I generally try to keep my emotions on an even keel. This practice has served me well over the years, and never letting myself get too high or too low kind of suits my personality. But even I have to admit to feeling plenty of electricity in the air when Mopar's Pietro Gorlier and me tugged the car cover off our new JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger at the SEMA show in Las Vegas.
Just thinking about it again now makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and I'll tell you why – this is probably the best feeling I've ever had about a race team, and that includes the phenomenal groups we've had in the past that have helped us win four Pro Stock world championships and another one in Super Gas.
Let me back up a moment. At the end of 2010, I can honestly say I was 100 percent comfortable with my decision to step away from professional drag racing and limit my participation to various bracket races and sportsman events that fit my schedule. I really had no inclination about when I might return – or even if I would be up for another charge.
I've never really been the type to just race for the sake of racing. I might be quiet for the most part, but I have a pretty strong desire to win. Anything worth doing is worth doing right and, in drag racing, that means you need to go out there with the intention of winning every race you enter. There's an awful lot that goes into that, but it's always been the way I've wanted to race.
Well, I wasn't long into my time off when the phone started ringing. There were offers to drive other Pro Stock cars, some intriguing inquiries about possibly taking over a Top Fuel dragster or Funny Car, and even some discussion about working with a NASCAR team. Obviously, I was very flattered by the attention and I'll admit it started me thinking about what it would take to change my mind again. I really had to take a step back, seek counsel with my family and closest friends, and decide what I wanted to do.
I took out a pad of paper and started writing down the best-case scenario for a comeback. What did I really want to drive? Would it be best to catch on with one of the big teams? Who would be the best group to get engines from? What about a car?
We quickly reached the conclusion that the ultimate scenario would be to do it all ourselves. That way we'd have full control of all the decisions and if things didn't work out the way we wanted, well, we'd have no one to blame but ourselves. I also decided to stick with my true love – Pro Stock.
By this point, our JNR Racing Engines project already was off the ground, so we knew where we'd get our horsepower. Nick Ferri and Roy Simmons, the N and R in JNR, have been champions throughout their careers and having them spearhead the engine shop was a no-brainer. The rest of the list came together and I looked down and realized we had a lot to do. Plus, as conversations with Mopar and Dodge got under way, we had to be discreet. As you may imagine, it's not easy to build a race team from the ground up and remain anonymous.
Ordering a new tractor-trailer and transporter was pretty easy. We selected Jerry Haas to build our Dodge Avenger and we asked him to keep it discreet. Next, I crossed paths with Tomi Laine, a past FIA Pro Stock champion from Finland, and he expressed interest in coming aboard. He was already on my short list of potential candidates for crew chief, and it proved to work out well as he will now head up that role.
For the most part, we somehow managed to keep everything quiet for six full months – pretty remarkable in this day and age – and I would say by the numerous surprised looks we got at SEMA that most people had no idea that we were so far along.
The drag racing media was all over the story, especially the tight bond we've formed with Mopar and Dodge, and that was neat to see. We've always maintained a great relationship with our media friends and I was glad to see their reaction. The attendees of the show also were very positive, which made me feel great.
It took a lot of very talented and dedicated folks to pull off this announcement and the overall formation of the team and my sincere appreciation goes out to everyone involved. It was down to the wire to get the car painted, striped and decaled in time for SEMA, and we also had to do all the necessary press photos in the proper uniforms and firesuits we'll sport in 2012. When all was said and done, we literally didn't have a day to spare.
As soon as SEMA ended, the guys loaded everything up and drove cross-country to JNR Racing Engines in the Charlotte area to fit one of our new HEMI powerplants into the frame rails. There are always little adjustments that need to be made and there are lots of hours spent on moving weight around to get it the balance of the car just right.
It was hectic, for sure, and I know I couldn't have gotten it done without the incredible support of my brothers, John, Troy and Mike, and our father, Jeg Sr. Dad has pretty much been an integral part of every decision since we got started. He helped a bunch with the formulation and direction of the engine shop and he's been with me every step of the way on this project. I look forward to having him attend many of the races next year. He's always been an incredible sounding board for all of us and I know I'm always more comfortable when he's around.
Now it's time to put the finishing touches on this racecar and get some testing done. Pomona will be here before we know it and I can't wait.