CHARLOTTE, N.C., (April 25, 2001) - Bakersfield, Calif. native and ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (April 25, 2001) - Bakersfield, Calif. native and #1 Yellow Racing crew chief Marc Reno has lent his wrench-turning hand to some of the biggest names in the sport, including Ernie Irvan, Joe Ruttman, Richard Petty and current Yellow Racing driver Jimmy Spencer. The list of drivers he has worked with is long, and he has traveled a great distance to get where he is today.
Reno's racing career began 32 years ago in 1969 at age 15, when he was crew chief for a stock car he built for another California racer, Larry Hageman. Reno quickly established a reputation as a skillful wrench-turner. Many of the top Southern California stock car racers began requesting his services, and Reno gained more experience at tracks in Saugus, El Cajon, Riverside and Ontario.
In 1981, 12 years after Reno began racing, a young Winston Cup rookie named Mark Martin offered him a job with his new NASCAR Winston Cup team. It meant that Reno's beloved hobby would become a bill-paying, fulltime job, but the catch was that he had leave sunny California for Charlotte, N.C. While Reno was itching to compete at stock car racing's highest level, before he could say yes, he had to consult a very important person - his girlfriend.
"My girlfriend wouldn't go with me unless I married her," said Reno. He did, and the newlyweds headed east for North Carolina.
Reno started as a mechanic for Martin's team. Two years later, he became shop foreman at Mike Curb Motorsports with driver Richard Petty during the season in which Petty won his NASCAR-record 199th and 200th victories.
"It was sort of neat," said Reno, taking care to explain his low-key reaction this way: "From the outside it might seem like a big deal but it really wasn't. It's the same deal, just a bigger pond."
In 1985, Reno fulfilled a personal ambition and opened Reno Enterprises, Inc., a race car manufacturing company, which would eventually build stock cars for Dale Earnhardt and Tommy Kendall, among others. The shop flourished, but it was Reno's after-hours work with another native Californian and a future Winston Cup star, Ernie Irvan, that firmly established him in the sport.
"We were working in the shop during the day and doing the racing stuff at night," said Reno. "To this day I can't figure out how we survived. We worked so hard that we never had time to think about what we couldn't do.
"We made some money racing and bought a NASCAR Busch Grand National Series race car," continued Reno. "We ran that machine twice and then bought one of (Dale) Earnhardt's Winston Cup race cars for Ernie to drive in the 1987 World 600."
In a stroke of good fortune for the team and its creditors, Irvan drove Earnhardt's machine to an eighth-place finish and earned enough money to pay the bills and race expenses.
"We were operating under a pay-you-later budget," continued Reno. "Our winnings in the World 600 were $9,700 and we wrote $9,200 in bad checks to make that race."
In 1994, Reno was approached by Phoenix Racing owner, James Finch, who asked him to move again. Finch wanted Reno to become crew chief of Phoenix Racing, so this time, Reno moved south to Phoenix Racing's shop in Lynn Haven, Fla., which is located near Panama City.
Reno quickly proved that he was the right choice, winning three Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) races in 1994, then guiding Jeff Purvis and the No. 1 race car to a sixth-place finish in its first full Busch season in 1996.
In 1997, Reno left Phoenix to reunite with Irvan. The long-time California friends reunited to race Robert Yates' #28 Texaco Havoline Ford. The one-year stint produced a Winston Cup victory in the Miller 400 at Michigan Speedway, but when Irvan's contract was not renewed, Reno left as well, and returned to Phoenix Racing.
"I would've never left James if it weren't for that great opportunity to prove I could win in Winston Cup," said Reno. "I couldn't pass it up. After Ernie left, I was just sitting at home collecting a paycheck. The first couple of weeks were hard to get used to because I had been working all my life. But the time off gave me the opportunity to put things together with James."
With Reno back at the helm in 1999, Phoenix Racing hired driver Randy LaJoie, and the team returned to old form, scoring a win in the season-opening event at Daytona. After two consecutive top-10 seasons in the Busch series, LaJoie and Phoenix Racing parted ways. But Reno wasn't worried. He knew that a strong foundation has been laid at the Lynn Haven shop.
"I am pleased to be back with this team," said Reno, who also serves as the team's spotter during races. "It feels like those two years apart never happened because we just picked up were we left off in 1996."
Phoenix Racing expects to continue the success of its Busch program, and if things proceed well, much of the credit will go to the 46-year-old and that hand of his that has seemed permanently attached to a wrench since he was a young man in Southern California.