This is a story unlike any other you may have read about Ed “The Ace” McCulloch. It is the last time we’ll ever reference McCulloch’s early days in the sport, when his physicality wrote the headlines, not his exceptional driving skills. He is so far removed from that younger, wilder McCulloch as to be a completely different individual in 2010 than he was during that long-gone era. As McCulloch himself says, “When the guys working on the car (the Ron Capps-driven NAPA Auto Parts Dodge) hear those stories about me they don’t believe ‘em. They say they can’t be true because I’m not like that.” If they only knew, really knew. But we’re finished making those references, for this is indeed, a markedly different McCulloch.
As a driver few could match McCulloch’s intensity and desire. As a crew chief he’s retained those same traits. It’s just far less openly evident as were his emotions some years ago. When the race car doesn’t do what he expects it to there’s no head-shaking, no wrench-throwing, no shouting. There’s only the vision of McCulloch turning to head back to the rig with his head down, determined to figure out what happened and why, and to fix it.
Team owners are under a lot of pressure these days, whether they show it or not. Obtaining a sponsor is far more difficult in 2010 than it was even in 2005 – and it’s likely to get more difficult in the months ahead. Knowing this, team owners show far less patience with a recalcitrant race car today than they did yesterday. They ask more questions and make more demands on their employees than they ever have in the past, sometimes with good cause. It’s a cold, cruel world out there, and they know it. And they also know that one of the two conversations they never want to have with their sponsor begins with, “How come the car’s not running better? We’re getting killed out there by our biggest business rival!” The second conversation – far worse – begins with something like, “We’re sorry, but we’ve decided to go in a different direction. We won’t be renewing our deal with you for next year.”