THOMPSON – Ask the principals around the Mike Murphy owned KLM Racing NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour team what the key was to their stellar start in the season opening Performance Plus 150 at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway on March 18 and all agreeably point to last year’s event at Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway.
There’s agreement amongst the team that Oswego brought a gelling and turning of the corner with five events left in the organization’s first season with Robby Summers driving.
It was a blossoming of chemistry and cohesion so to speak that carried through the final four events of the year and into this year’s season opening second place finish at Myrtle Beach for Summers.
But that doesn’t mean there’s full agreement on everything between the principals. Yes, there’s an argument. Ask Ron Yuhas Jr. about his role as the team’s crew chief, the former driver for the team balks at the title.
“I don’t think I’m the crew chief,” Yuhas said. “Everybody chips in. I don’t think there’s one crew chief. It’s more a title that doesn’t exist with our team. I help with the setups. Everybody on the team does. I wouldn’t say there’s a real crew chief. Even for the pit strategy, we toss it around between us. It’s not so much by committee, but we try to all work together.”
During his long career as a driver Yuhas was always known as a level-headed and humble type. And it seems that unassuming nature has carried over in his role – whatever he wants to term it – with Murphy’s team.
Yuhas made 74 Whelen Modified Tour starts from 2006 to 2014. He won an SK Modified championship driving for Murphy in 2009 at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl and the team stepped up to the Whelen Modified Tour full-time in 2011. Yuhas walked away from the driver’s seat full-time after a bad crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 20, 2014.
Ask Murphy about Yuhas denying his crew chief role and the car owner laughs.
“He’s the crew chief,” Murphy asserts. “He makes the calls. He’s in charge.”
It’s the same sentiment from Summers.
“Yes, he’s the crew chief,” Summers said. “He the crew chief and he’s doing a heck of a job doing that.”
Anthony Nocella replaced Yuhas as the driver with the team in 2015, but the organization struggled and turned to Summers to drive for 2016.
The team’s struggles continued through the first 12 events of the season in 2016, but the fourth place finish at Oswego on Sept. 3 of last year marked the turning point. When asked what was the key to runner-up finish in this year’s season opener at Myrtle Beach, Yuhas immediately pointed to Oswego last year.
“Everything for us really started last year [at Oswego],” Yuhas said. “We didn’t change much in the offseason. … I think it was really just the momentum from the Oswego race that just helped us turn the corner and we’ve been rolling on that since.
“That’s when we finally found what Robby liked in the car. We had a good run there. We came [to Thompson for the season finale] and we qualified good and we had a mechanical failure in the middle of the race. But we were running top-five all day before that happened.”
Said Summers: “Murphy had all the pieces of the puzzle. It’s just a team effort. With a team you have to have the team and crew chief and driver that all believe in each other and after that’s when the magic starts. That’s what happened after Oswego last year.”
Summers said the instincts and understanding that Yuhas brings as a former driver are key in his crew chief role.
“For me, if I’m trying to explain something to a guy that has never driven car, well it’s totally different because Ron can kind of relate to what you’re saying,” Summers said. “If I say it’s doing this or it’s doing that or it feels a little weird here, Ron can understand and relate because he’s been through those feelings. And I think that helps with the chemistry on the team and that helps us with the setup of the car.”
Said Murphy: It’s unbelievable to have him [as the crew chief]. In my opinion you can’t just walk in be a crew chief if you never drove. Ron used to always set up his own cars and now that’s his focus it’s great.”
Yuhas said he doesn’t miss rigors behind the wheel. He made one start in the SK Modified division at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl last year and said he may drive some SK Modified events this year, but his focus is leading the Modified Tour team.
“It’s just a lot less stress for me,” Yuhas said. “You don’t overthink the night before the race, thinking about what you’re going to do to the car and how you going to race the race. Now we just go out to dinner as a team and talk about what Robby is thinking and get a game plan together. It’s a lot more laid back for me for sure.”