Ford Performance NASCAR: Johnny Klausmeier Zoom Call Transcript

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series (NCS)
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

This weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series event at Bristol Motor Speedway is an elimination race as 16 drivers will be cut to 12. Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang, is currently in the final transfer spot as he sits 12th in the standings, three points ahead of William Byron. Bowyer’s crew chief, Johnny Klausmeier was this week’s guest on the Ford Zoom call and spoke about how he and his team are preparing for Saturday night’s race.

JOHNNY KLAUSMEIER, Crew Chief, No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang – DO YOU TRY AND DO ANY STRATEGY FOLLOWING THE GUYS YOU’RE RACING OR ARE THERE TOO MANY OF THEM TO KEEP TRACK OF? “It’s a little bit of that and it’s a little bit of doing what you need for your car and your driver. We will definitely be paying attention to those guys within 30 points of us, for sure, to dictate our strategy, but, at the end of the day, you have to go be on the offense and that’s only gonna get you so far is trying to hinge off of others. You don’t want to put yourself in a bad position that’s gonna hurt you later in the race, either. So, you kind of have to balance that and see how you’re doing on speed, see how the car is handling and what you’re fighting and how you’re doing and then go from there.”


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CLINT HAS BEEN THROUGH BEING ON THE BUBBLE MANY TIMES. WHAT HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE BEEN WITH IT AND WHAT IS THE KEY TO GETTING THROUGH? “I think the biggest thing is just to execute and not make any mistakes. That’s the same for everyone, but just don’t take yourself out of it. Go race. Go be on the offense and execute, no mistakes, good pit stops and the rest will take care of itself. I’ve been in this situation before with Aric in ’18 and it came down to being a tiebreaker with the 48 at the Roval, and we were passing cars with a tore up race car and you just have to fight and execute and you know anything can happen. You have to be ready for it, but at the end of the day it’s just no mistakes and just carrying out your race.”

SHR SHOOK UP THE CREW CHIEF/DRIVER LINEUP AT THE START OF THE YEAR. WHAT HAVE YOU HAD TO ADJUST TO GOING FROM ARIC TO CLINT? “The personality is probably one of the biggest things, but, at the end of the day, Clint is intense and he’s animated on the radio, but he wants to run well. He wants to perform and you can tell just his emotion comes out in the radio and that’s how he wants to perform, so just being able to handle that and cultivate that and channel his emotions in the right direction has been an adjustment. It’s been positive, but, really, the biggest thing for me is just the circumstances of 2020 and showing up to the racetrack with no practice. We have notes that we can fall back on and Aric’s going through the same thing with Buga, and just knowing what you can take from each other’s setups and what applies and what doesn’t apply. Honestly, the biggest challenge has just been the lack of practice. We want to get better. We try to learn. You try to link things together from race to race and pieces that you can take from each one, but when you show up here now in the playoffs every lap matters, so you have to be right. Everything has to be perfect, so from a personality standpoint I try to let Clint be himself, get him comfortable and then try to adapt and get the car doing what he wants it to do. The biggest challenge has been the lack of practice this year.”

HAS IT GONE AS WELL AS YOU COULD EXPECT AS FAR AS KNOWING WHAT HE WANTS? “It has. Obviously, you always want to be better, right? You want to have good results. I feel like we’re kind of on the back side of the top 10. You want to get to the top five realm and be consistent, but given the circumstances that we’re dealing with I think we’re doing an okay job, but you always want to do better.”

HAS THE ROLE OF THE CREW CHIEF BEEN MINIMIZED DUE TO THE LACK OF PRACTICE AND LACK OF SPENDING TIME WITH YOUR TEAM AND THE RELIANCE ON ENGINEERING, OR HAS IT BEEN MAGNIFIED BECAUSE OF THIS SITUATION? “I think it’s been magnified in a different way of just trying to bring all these parties together. You may not be able to sit in a room and have a face-to-face conversation with your engineers or with your car chief and with your crew guys, so I think that the biggest thing is the leadership role and bringing everybody together and rallying them under these circumstances has been the biggest adjustment for a crew chief this year. A lot of times we’re coming up with setups and it’s really just a guess on some areas and taking the data and hedging your bets on how things are gonna play out and how the car is gonna handle. That aspect, you lose out a little bit. When you have practice you’re always thinking about your runs, your data and everything the driver said on any little change you made during practice. You have a lot of sleepless nights going to the race, but this year in that sense it’s almost like, ‘Okay, I made my decision on what I knew at the time and we’re gonna go see what it does for the race.’ But the biggest thing is just rallying everybody and trying to come up with different ways to interact and share information and get the best result possible on Sundays.”

