On Thursday, NASCAR Nation received what was a shock to many when it was announced that Steve LeTarte will be stepping off the pit box in 2015.
Steve LeTarte, who has crew chiefed for Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the past four years, will become an analyst for NBC Sports in 2015. He will join Rick Allen and Jeff Burton in the booth for the second half of the schedule.
“I'd like to thank Sam and everybody at NBC. I'm excited about the opportunity,” LeTarte commented on Friday. “I don't think it's any secret in the room that I've always enjoyed the broadcast side. I've always dabbled in it. I do have a pretty loud and colorful personality and I think it's enjoyable to be on that side of the camera.”
LeTarte says that he’s excited for the challenge of being in the booth next season rather than in the garage.
“I've lived in the garage area now for 19 years,” the 34-year-old said. “No one ever really gets to script the timing of it all and how you have to do it, but I was the guy too young to be in the garage when I was a tire guy and then I was the guy too young to be in the garage as a crew chief, so I thought it was probably why not be too young to go into television. I feel it goes along with my track record.”
LeTarte added he’s excited based on the excitement that he’s seen from NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood and his entire group, starting with the first release that NBC was getting back into the broadcast side.
“It's a sport that I obviously not only love but owe really my lifestyle to, my family,” LeTarte added. “Everything we've ever had has been driven by NASCAR, so I thought this was the next step, and I hope I can take some responsibility to bring that back to the fans.”
No doubt there is new found fears in taking this step, though LeTarte says there’s a single reason he did this – for more family time. The father of two children – an eight and a ten-year-old – wants to spend more time with them and knows he can’t do that if he is on top of the pit box.
“I don't know firsthand the commitment that it takes to be great on television, and Sam and these guys are going to teach me that, but in my conversations with Sam, I don't think it's quite the same time commitment and travel commitment,” he said. “When it came down to it, the lists are very, very long, but that would have to go to the top of the list. I've always said, I don't think I've ever hidden it from anyone, that my family has always been my No. 1 priority, and it comes down to if I'm going to be unsuccessful in anything I do, being a father shouldn't be on the list, so I'm going to put that one first, and this allows me to put that one first and still be in a sport that I love and join a great team.”
When it came to making the decision, he said it was tough to sit across from Rick Hendrick – who he has worked for since the age of 16 – and tell him that he was leaving the organization.
“To tell him the man who's kind of raised me, that was a tough conversation to have, to sit down with my early guys that we're a family, but they understood -- they're my family but they're my second family, and I think we all care about each other enough that they understood that me putting my first family first was what I've always preached to them and what I expect them to do,” LeTarte commented. “They're really excited for me. Dale has been super supportive. He's excited, Rick is excited. I think it came out in all their quotes that this is a good move for me. It's an opportunity now for Hendrick to decide what they want to do, and I think it's kind of a win-win at the moment.”
In speaking of revealing the news to Earnhardt, LeTarte said that he involved him early because he wanted his driver’s opinion due to their relationship – both professional and personal opinion.
“We have a tough, very strong, professional relationship, but I think our success has really come from our personal relationship that he has taught me a lot about life in the last three years,” LeTarte said. “I hope I've taught him a lot about how he prepare and how I go through life. He's an unmarried guy without children, I'm a married guy with children, yet we bounce a lot of stuff off each other.”
LeTarte added that Earnhardt was probably the second person he told after his wife Trisha.
“His opinions -- and he didn't -- I wouldn't say he weighed in tremendously, but he listened,” LeTarte commented. “Sometimes all you really want somebody to do is listen. He's one of my confidantes. He's one of the guys that we kind of go into battle together, and this is a life-changing decision, and he's been a life-changing guy for me.”
For now, LeTarte is ready to focus at the task at hand – winning races and a possible a championship.
“I'm going to -- this opportunity will really let me cherish that year like I would hope where I can really -- when I come down here in a few weeks, this will be my last shot as a crew chief for a Daytona 500 pole, for a 150s win,” LeTarte said. “I've never won a Daytona 500 as a crew chief. Those opportunities I think will make me really enjoy and cherish and put the right foot forward for the next season.”