Humility, loyalty and emotion are just as big a part of Jamie McMurray as being a good racer

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As uplifting as Jamie McMurray’s win Saturday night in the Sprint All-Star Race was, even more heartwarming was the emotion the Missouri driver showed after the race.

The tears that welled up in his eyes, the hitch in his voice when he got choked up, and the honest and satisfied smile on McMurray’s face weren’t because he won $1 million.

On the contrary, they were pure, raw and unadulterated joy of someone celebrating a job well done.

And that indeed is what McMurray did so well Saturday. Even though the outcome didn’t affect his current 24th place ranking in the Sprint Cup standings, and even though the win didn’t help qualify him for the revamped and expanded Chase for the Sprint Cup, you likely would not have found greater joy, enjoyment or appreciation for what McMurray did then himself.

“It means something here,” team owner Chip Ganassi said of Charlotte Motor Speedway in the post-race media conference. “There’s something a little special about the All-Star Race, too, I think, that nobody is out there points racing. It’s hammer down there with 10 to go. I think we saw a special kind of racing tonight, and we’re all very lucky to see that.”

McMurray is the kind of guy parents want their daughters to marry. He’s honest, down to earth and, most importantly, humble. And it’s that kind of humility that have left McMurray as one of the most well-liked and most respected drivers in the Sprint Cup garage.

For you know when you talk to him, or when you see him express himself emotionally like he did Saturday (as well as in several other key race wins he’s had in his career), you know it’s coming from the heart. It’s not contrived, fake or a false attempt to get attention.

“He said to me in victory lane tonight, ‘We’ve won a lot of great races together, haven’t we?’ I said, ‘Yes, we have.’ You know, it was kind of special for him to think of that, as well, because he’s that kind of guy. He understands what it takes to be in this sport and be a driver.”

McMurray now adds one of the biggest race wins any driver can earn to an already burgeoning stable that includes a past triumph in the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the fall Chase race at Talladega.

And while he’s had his struggles this season, with just two top-10 finishes in the first 11 races of the 2014 Sprint Cup season, McMurray personifies the human element that NASCAR officials like to boast about so much.

Not only is McMurray a devoted husband and great father, when he is at his best behind the wheel of a race car, he’s very hard to beat.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason – be it mechanical, wrecks or just a horrendous spate of bad luck – McMurray hasn’t had a whole lot of instances where he was hard to beat.

But there’s more to him than just being a race car driver. He represents himself and his race team well. As I mentioned earlier, he represents great family values. He also represents what hard work – and particularly not burning bridges – can do for you.

When McMurray left Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006 for Roush Racing, it was primarily because McMurray felt he’d have a better chance at success driving a Ford.

Unfortunately, that situation went four seasons but just didn’t quite pan out the way everyone had hoped it would. As it turned out, McMurray wound up being released by Roush.

But because he never burned any bridges with Ganassi, because he didn’t badmouth anyone at his old team, one of the biggest rarities in motorsports, particularly NASCAR, occurred: Ganassi brought McMurray back for a second go-round.

That kind of thing is virtually unheard of. It’d be like Roush or Roger Penske asking Kurt Busch to come back to their old stomping grounds. It just isn’t going to happen.

But McMurray is such a loyal soldier, someone who it’s hard to believe ever has a bad word to say about anyone, that he’s a credit to an organization more so as a man than a driver. He exudes an air that the average fan not only likes, but finds refreshing and compelling.

McMurray is also loyal, almost to a fault. Like a puppy, he never forgets those who have done well by him. Not only is he forever in their debt, he also respects and appreciates what others do for him, such as Ganassi.

And that is not overlooked.

“It’s nice to have a validation from time to time of your MO,” Ganassi said after the race. “It’s nice to ring the cash register, if you will, from time to time in this business to let you know that you can still do it, and the way that you operate the business, the way you motivate your team, the components you put together, the people, all those pieces that have to come together. Sports teams are a very delicate balance of personalities and equipment, and it’s nice, like I said, to validate that from time to time.”

Whoever said you can’t go back home again doesn’t know the special relationship that McMurray and Ganassi has. Sure, it’s steeped in racing, but that’s only a small part of a bigger, broader and more important picture.

“The thing about Chip with me is he’s my car owner, but since I came back in 2010 Chip is one of my best friends,” McMurray said. “When we talk during the week on the phone, we talk a little bit about racing, but we talk more about families and anything but racing.

“I’m so glad that Chip and Felix (team minority owner Felix Sabates) are here and I get to share this with them because they were in Daytona, they were in Indy, and when I look back at those races, the memories of Chip being there are really special to me.

“Chip is somewhat unique I feel like in racing in general because most car owners have a separate business, and they don’t depend on racing to put food on the table, where Chip is all about racing. You know, he did a book a while back of his hundred wins, and I got to be a part of that, and when I look back at some of the memories of my racing career, almost all of them I’ve experienced with him, and that’s really special to me.

“When I pulled into (victory lane and) got up on the stage, I gave him a hug, and I’m like, ‘Man, we get to have another one of these incredible memories together.’ It’s a great relationship, and I feel so blessed to get to share that with he and Felix.

“It’s tough when things are going bad, but I’ve got to live some of the greatest victories that you can have in this sport. It’s unbelievable.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.