HOW HAS THE MANTLE OF LEADERSHIP GROWN AND WHERE DO YOU LOOK TO LEARN ABOUT LEADERSHIP TECHNIQUES THAT CAN HELP YOU? “I’ve spent a lot of time here at the shop even though we’re trying to limit shifts. I’ve got people I can pull from at the shop. Greg Zipadelli, Tony Gibson, Rodney Childers – there are a lot of strong people that work at the shop and we all work really closely together, so just kind of looking at how it appears and how we’ve handled situations in the past. We do a lot of Zoom calls. We have group texts to try and stay more in contact with people and engaged. Meeting with our engineers we would maybe have a meeting two or three times a week, now we’re meeting every day for a few hours having Zoom calls or virtual presentations, so just trying to bridge communication and pull from the guys at the shop and stay in close contact. It’s hard to go to the racetrack and not see your race car, so being here and being entrenched in it the best we can do I’m trying to make the best of it.”

IF YOU HAVE MORE MEETINGS WHAT IS GETTING DROPPED OR HOW ARE YOU MANAGING YOUR SCHEDULE? “To be honest, I think we’re almost more efficient now. When we sign into a meeting everyone has everything they need prepared and they know what they need to do and to be prepared for the meeting and you’re not necessarily in a conference room and just kind of idling time and doing a roundtable where you don’t have a lot of printed information. Everyone comes engaged and ready to go and prepared and we’ve kind of been doing the same thing on the car side. We’re running limited shifts with our road crew and split shifts, so the shop guys do their part on their shift and then when they get there it gets handed over to the road guys who do their part on their shift. It’s actually presented a lot of efficiency, so I really don’t feel like we’re overlooking other areas. I just think people are becoming more efficient being able to adapt with the scenario.”

DOES THIS CURRENT ENVIRONMENT HURT YOUR TEAM IN A SENSE THAT CLINT IS THE KIND OF GUY WHO CAN KEEP A TEAM LOOSE BEFORE A BIG RACE LIKE SATURDAY? “Yeah, for sure. You kind of start a normal weekend with practice and the pressure is not really on you at that point, and then you qualify and the pressure ramps up a little bit and it just kind of escalates through the weekend and kind of builds the pressure. It’s nice to have Clint, who will come in and he’ll cut up and joke around and as the weekend gets more serious and more things are on the line, obviously the seriousness changes, but we miss that aspect of it. The other thing is I feel like we kind of missed the playoff kickoff. We would normally have a large gathering here at the shop and toast some Busch Lights and things like that, and we had to do that all virtual. It’s nice, but it’s still just not the same as the drivers coming in and face-to-face thanking everybody for working on their cars and getting everybody motivated. We try to find ways to do those team-building type things virtually with conversations or whatever we can do outside to rally everyone. But that’s kind of the biggest thing is that team-building and kicking off the playoffs and getting the momentum that we kind of missed.”

DO YOU HAVE ANY SENSE WHICH CARS TEAMS ARE BRINGING TO BRISTOL? “Everyone kind of has a different grouping. A lot of our guys are bringing their Bristol 1 cars back rebuilt, modified and enhanced from what we learned between then and now. You kind of group Dover, Bristol, the high-banked, high-load tracks together, so I would say the guys may bring their Dover cars. If they were happy there, they would bring them to Bristol.”

WITHOUT PRACTICE DO YOU FEEL THE CARS HAVE EVOLVED AS THEY HAVE IN A NORMAL YEAR? “I would say there’s been less evolvement. We’re still doing our aerodynamic testing. We’re still running seven-post testing and things like that, but a lot of those things you may take a run during practice and take some time where there’s not really anything on the line or any consequences and try some developmental path on the car, where when you show up and race you’re kind of probably relying on a tried and true direction on the car and setup, so I feel like it’s probably slowed down a little bit than what it would be under normal circumstances.”

