By: Ashley McCubbin
After spending the last five seasons working at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing as a race engineer, Travis Peterson will get to call the shots in 2023 as he will be crew chiefing for Michael McDowell at Front Row Motorsports.
A veteran of the sport, Peterson shared his thoughts on the new role and more with NEWS FROM THE PITS.
What are your thoughts going into the 2023 season?
In general, I’m just excited. I’ve been wanting a crew chief so it’s a good opportunity for me. Michael is coming off of a very good year for himself and I think the confidence is high. The company as a whole has taken steps to take everything to the next level and I think the goal is to try to become and a playoff contending weeks and be there more weeks even than what they did this year.
I was going to say, it has been impressive to see the growth with Front Row Motorsports. Knowing what Michael McDowell has done the past couple seasons, where does that put the goals for 2023?
I don’t have the numbers in front of me to give me specifics. But up until this car, they weren’t consistently competitive. There was an occasional spot at the superspeedways and road courses where they could be competitive. But last year, I think they had something like 12 top-10’s. Obviously the goal would be to continue that success or at least beat it. I think the goal is take a step above that, too. I think we want to compete for some wins and hopefully have the opportunity to snatch one and make the playoffs.
You spent a lot of time as a race engineer through the past couple seasons, whether Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing or Hendrick Motorsports. What did you learn during that time in that position that you feel will benefit you in this new role as a crew chief?
I think the biggest thing is as a race engineer, you’re the right hand man of the crew chief the whole time. There’s a lot of things that the crew chief role does that you don’t experience as a race engineer, but when it comes to interacting with the driver, race strategy, and set-ups, you’re very in tune with those things and I think you’re doing probably even more of the week than a crew chief is on those specific topics. Then you’re just providing them information. I think you’re as close to being a crew chief as a race engineer as any position on the team in order to help you take the next step.
What track on the schedule excites you the most?
We ran really good with (Chris) Buescher at the road courses and had great opportunities. McDowell has always been a very strong road course racer, so I think any of the road courses are the ones I’m most excited about. But there’s other tracks that I’m excited about that Michael ran really well and I just like in general, like Darlington (Raceway). So there’s certainly excitement around a few different places.
Last year the first year with the new car. What surprised you about it that caught you off-guard?
I don’t know if anything surprised me because we went into it expecting everything to be so different that I don’t know there were a lot of surprises due to going in open-minded, like everything is going to change. If I had to pick something, the biggest change is how you want to run the car areo-platform wise and how different than that was from the past because of how different it is with the wing and the new body of the car.
The competition was even across the board with this new car for being the first year. Is that something you continue foreseeing to happen? Or are we going to see the field start to spread apart as teams get to know the car better?
I think that’s what this year is going to be really define about this car. We all still have the same parts and pieces so the hope is certainly that continues to keep the playing field level. I think what happens with anything brand new is you have everybody learn things at a different pace, and that’s what helped create the parity of last season. I think this year will be more telling as you have a little bit more time with hands around their car I should say and then the off-season to develop it. It should be telling if the traditional bigger teams are able to run away from the less-funded smaller staffed teams, or if it should stay the same. I think it’s a little bit up in the air and we certainly hopes it continues to have the level of parity that last year saw.
Being that your father worked in the sport at Joe Gibbs Racing, did you always want to be a crew chief? Or was it something that came down the road for you?
I think I picked it up really quick. We moved from North Carolina to Wisconsin when I was younger and I got the job. We were always interested in racing, never did a lot of racing ourselves – just funding and opportunities. But when he got the job and I was able to do internships, I really fell in love with racing and the idea of set-ups, and all the things that go along with that. So pretty quickly that became my goal and I guess fortunately finally worked out.
So based on the road you have taken to get to where you are, what would be one piece of advice you’d offer to those aspiring crew chiefs, mechanics out there?
We’re hiring right now and probably the biggest thing that stands out for the best candidates versus others is just racing experience at any level. If you’ve raced your own stuff, if you’ve volunteered on someone else’s car, just trying to get out there and get to a race track because the one think you can’t learn until you actually do it is actually race. You can learn the vehicle in school, but the little nuances of pushing every little area and optimizing the performance of the vehicle, you only learn by racing something.