- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2008

MOORESVILLE, N.C.

As a crew chief, he knew how a big wreck on the final laps could disable any top contender.

He realized his gamble moments earlier to give his driver optimum track position might not pay off.

And he would later acknowledge how powerful the car in front of Ryan Newman was running.

Yet Roy McCauley semi-predicted victory two turns before the finish of February’s Daytona 500.



When McCauley, decision maker for Ryan Newman’s No. 12 car, saw Tony Stewart slide into the lower groove and Kurt Busch — Newman’s teammate — picking up momentum, and saw them team up to pass Stewart, he knew it was over.

On the radio, McCauley simply yelled, “We just won the race!”

But after his road to the No. 12 pit — working at his father’s service station, graduating from the University of Maryland and working for three race teams — he couldn’t help but think about winning Daytona a few seconds before it actually happened.

And certainly after the events of the previous year — his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with acute leukemia 364 days earlier, forcing McCauley to leave his post as Busch’s crew chief — he couldn’t help himself but be overcome with excitement.

“Disbelief — I couldn’t believe it,” said McCauley, 37, a Davidsonville native. “From my standpoint, I had worked to be in that position for the better part of my life. … It was pure elation.”

Disbelief because everything had broken right for Newman down the stretch.

Elation because Amy is 80 percent recovered after a stem cell transplant and surviving congestive heart failure.

“His deal now is that he has a new anniversary [in mid-February],” Newman said.

Helpless feeling

As a crew chief, McCauley faces problems every day. On a recent Wednesday morning at the Penske Racing facility in suburban Charlotte, the No. 12 car for that weekend’s race in Talladega, Ala., was stalled in the paint shop. And it peeved McCauley, who expected the car to be ready hours earlier and who made his feelings known to certain members of his 22-member team.

McCauley has the attitude that if there’s an issue, he can fix it. But on Feb. 18, 2007, his world was rocked when Amy’s illness was diagnosed.

“She was feeling ill for about a week prior — very fatigued,” Roy said.

The Problem Solver was rendered helpless.

“The hardest thing is not being in control,” he said. “It was the first time in my life I couldn’t try to fix the … it was scary because you didn’t know if anybody could fix it.”

During the first two months after Amy’s diagnosis, Roy continued supervising the No. 2 team before owner Roger Penske granted him a leave of absence.

The Master Multi-Tasker focused on a single job.

“The complications piled onto one another, and it became very apparent I needed to get my house in order before I could focus on going fast,” McCauley said.

From the start, the McCauleys had a motto: They weren’t going to let the illness run their life.

“A lot of that was just the strength he and his wife have,” said Travis Geisler, the No. 12 car’s chief engineer who serves as McCauley’s right hand. “He did every thing he could to help her, but he also knew that sitting there and dwelling on the problem wasn’t going to fix it. He could take a little break by coming to the shop and working on the cars and focus on what he enjoys professionally.”

Amy, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has not experienced any recent setbacks and has completed all her treatments.

“She’s recovering at a good pace,” Roy said. “The recovery is a journey that doesn’t happen easily.”

Last fall Roy was undecided about what kind of role he would play in 2008 and there wasn’t a crew chief opening at Penske. But the No. 12 job opened, and Newman approached McCauley.

Always about racing

McCauley got hooked on cars early. Roy, the only child of Kirk and Susan McCauley, starting hanging around (translation: working at) the family’s Beltsville Shell service station when he was only 8 or 9 years old.

“He would do his homework and then start sweeping floors, cleaning parts, talking to customers,” Kirk said from his home in Breton Bay, Md.

Kirk operated the station for 31 years, selling it in 2004. Roy was a part of the staff — either paid or unpaid — for more than 10 years. When he was very young, he would use a wooden box to stand on to wash a customer’s windshield.

“Truthfully, there were times when I didn’t know what I’d do without him and there were times when I thought if he should be there as much as he was,” Kirk said. “But I really miss working with him.”

Being interested in racing was a natural for Roy. His parents ran Beltsville Speedway in the 1970s and his father raced cars for several years. But as he grew up in Davidsonville, driving the race car never really piqued Roy’s interest. He was more into tuning it, finding the right setup, examining the technology.

Forging a career in auto racing became McCauley’s goal, but he figured a back-up plan would be a good idea and enrolled at Maryland to study mechanical engineering.

“Maryland was a great experience,” he said. “I had a lot of practical knowledge going into college as far as working on cars. Going there, I was able to relate the practical side to the theoretical side. … College was a step in the process of getting to where I wanted to go — winning a Cup championship and winning the Daytona 500.”

Away from campus, McCauley stayed involved with racing by going to Manassas every Friday night to work on a Late Model crew. Following graduation, he worked for three months (non-paid) with Alan Kulwicki’s race team.

And then there was The Car.

In the two-car garage of his parents’ house, McCauley single-handedly built a Late Model race car. He sold it to a local racer.

“Everything was from scratch,” Susan said. “He wanted to be able to say he built a car — body work, parts, everything. It took about six to nine months to do it but once he sets a goal, he doesn’t stop until he gets there.”

Degree in hand, Roy set upon his ultimate goal: NASCAR crew chief.

“He was going to get there eventually, no matter what,” Kirk said.

Instant chemistry

After graduation, McCauley worked for Ford in suburban Detroit, Pat Patrick Racing and, his first job in NASCAR, Precision Preparation. He went to Penske as lead engineer in 2002.

In 2005, McCauley was asked to start a program to develop young crew members. His driver was Newman, then looking to get more track time. The duo won six of nine starts.

And the chemistry between crew chief and driver was instant. One has to do with their background. They are the only Sprint Cup combination to have college diplomas. (Newman went to Purdue.)

But McCauley’s chance to work with Newman every day at the Cup level didn’t come until this year. When Amy told him, “You have to do it,” the duo was reunited.

“I wasn’t expecting [the opportunity],” McCauley said. “Ryan sat down with me and said, ‘Hey, I really want you to do this.’ I wanted to make sure we were all good from a personal standpoint, and we decided it was the right thing to do.”

When McCauley’s team arrived in Daytona in early February, he said, “The joke we made was, ‘OK, we’re going to start where we left off in Busch.’ ”

Of course, that’s what happened, Newman breaking a drought of more than two seasons.

Back at the track, it didn’t take long for Roy to knock off the rust and get back into crew chief mode.

“Roy’s always fired up at the track,” Kirk McCauley said. “Like he says, if you don’t improve, somebody else will [work harder] and beat you. There’s no standing still in that sport.”

Replaying the final laps of Daytona with clear detail two months later in a conference room of the 424,000-square foot Penske Racing headquarters, McCauley could have used the same phrase about his previous year. He and Amy didn’t stand still and let the leukemia beat them. And Daytona was a rewarding example.

“Daytona was closure in some respects for us,” he said. “It was a great way to say what a difference a year makes.”

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