ISN’T THAT WHAT THE 4 AND 41 WERE THE LAST FEW WEEKS? DOES THAT IMPACT YOUR ABILITY TO BRING SOMETHING NEW FOR THE PLAYOFFS BECAUSE YOU COULDN’T AFFORD TO TRY THINGS? “Yeah, it certainly does. We were kind of being conservative and just taking stage points and working on pointing our way in, but at the same time everyone is trying to fight tooth-and-nail for playoff points and the seeding in the top 10. Really, even though those guys were locked in, they were still racing for points and helping their seeding and getting the bonus points for the postseason.”

THIS IS PRESSURE FOR YOU NOW, BUT WHAT WAS IT LIKE EARLIER IN YOUR CAREER? IS THERE A MOMENT THAT STANDS OUT AS PIVOTAL? “My goal all along was to move up to a crew chief role from a race engineer role and I feel like working with Tony Gibson, I worked with him for 10 years as a race engineer and learning from him, and I feel like what kind of catapulted me and gave me the sense of victory and alleviating the pressure to kind of make it was I filled in for him at Pocono with Kurt Busch and we were able to win the race coming down to some fuel mileage and some strategy at the end. That kind of validated to myself that I could do it and then you kind of work harder and try to get better and obviously do it more often, but I would say that was the time where filling in for them I had the pressure. It was on me because I knew that’s what I wanted to do was be a crew chief. That was the end goal and then to be able to come out in victory lane it catapulted my career honestly.”

WHAT WAS IT LIKE THAT DAY? WERE YOU STILL FIGURING OUT THE FUEL MILEAGE? HOW DID THAT WORK? “I still had a hand in it, but everyone kind of jumped a rung of the ladder there, so the second engineer, Mike Cook, he moved up to be a lead race engineer and he was doing his calculations and everything. We all as a team, we’ve been together for a long time, so these pressure situations going in the playoffs, a lot of the guys that are around me we’ve worked together for a long time, so I have 100 percent confidence in them.”

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT ADJUSTING TO THIS CURRENT SCHEDULE THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE KEPT FOR 2021? “The time on track for practice, yes, we need practice and we want to have practice, but maybe we don’t need to have three sessions or a lot of multiple days at the racetrack. I think that’s really helped our production in our company to kind of put cars out there and you’re not preparing backup cars. That’s a huge workload that goes into that, so I would hope that the schedule side and the one day can carry over, but we want to see the fans at the track so we want to have that energy leading up to the race. So I think you’d have to balance that out, but I think as a company we’ve learned that the virtual meetings and being able to share information and share data can happen and just last week I had to serve a lugnut penalty and it’s the first time I’ve ever watched a race virtually like that. It wasn’t terrible. You had a veteran crew chief on the box, but there are certain things on the technology and communication side that I’d like to carry over and those processes.”

IS THERE MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE IN COMMUNICATION WHEN YOU’RE AT THE TRACK VERSUS NOT AT THE TRACK? DOES A CREW CHIEF NEED TO BE AT THE TRACK OR COULD YOU DO IT FROM A WAR ROOM TYPE SETTING? “I didn’t feel like it was more efficient than actually being there. There is a delay in the audio. There is a delay in the broadcast. There is a delay in the information transfer and then just being there and when the tires come off the race car on a pit stop being able to walk down behind the pit box and visually look at the tires and see what the wear looks like and coming up and calculating changes and things that you’re gonna do based on what you see and feel looking at the racetrack and getting that information real time. I do not think the role of a crew chief can be done virtually. I think you have to be there. You have to be immersed in it. You can’t just go down and get the pit crew guys rallied up. You can’t see what’s going on with the car, so you miss out on those things and there is a little bit of a delay in the communications, so it’s not ideal but we’ve managed to do it.”

DID YOU KNOW THE LUGNUTS WERE LOOSE AT THE TIME, BUT YOU HAD TO LEAVE HIM OUT AND NOT GIVE UP THE POINTS? YOU HAD TO CHOOSE BETWEEN THE POINTS IN THAT RACE VERSUS THE SUSPENSION? “Yeah, it was a tough position. From my vantage point on the pit box I kind of watched the tire changers and I saw that it didn’t look like he was hitting all the lugnuts. He was swinging for them, but not making contact and then the car left. I kind of knew that we would have some kind of issue there, so we kind of went back and looked at the video and made sure that it wasn’t gonna be a safety thing and, like you said, we had to take the penalty and keep the points because we would have been talking about a 20-point deficit, 15-point deficit right now if we didn’t take that alternative.”


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