CONCORD, N.C. (July 15, 2010)—While Michael Landis might not spend his days working on the Nos. 24 and 48 Chevrolets, he plays an integral role as team manager, focusing his efforts on behind-the-scenes business aspects. His role allows crew chiefs Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte to remain focused on the technical side of making race cars go fast.
Full name: Michael Landis
Hometown: I was born in New York City and lived there until I was 2 years old. Then I lived in the suburbs north of New York City in Westchester County, until I was 19.
Education: I went to Rye Neck (N.Y.) High School and attended Pace University.
Team/Job duties: My job title is team manager for the Nos. 24 and 48 teams. I am a fireman and a janitor. I put out the fires and clean up the messes. I oversee the things that don’t make the race cars go faster, so the guys like Chad (Knaus) and Steve (Letarte) can concentrate on doing that. In reality, I am like a mini human resource department for the team. It’s the administrative side of the race team. I do the hiring and firing, the interviews that go along with that, I approve the guys hours, overtime and oversee purchase approvals. Basically anything that has to do with money or business decisions. I answer to Chad and Steve, they’re my bosses. The three of us make decisions together, but I execute the decisions while they concentrate on making the race cars go faster.
Time at current job: Almost 18 years.
First racing job: My first racing job was with Ray Evernham in the IROC (International Race of Champions) Series in New Jersey. I started out in parts and purchasing, traveled with the teams to all the races and was a part of the pit crew. When Ray signed on as Jeff Gordon’s crew chief in 1992, he asked me if I wanted to come here. So I began my employment at Hendrick Motorsports in 1992 as a team member for the No. 24 DuPont team. I was here at the very inception of the team and worked with the No. 24 team all the way through 1999. I have done everything from parts and purchasing, working on the race cars, to being on the pit crew. I even carried tires for (changer) Chad (Knaus).
First job overall: My very first job would have probably been delivering newspapers as an after school job. After that I was a lifeguard.
If I wasn’t in racing I would be: I probably would have been a lawyer. My dream job would be to work in the performance boat industry.
Best racing memory: I have been very fortunate to be a small part of many great things here at Hendrick Motorsports, but I would have to say the first (NASCAR) Sprint Cup Championship with Jeff Gordon in 1995 remains the most memorable for me.
Championship involvement: I have been involved in eight Hendrick Motorsports championships. I was with Jeff Gordon for three of his four championships (1995, 1997 and 1998). During Jeff’s championships I worked as the office manager, in parts and purchasing, on the pit crew and spotting. I was involved in three with Jimmie Johnson, which were his last three, 2007, 2008 and 2009. I have been the team manager for all three of those championships. Then one in 2003 with Brian Vickers in the (NASCAR) Nationwide Series, where I was the team manager and spotter. I worked as the team manager and the spotter for Ricky Hendrick during 2001 when Jack Sprague won a championship in the Camping World Truck Series.
On becoming the spotter for Jeff Gordon: While I was on the pit crew for the No. 24 team, I mentioned to Ray (Evernham) that if the spotter position ever opened up, that I would be interested in giving it a try. My first race as the official spotter for Jeff (Gordon) was at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway and we won that race. Jeff always made my job easy because he normally ran in the top five or led the race.
Funny moments as Jeff Gordon’s spotter: Spotters are always saying ‘Inside, outside,’ letting the drivers know where the competitors are around them. When the cars are coming off Turn 4, from the spotter stand you can’t tell who is ahead when they are side by side. So when Jeff (Gordon) would come off Turn 4, I would say ‘Can’t tell,’ ‘Can’t tell.’ During cautions Ray (Evernham) would come on the radio and say ‘You can tell us anything, Michael.’ When what I really meant was that the decision was up to the driver. They just liked giving me a hard time.
Favorite track: My favorite tracks are Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Dover (Del.) International Speedway and Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. As a spotter, Bristol and Dover are tracks where you can almost see everything peripherally. At Bristol you can see everything, but there is nothing you can do about it because everything happens so fast. Dover is twice the size of Bristol, but it’s still a great track to watched from up in the spotter stand. I used to like the big tracks because the cars would stay spread out and wouldn’t get in wrecks. When Jeff (Gordon) got in wrecks that meant more work hours. But as time went on, those type of tracks got boring to me. They are great races to win but not great races to watch.
Hobbies outside of racing: Performance boating is my biggest hobby. I go to poker runs with my boat where you can run any speed you want, there is no speed limit on the water. I have a Skater 30 named NASCAT (I work in NASCAR and my boat is a catamaran and the name just kind of became NASCAT). It has Ilmor V10 engines, which produce 1400 horsepower, and push it 100-plus mph.
Favorite sport other than racing: National Football League. I am pretty loyal to where I live, so my favorite team would be the Carolina Panthers. Behind the Panthers would be where I grew up, either the New York Giants or the New York Jets.
When I’m not at the track you can find me: I go to the racetrack about 10 to 12 times a season. I always go to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway to kick off the season and certain other races. I like to go and support the guys and show my face and stay in touch with things. But when I’m not at the racetrack, I am forever tinkering with my boat. I do things boating related or hang out with friends. I like to travel. My favorite destination currently is the Dominican Republic.
Favorite movie: It used to be “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” now it’s “Wedding Crashers.”
Favorite book: “The Game” by Neil Strauss.
Favorite music: I like a variety of music, but I mostly listen to Billboard top-40 songs. I also enjoy classic rock and hip hop.
My current car is: I have a GMC Sierra 2500 HD.
Dream car: Ferrari 360 Modena
Dream boat: Skater 368.
Cell phone ring: My cell phone tone is “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppen Wolf.
If I could meet anyone, I’d meet: Donald Trump.
Favorite food: Italian.
One thing people don’t know about me: I have a side to me that is not all business.
During the race, I am: Today you will find me on top of the spotter stand, scanning both the Nos. 24 and 48 teams.
I knew I wanted a job in NASCAR when: I always had a passion for cars and anything that goes fast. It worked out that when I got the call from Ray (Evernham) I got into NASCAR.
On watching Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte mature as crew chiefs: When Chad (Knaus) and Stevie (Letarte) first got to Hendrick Motorsports, they worked under me on the No. 24 team. Now, I am working for them. It’s neat for me to remember when they first started working here. Steve worked with me, kind of as my helper, and Chad and I had similar hobbies and we were on the No. 24 pit crew together so I got to know him outside of work. Steve started working here sweeping the floors and worked his way up to becoming the crew chief for Jeff Gordon. Chad is strong willed and determined. He wanted to be a crew chief and pursued his dream of doing that. Today, he is bearing the fruits of his labor.