TALLADEGA, AL---------Scott Zipadelli
has been around racing since he was a youngster. From the time his father
and uncle owned modified race teams in Connecticut to now being a Nationwide
Crew Chief for driver, Jason Leffler and Braun Racing, the 40 year old has
seen and done plenty.
Zipadelli, like his brother, Greg, has
been living down south since packing his bags after making an attempt at
driving a race car, a failed attempt.
“I’ll never forget it, I was racing at
Stafford in a late model and I had a bad night and I remember Mike
McLaughlin coming over to me and telling me to forget about driving and move
south and get a job working on race cars.” Scott said laughing.
While both Scott and Greg worked as
crew members on their Uncle Bill Corazzo’s modifieds, winning the title in
1988 when McLaughlin wheeled the Sherri Cup #12 to the NASCAR Whelen
modified tour championship but now it was time to move south and pursue a
career in NASCAR.
When I asked Scott, if a race car is
just another race car, he thought about it for a minute before answering.
Working on the open wheel modifieds to
now working on heavier slower Nationwide cars are as different as night and
day but Scott said, “A race car is a race car to some point. But a modified
is a whole different animal.”
Just like when drivers Geoffrey Bodine
and Ronnie Bouchard moved south and started racing in the then Winston Cup
circuit making it easier for drivers from north of the Mason-Dixie line to
prove they could compete with their southern chauffeurs, when the first of
the ‘modified’ crew members moved south and began making a living, the
stream of the modified wrenching talent has continued to move to Charlotte
and make a name for themselves.
This year, Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion, crew
chief for Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, joining Tommy Baldwin, Jr. as
crew chiefs from the northeast winning the most prestigious NASCAR race. And
Scott doesn’t have to look far to see his brother with two Sprint Cup
championships with Tony Stewart.
What is it about the guys from the
north that seem to make an impact from the time they move south?
“I think the northern guys are self
sufficient. They know how to weld, build and maintain race cars. You do what
you have to do; they are make it happen kind of people.” Scott said. “It was
guys like Ray Evernham who came south with a certain work ethic and got the
job done doing what you had to do to get by.”
Scott thought back to the days helping
his father and uncle working on the race cars at the shop in Berlin, Ct
staying in the shop until 2 or 3 a.m., doing what needed to be done to get
the car ready to race.
Scott said that is the biggest
difference from now to then.
“Most guys with the Sprint Cup teams
didn’t work on race cars. They are big athletic guys trained to do a pit
stop and a lot of the guys in the garage area never worked on race cars
growing up. I often thought to myself, ‘how did some of these people ever
get down here.’”
As crew chief for Jason Leffler and now
working in his second season as crew chief for Braun Racing, Scott wants
people who aren’t afraid to work and to get the job done, regardless of the
time frame but that just isn’t possible in today’s NASCAR.
‘You just can’t make someone work to 3
or 4 a.m. You had to grow up in that type of weekly racing to appreciate
what it takes. Today, most of the crew guys and shop guys have families and
want to get home to see them and I can’t blame them but it’s different from
the time I started.”
While Zipadelli will admit to not
knowing a thing about football or other sports, he does know his way around
a race car, inside and out and said, “Those are the type of people that I
want to be surrounded by, people who know how to get the job done.”
One of the people that Scott relies on
is another modified veteran, who has the same work ethic and that is car
chief, Rich Lavalett, a crew member for modified car owner, Mario Fiore.
“Rich knows what needs to be done and
gets it done.”
Scott mentioned back in his modified
days, the rules weren’t as black and white as they are now; remembering the
exotic body that the Sherri Cup team mounted on the chassis for a modified
race and when they showed up, it was the talk of the pit area.
“The rules in the modifieds back then,
well, there really weren’t any. You could pretty much make up what you
needed and build it in the race shop. But now, everything is in the rule
book, especially on the Cup and Nationwide series. They have taken a lot of
the fun and innovation out of the sport.”
Scott said that the modified that he
worked on with the exotic body is now his and one day he brought the car to
“Many of the guys on the team were
asking me what kind of car it was. Can you believe that, they didn’t know
what a modified was and that is kind of what you’re dealing with, people who
didn’t grow in racing.” But added, “That is today’s NASCAR and there is
nothing wrong with that.”
While Scott continues to enjoy the
Nationwide series, I asked him if he thirsts to become a Sprint Cup crew
“Someday I would like to a crew chief
on the Sprint Cup series. I’ve had opportunities but it’s got to work out
perfectly and until what I think is the perfect opportunity, I am content to
stay here, I really do enjoy the Nationwide series.”
“What Greg and Tommy (Baldwin) got
doesn’t happen all the time. Everything fell right into place for them and
they deserved it. They worked hard for it. Many of the northern guys have
had chances and made the most out of it.” Scott said.
While there is pressure to win on all
series, the pressure to win in the Cup series is off the charts and while
Scott can often be found working at the shop on Sunday’s, if he isn’t, he’s
working at his office at his house getting everything ready for the next
We talked about the ever evolving
question if it is right for Sprint Cup drivers to be allowed to participate
in the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series.
“On the business end, it certainly is
much easier to sell a sponsor on putting in a Cup driver in their car rather
than a newcomer.”
Zipadelli recalled how at Daytona at
the start of the year, another Nationwide team was trying to get a sponsor
for a up and coming driver and couldn’t locate one but as soon as one Cup
driver was seated in the car, the sponsor came on board.
“I understand it from the business side
and while it makes it tougher to win, you also work much harder which makes
us all better.”
When asked what it takes to put forth a
winning effort on the Nationwide series, Scott said a sponsor willing to
spend 6 to 7 million dollars but added most teams on the Nationwide series
are spending much less to compete.
“We have at Braun Racing, 4 Nationswide
teams with about 85 employees and we still don’t have enough people.”
The economy, like everything else has
forced teams to do with less just to make ends meet. “It’s rough out there
right now but we are doing what we need to do to compete.”
As the team heads into Talladega, Jason
Leffler is currently sitting in the 11th spot in points and that
isn’t where they want to be but Zipadelli feels that they will right the
ship and start getting the top ten finishes that they are used too.
“We started off the year getting into a
wreck in Daytona, then we have a green-white-checker finish at Fontana and
go from 6th to 14th and then at Las Vegas we finished
Since then, the team had come to life
with a 9th place at Bristol but Leffler was hit with a three race
probation by NASCAR following the Nationwide race at Nashville after going
back on the track and intentionally wrecking a driver who he felt wrecked
him earlier in the race.
At Texas, Leffler finished 12th
and moved up three notches in the point standing and is just a few points
from cracking the top ten in points.
“I think once we get into a rhythm, we
will be all right. We have the talent on this team to do it.”
While buying speed is the easiest thing
to do, Scott said that at Braun Racing, “we make most of what we use right
at the shop.”
That is something that Scott sees at
what is wrong with racing, especially in weekly racing and lower touring
“You don’t have to have talent to race
anymore. You can step right off the baseball field and buy a modified team
or whatever and go racing and run up front, if you have the money because a
lot of people just buy the speed they need instead of figuring it out and
making what you could. Now everybody buys everything.”
But Scott said he wouldn’t have earned
his resume any other way than he did. Getting dirty in the shop, learning
how cars work and losing many nights of sleep helping getting the car ready
While there is no doubt that one day,
Scott will be calling the shots on top of a Sprint Cup war wagon, he is
honing his skills so that when the right deal comes along, he can join the
other modified crew veterans who have made their mark in NASCAR racing.