CONCORD, N.C. – Just one day removed from the announcement that Greg Ives would take over as crew chief for the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team in 2015, Ives sat down with HendrickMotorsports.com for a 1-on-1.
The Q&A session touches on his style as a crew chief, how he got his start in the sport and what it feels like to win a race.
Where were you when you got the official news that you'd be the crew chief for the 88 team next year?
“I’d just got done ordering my lunch and I looked down and my phone was ringing – and it said Mr. Hendrick. I was like, ‘I’ve got to go,’ and I went outside and started talking to him. This was after the Chicago race and we had a successful weekend there with Chase (Elliott) and won the race. He was congratulating me on the win and the season we were having so far and hoping we can continue it. Then he kind of led into the fact that Stevie [Letarte] is leaving, then expressed his desire for me to be the crew chief for Dale Jr. I was like, ‘Wow.’ I don’t know how the reaction looked, but I was definitely excited. I told him that it was a great opportunity and I would love for the chance to be back at the 48/88 shop working with Chad [Knaus] and all the people that I left at the end of 2012.”
How would you describe your style as a crew chief?
“I would say I’m calculated but also I’m looking to get the edge, be a little bit different, be on the edge of making the call that could win you the race but it also could make you a zero. Last year I had a veteran driver in Regan [Smith] coming down from the Cup Series. Learning a little bit about his style – the Michigan race, we made a call to stay out and keep track position and it eventually won us the race. I might have tried that in later races and it didn’t work. So it’s just one of those that you always have to be willing to take a chance. I feel like I do that, but also when I do it I understand the chance I’m taking. It’s not just on a whim. It’s very calculated.”
We heard Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s take—what's your recollection of the fantasy football showdown that kicked off your relationship?
“I was having a good year and Junior was kind of talking smack the whole time. He was mentioning that the league needs to get some action in it, ‘I do this for fun! I want some spark!’ He gets that intensity to him. ‘Come on, man! Just give me something!’ So I’d been watching him and watching his demeanor throughout the few weeks. I knew that when I was going to go up against him, I was going to have to be prepared. So when the first little smack talk came in, I was quick to jump on it and make sure that I didn’t let it fester for a day or two. I knew I had to jump on it, otherwise he would’ve been all back on me, ‘It took you two days to think of that?’ It was a pretty neat deal. In the end we had a good time with it and it kind of relaxed that boundary between us.”
How did you get into racing?
“My dad and my brother raced. My dad drag raced and my brother raced anything that had wheels on it, and most of the time he drove it until the wheels fell off of it. I remember going to the racetrack in the back of the hauler, in the pits. Somebody asked me, ‘When does it feel like a job?’ I said, I think back to when I was a 5-year-old kid at the nickel toss. I was on the big-wheel bike, I was at the start-finish line and I take off and my dad had to catch me on the back stretch because I didn’t know when to stop. I knew where the start line was, but I didn’t know where to finish. That’s kind of how I put my mindset on what my career is.
“When I turned 16 I got the first opportunity to drive a Super Late Model. I did that up until I moved to North Carolina. I had some successes at it, but the most successful thing I did was I knew that I had to be smart and understand the race cars. That’s where I excelled. I could drive, but I knew I wasn’t going to make a living doing it. So I switched my gears to being a mechanic and understanding the race cars, being an engineer and understanding the dynamics of the race car. In the end, now as a crew chief in the Nationwide Series, understanding what makes it all happen.
“When I was 16 years old, my rookie season, they asked me, ‘Where are you going to be in 10 years? What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I’m going to be working or driving for Hendrick Motorsports in 10 years.’ I made it in nine, so that was cool.
“If you put a finish line on what your dreams are, then that’s where they’re going to stop.”
When did you make the transition to wanting to become a crew chief as opposed to a driver?
“It was kind of made apparent to me when I started driving more often that people did beat me. (laughing) So it got to the point where that was pretty evident that as a driver I wasn’t going to make it. I won some races and had some fast times and competed for track championships, but there were better drivers out there than I was. But I made sure that there wasn’t going to be anybody smarter than I was at the racetrack. That’s what I focused on. When I made that realization, I think, is when I turned the corner on that.”
Did it feel like you were on the path to becoming a crew chief when you were hired as a mechanic at Hendrick Motorsports in 2004?
“They said there wasn’t an engineering spot available, and I said, ‘That’s fine. I need to learn these cars. I need to learn your process.’
“Actually, in 2005 I was presented the opportunity to be the engineer for the 24 car. I didn’t feel like I was ready. There was another level that I didn’t know that I needed to learn. I respectfully declined and said, ‘I’d like to maybe help on the setup plate or even do this one more year so I really understand what’s going on and gain the respect of the people around me.’
“That’s when I got to move to the 24 as a setup engineer. After I did that, that’s when Chad saw the process that I was taking and the sacrifices – I didn’t just leap at every opportunity that came along. I was trying to do it in a way that was going to benefit me in the long-run. Then when he gave me that opportunity to be the engineer in 2006, I went home and told my wife, and she told me she was pregnant. So it was kind of a big day!”
You've got five wins so far as a crew chief and you were part of Jimmie Johnson’s five championships as an engineer. Does winning feel the same no matter your position?
“When you think of what you put into racing, each win, you have to feel like you want to have guns-a-blazing after you win. I feel that way no matter what, in any type of situation where you’re part of something and part of a team. Even the guy on the bench has a role. When they win, if he doesn’t feel like he has that role, then the coach and the other players did something wrong. No matter if I was a post-race mechanic or now I’m a crew chief, I feel the same about wins as I did when I was a 5-year-old kid and I won that big-wheel race. That’s never going to change. The way I react to it changes. I’m not going to be up there guns-a-blazing, hooting and hollering. That’s where I have the people around me who enjoy it. The guy who may think he’s only sitting on the bench, he’s going to feel like his role has been accomplished and he was part of it.”