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Getting to know Robert Crutchfield, Hendrick Motorsports aviation

 

CONCORD, N.C. (Sept. 14, 2009) – Robert Crutchfield has a unique perspective on racing. He served as a pilot for Hendrick Motorsports from Feb. 1, 1980, until February 2008. “Crutch,” as he is called by those who know him, has watched the technology of travel evolve alongside that of the racing industry. For instance, Hendrick’s fleet has grown from one pilot and one plane to 29 employees and five aircraft (three Saabs, a Gulfstream V, a Falcon 900 and a Bell 430 Helicopter). Recently we caught up with Crutch:

Full name:  Robert Lee Crutchfield

Hometown:  Greensboro, N.C. I was raised in Raleigh, N.C.
School: I graduated from Needham Broughton High School in Raleigh in 1960. I served in the Air Force from December 1960 to 1964.

Team/Job duties: I flew all the jets and all the turbo props. I retired from the cockpit in February 2008, but I still work in aviation and schedule all travel for Rick Hendrick (team owner).

On why he loves airplanes: I can tell you it started when I was old enough to see one I wanted to fly one. But I had the misconception that I had to be a genius to fly an airplane. You just assume that you’ve got to be very, very smart to do it. I found out that’s not the case. The most important thing is having good common sense. If you’ve got good common sense, you can fly an airplane. My parents were cotton mill workers, and my brother owned his own plumbing company. All I ever wanted to do was fly airplanes, and that’s why I say not many people get to live the dream. I’m one of them.

On getting started at Hendrick: When I first came here, I was the chief pilot, and as the fleet grew, I hired other pilots. I also served as Rick Hendrick’s assistant for quite a while, and as he got bigger, they turned over the flight department to someone else, and I helped him. But I started off as a chief pilot.

On his first introduction to Rick Hendrick: I was working for a company out of Raleigh with Bob Ward, and Rick was racing boats at that time. I started flying him with Bob Ward’s airplanes, and for some reason, he took a liking to me. I have no idea what it was. He made the comment one day if he bought an airplane, would I fly it for him, and I said of course I would. It doesn’t take just a couple minutes with him. But a couple minutes with him and you’ve got him pegged for the type of person he is. He is truly, truly an amazing person. I just fell in love with him and his family when I met them.

On what it’s like to fly Hendrick: He sits in the back and enjoys himself. He’ll come up to the front and ask us if we needed anything. He doesn’t expect anyone to come back there and serve him. He’s the same in the airplane as he is any other time.

His first race: I came here in 1980 so it probably was around 1979. Bob Ward and I came over for one of the Charlotte races, and I fell in love with it then. Just the noise and how close it was and the speed that they carry coming down the straightaway there at Charlotte. I couldn’t hear for three days.

First job overall: A paper boy when I was teenager. I delivered the Governor’s paper in Raleigh. He was on my paper route.

On a particular driver story: Jimmie (Johnson, driver) used to come in my office and take the wheels off my chair. I came in one day, and there was a note on my desk that said ‘Check your tires.’ And I thought, ‘What? I just drove my truck in. I don’t have a flat tire.’ So I called Kelly Hudson (Johnson’s chief pilot) and asked, ‘What is this note you left me?’ He said, ‘Check your chair.’ I turned it over and Jimmie had taken two of the wheels off. He did that another time, too, and I about tipped over.

On the early tasks of a pilot: Sometimes I would spot, sometimes I would wash windshields, sometimes I would run gas. It just depended on what they needed at that time. It has never been just fly the plane, not since day one. You name it, and I’ve done it. Even when we were racing boats, I’d fly the plane and sell T-shirts all weekend. I loved it, though. I wouldn’t trade anything that I’ve done for any amount of money in the world.

On how things have changed: I’ve seen transportation progress from small twin engines airplanes to what we’ve got sitting out there (Saabs). I guess as the complexities have progressed, everything has to go with that. I know time is critical for these folks to get to and from the track. The airports are very crowded now. I’ve sat on the ground for two hours trying to get out of an airport before. Now none of the pilots go to the track, so we watch the race on TV. The airports are extremely busy now. This little airport (Concord Regional) looks like an international airport on Sunday night.

Pets: Dog Bear and two cats Spanky and Stanley.  They’re all rescued animals.

Hobbies: Fishing and camping.

Words to live by:  Believe in what you do and do what you believe in.

Best flying memory:  Probably leaving Daytona for our first Daytona 500 in 1984. I care deeply for Rick and his family, and I was concerned when we went to Daytona for the first time that we might finish in the back of the pack. Geoff (Bodine, driver) finished eighth in that race, and it was a very nice trip home.

Favorite movie:  “Cars.” It’s animated, but I love animated movies. “Cars” and “Ice Age” are my two favorite movies. I don’t like serious movies.

Favorite book:  “Fate is the Hunter.”

Favorite thing to fly: A Gulfstream. It’s powerful, it’s well-built and it’s big.

What you’ll find on my iPOD:  Country music and gospel and mostly Elvis Presley gospel. I fall asleep every night listening to Elvis’ gospel music.

Favorite food:  Anything. I am a huge, huge eater. You would not believe the food that I can consume and I think two of (Rick Hendrick’s) favorite stories about me – we were in Charleston, S.C., and we went somewhere to eat. I had ribs and a chef salad. Then we pulled into McDonald’s, and I got two quarter-pounders and fries and went back to the dealership we were visiting. Another time, we went to a steakhouse, and they had a 64 oz steak. Everybody said there is no way. Rick (Hendrick) said, ‘I’ll cover any bets you want to bet.’ I ate it all. I think we had a salad and some potato skins, too. He picks on me about that.

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