Lee Beard's presence on a race team makes the rest of the crew stand a little straighter and taller.
He has excelled from behind the wheel, under the hood, in the boardroom, at the CAD workstation, and in front of the computer in the hauler at the racetrack. So with his quiet composure, Beard can breeze though the pit and into the trailer and somehow transfer confidence to the rest of the team.
He even has that effect on new boss Cruz Pedregon, and Cruz Pedregon seldom has a crisis of confidence. (John Force always has admired that swagger of his longtime nemesis, saying, "Cruz Pedregon, he jumps out of his car and says, 'I am the King! I'm the best!' -- when he loses!")
But in Beard, Pedregon sees a bit of himself, somewhat of an alter ego: " I know his personality. I know his knowledge. He does things the way I want them done. I don't have to look over his shoulder. He does things the way I feel things should be done."
The Snap-on Toyota Solara owner-driver doesn't regard Beard as a clone, for he did say that Beard "does some of the things that I'm really not that good at or things that I don't really have the time for."
He listed those details as "working alongside each and every crew member on the team, organize, and make sure they're doing the job."
Said Pedregon, "Lee is real good about showing different people what to do so they can move around if they choose to. One thing about Lee, one of his strengths, is his management style, his ability to really get the guys organized and in a routine right away."
The Snap-on Toyota team used preseason testing as the trial run for next week's season-opener at Pomona, Calif. It went smoothly overall ("I think the testing helped myself out with Lee. We were fumbling around for a little bit," Pedregon said). And that's a load off Pedregon's mind.
"I think from that standpoint I'll be able to step back, he said Wednesday in an NHRA-sponsored conference call. "I just can't wait to get out there and start to race. I'm anticipating a smooth Winternationals."
Pedregon said Beard's doing what he does best will allow him to focus more on driving, on competing even more intensely for the championship: "Without a doubt, Lee is going to provide that opportunity for me."
At once that takes the pressure from Pedregon, and it adds pressure. "Yeah, I don't have any excuses now," he said.
He isn't looking for any excuses, but he does know he needs Beard's expertise, because he said his opponents "have raised their game. There are some guys out there, that's all they do, that's all they think about. They're sharp shooters. We got to go out there and be as good as them, if not better. These cars are running so close nowadays, I've got to be sharper. I got to be better than I was last year.
"They're not getting slower. They're getting stronger every year," Pedregon said of his opponents, particularly the ones from the multi-car teams. "They have crew chiefs stacked like cord wood over there."
So what is this Lee Beard magic? Whether the crew chief's qualities border the supernatural or his results do, Beard is as efficient with the mechanics as with the personnel.
"We looked at the areas that needed improvement: blower technology, different things like that that Lee brought," Pedregon said. "Lee and I are going to be together in the room, mixing it up, making sure we come up with a game plan that will allow us to come out there and beat these guys. Our experience is strong, and I feel good.
"I think he's one of those guys that he came to the right place," Pedregon said. "I think you have to have the right fit, with Lee, to maximize his knowledge. I really feel like we hit a home run in getting Lee onboard. He and I go way back. We raced together back in the Joe Gibbs [Racing] days with the McDonald's sponsorship teams."
Beard contributed to Pedregon's 1992 championship in the McDonalds Funny Car. And he's one of only two crew chiefs whose drivers/cars have joined the exclusive four-second and 300-mph clubs in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, win a championship, and be named Person of the Year by Car Craft magazine.
Word out of the Pedregon pits is that the team isn't making many nuts-and-bolts changes.
"People will be surprised. I'm sure people are thinking Lee is going to come in and change a bunch of stuff," Pedregon said. "The clutch program we have had has been good. Obviously he recognized we had a fast car. We had the quickest average elapsed time of any Funny Car [during recent testing]." He added that he and Beard are "trying not to change the way we apply our race strategy."
The privateer's strategy worked well enough to give him a Countdown victory (at Dallas) and a third-place finish. So he's looking just to climb those final two rungs of the ladder.
"We can hit the ground running fast," Pedregon said. "It's important to get a fast start -- we're going to try to get a faster start."
And that's more than a little tip of the hat to Lee Beard.
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