Detroit: GM Goodwrench crew chief Kevin Hamlin returns for homecoming

Michigan native Kevin Hamlin looks forward to his regular twice a year tract to Brooklyn, MI and Michigan Speedway. Hamlin, crew chief of the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus team with driver Dale Earnhardt visits every June and August as the ...

Detroit: GM Goodwrench crew chief Kevin Hamlin returns for homecoming

Michigan native Kevin Hamlin looks forward to his regular twice a year tract to Brooklyn, MI and Michigan Speedway. Hamlin, crew chief of the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus team with driver Dale Earnhardt visits every June and August as the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit invades the 2 mile oval for some of the most exciting races of the year.

Hamlin began his racing career by accident when he had a lawn care business in Kalamazoo, Mi. Another Michigan racer named Butch Miller was a client of his. Hamlin who always had a love for dragsters, was doing his job at the Miller home when Butch was working on his race car. Hamlin stopped his mower and started up a conversation with Miller as he was working on his racecar. Miller needed some help so Hamlin lent a hand. That was the beginning Hamlin's racing career. Eventually the racing took over the lawn care business as Hamlin and Miller worked together racing in the ASA series winning two series championships as driver and crew chief.

In 1990, Miller and Hamlin moved south to the hotbed of auto racing, Charlotte, North Carolina. Hamlin worked for Travis Carter's race team and immediately showed he had what it took to be in NASCAR.

But Hamlin never thought in a million years that being a crew chief for the legendary seven-time champion was in his future. In fact it all came about because of some unusual circumstances.

Hamlin joined Richard Childress Racing in 1997 after Richard Jackson closed his shop where Hamlin served as crew chief since 1994. Hamlin was the leader of RCR's second team with Rookie driver Mike Skinner. RCR's first team was the famous No. 3 Chevrolet that Dale Earnhardt took to six NASCAR championships. After experiencing a disappointing start to both RCR's team in 1998, owner Richard Childress knew he had to do something. His decision was going to be the biggest change in Hamlin's racing career.

That was two years ago this week when Childress decided he needed to swap his two crew chiefs in hopes that the chemistry between the two chiefs and drivers would help the teams turn the corner towards success. Hamlin went from working with a rookie driver to calling the shoots for the man known as the "Intimidator".

"When Richard called Larry (McReynolds) and me into his office none of us knew what was coming," stated Hamlin. "His thinking was that Skinner needed someone with Larry's experience and I'm not too sure what he thought I was going to bring to Earnhardt. But what ever it was we were going to start it immediately."

So the RCR teams packed up the trucks and came to Michigan Speedway. It never occurred to Hamlin that his first race under the new position was going to be in the back yard of his hometown of Kalamazoo.

"I didn't really think about it until we got there and all of a sudden everyone wanted to talk to me," said Hamlin. "I literally went from 'inconspicuous crew chief' to 'Kevin who?"

That was 66 races ago and in that time Hamlin has made a name for himself. His team has put together four victories and accumulated 18 top-fives and 40 top-10's. So far this season the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Goodwrench Service Plus team has put together ten top-10 finishes in the first 13 events and are currently third in the NASCAR points standings.

"It's been a tremendous success all the way around," commented Richard Childress. "Dale and Kevin have really worked well together, as have Mike and Larry. Kevin is right for Dale. They have the same demeanor and understanding of what they want and need from a racecar to be successful. Putting Kevin over here with the three team really worked out better than I could have ever predicted."

Those sentiments are share all around especially from the guy holding the wheel.

"We have a good understanding of each other," remarked Earnhardt. "It reminds me of the connection Kirk (Shelmerdine) and I had. We've come a long way and it has been a team effort. Sometimes things just click and that's been the case with Kevin and I. If I'm thinking about going one way or the other with the car, he's thinking that same direction. You don't always have that and we've seen many teams that never find it. I honestly don't believe we've reach our potential, we're getting there and I'm looking forward to getting into that zone."

Hamlin left Michigan a decade ago chasing the dream of NASCAR racing. He returns this week in his second full season as the leader of one of the most famous teams in racing in hopes of clinching his fifth victory in auto racing's premier series. With all the success Hamlin never forgets where he came from, that's very clear. On the few days when he's not working to get the No. 3 car into victory lane, you can find him, at home, cutting the grass. Back where it all started.

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