple races of 2011, including third in the season finale.

"It gives me a chance to get in their stuff before Daytona [testing in January and February's Speedweeks], but more importantly, it gives me a chance to get to know these guys' names, and to get them to know me," Bowyer said. "It doesn't matter what the track configuration is and what you can and can't learn [from that] -- what you will learn is what I say and how I say it and vice versa. I need to learn how they go about their business, their demeanor and things like that. That way you're not caught off guard when the pressure-cooker heats up. That's what it's all about."