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Darlington Kodak Racing Team Preview

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Darlington Kodak Racing Team Preview
Aug 30, 1999, 11:45 PM

Shelton "Runt" Pittman has been building engines for Morgan-McClure Motorsports since 1989, and Runt's motors have won on all types of speedways. However, the 58-year-old Washington, N.C., native still stands at the head of the class when it ...

Shelton "Runt" Pittman has been building engines for Morgan-McClure Motorsports since 1989, and Runt's motors have won on all types of speedways.

However, the 58-year-old Washington, N.C., native still stands at the head of the class when it comes to restrictor-plate engines.

During the 1990s, Morgan-McClure Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing are tied for victories in points races at Daytona and Talladega with nine each, and Pittman has built all the winning restrictor-plate engines for the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet team.

The two Monte Carlo teams will go to Talladega for the Oct. 17 Winston 500 with restrictor-plate bragging rights for the decade on the line. The last plate race of the millennium could come down to a showdown between Morgan-McClure Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing because the two teams have won 46 percent (18 of 39 races) at Daytona and Talladega in the '90s.

"We'll just have to go to Talladega and work real hard to have the best engine we've ever had," Pittman said. "We don't ever quit working on the plate motors. We get the wide open motors finished and then go to work on the restricted motors.

"The plate motors give you more areas to work in. You've got the manifolds and you can do a little something different. We've got a real good combination for restrictor-plate races. It's probably more fun than running the wide open motors."

Pittman plans to have a stout "wide open motor" ready for Sunday's Pepsi Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The veteran engine builder worked for legendary car owner Hoss Ellington for years and lived in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. About 10 years ago, he moved from the beach to the Virginia mountains and said he never slowed down in between.

He now lives in Abingdon, Va., near the Morgan-McClure Motorsports shop. Runt won't say how much longer he's going to work in the engine shop but plans to build motors exclusively for Morgan-McClure until he retires.

"A long time ago, people would call and try to hire me," Pittman said. "I get a few calls ever now and then, but they know I'm happy where I am. It's a whole lot easier staying up here in the mountains than going down there and fighting all the traffic in Charlotte."

Pittman has worked with many drivers through the years. He says Donnie Allison was one of his favorites. Allison always ran well at Darlington but never could seem to win at the 1.366-mile track.

"Donnie should have won Darlington four or five times, but he never did," Pittman said. "He just never had any luck. We had a Monte Carlo there one time we called Big Red. Hoss Ellington owned the team, and Donnie was the driver.

"He had lapped all the cars but one, and that was David Pearson. He was getting ready to lap Pearson, and the fan blade broke. We ran a four-blade fan, and one of the blades broke off the thing and stuck through the radiator and wrecked the car.

"We went back up to Banjo Matthews' and fixed the car and took it to Charlotte the next week and won the race, but Donnie just never had any Darlington luck.

"I was the engine man, the crew chief, I'd paint the car when I had to. Back then about three of us worked on the car and whatever had to be done, you had to do it. Now, everybody's just got one speciality.

"It was more fun back then. Hoss only ran about 18 or 20 races a year. That made it a whole lot better. Now it's a never-ending deal. They really test the transport truck drivers now to see how far they can really go. The race car driver gets out of the car, gets in his airplane and goes home. The truck driver has got to drive sometimes 40 hours after the race."

Runt used to attend all the races and work at the track, but he stays back at the shop most of the time now preparing his fleet of engines for the next event.

"We use up three or four motors a week sometimes," Runt said. "We've got 12 people in the engine room now. We've got 50 plus people at the shop. It takes a bunch to make things click now. Building engines is a never-ending deal.

"We probably build three a week. That's not starting off with brand new blocks. That's swapping blocks and all. We've probably got 30-35 motors. If we go out there and test and run 30 minutes with a motor and come back, they swap it out and put the racing motor in. You've got to take it all apart because it's got to be brand new to start with.

"Everybody has more power than they ever have. They want to slow the cars up, but they keep giving us new style cylinder heads. About all the power is in the cylinder heads.

"I'd say we're as good as anybody with our engines right now. We might have some of them beat, but there's probably not five or six horsepower worth of difference in all the good Chevrolets. Everybody does about the same thing. It takes the right combination. The crew chief and driver have to relate to each other to get the car right. That's the biggest key to the deal. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it always will be."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers David Pearson
Teams Richard Childress Racing