BioName: Jamie McMurray
Hometown: Joplin, Missouri
Resides: Huntersville, North Carolina
Marital Status: Single
Racing Involvement: Driver for Chip Ganassi Racing Winston Cup team in 2003; winner of UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway on October 13, 2002, in just second Winston Cup start; Busch Series competitor, 2001-2002, getting his first Busch win at Atlanta in 2002; full-time competitor in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, 2000; track champion at Lebanon (Missouri) I-44 Speedway in 1997.
He dreamed of being a Winston Cup driver, but not in his wildest fantasies did Jamie McMurray expect to find himself in Victory Lane during the 2002 season. He's been pinched enough to know the win was real; now he speaks with Stock Car Racing about the reality check that will come when he moves to the series full time in 2003.
SCR: Talk about everything that happened to you in the latter part of 2002, getting the Winston Cup offer from Chip Ganassi and winning at Lowe's Motor Speedway while subbing for Sterling Marlin.
McMurray: It's all happened so fast. I didn't really know what I was going to do next season. I really wanted to stay with my Busch team. I told them I was going to as long as a great opportunity didn't come along to move on to Cup. When Chip contacted me about doing that for 2003, I couldn't imagine a better opportunity coming along in Winston Cup. I feel like they have just about the best organization there is. So I made the decision to move up and was really excited and trying to get prepared for that. Then when Sterling got hurt and they told me I was going to fill in for him the rest of the season, I knew that was a tough situation to step into, but it was going to be a good opportunity for me. At the same time, it could work both ways. If I had gotten into that and done well, it was going to be great for next season. If I had gotten in it and not done well, it would have been a tough winter for me, for the team, and also for the sponsor.
SCR: Take us through the last laps of the win at Charlotte. What were you saying to your crew?
McMurray: I had joked around with Lee (McCall, crew chief) and Tony (Glover, team manager) and all the guys throughout the whole race, trying to make jokes, and they were doing the same thing with me. But about the last 60 laps I didn't say anything on the radio. I think the only thing I said was after my last green flag stop, about 10 laps into that, when I said my car was really starting to get good. Tire pressure was really building up. They were pretty much just saying, "Hit your marks. Stay focused." They were counting laps down and just cheering me on, building my confidence up. I didn't say anything until the last lap down the backstretch. I just started screaming; I was real excited. It's a feeling I'll never forget. It was more exciting two weeks later than it was at the time. At the time, I couldn't take it all in. Later I realized what we did. You read all the stuff on the Internet and all the letters that people sent congratulating me, and it was incredible, just the response I got.
SCR: That was one helluva burnout after the win. Had you been practicing?
McMurray: No. I had never done a burnout before. I told my family and my girlfriend and everybody, when I get to do a burnout I'm going to do a great one. That was Fourth gear as fast as it would go. That was tached out in Fourth gear. That was cool. To be able to get in the car at a racetrack that I didn't care for and be able to go out and win was amazing.
Bobby Labonte provided McMurray's...
Bobby Labonte provided McMurray's strongest challenge in the closing laps at Charlotte, but McMurray and the No. 40 Dodge pulled away to put Chip Ganassi Racing in Victory Lane.
SCR: In 1997 you were track champion at I-44 Speedway in Lebanon, Missouri. Did you dream that five years later you would be in Victory Lane for a Winston Cup race?
McMurray: From '94 to '97 or '98, I ran just local stock cars. Actually, before I started racing stock cars, I thought by the time I was 20 or 21 I would be in Winston Cup. I was not being realistic, just thinking that a national champion in go-carts ought to move up. I ran stock cars for two, three, four years, and in '98 I remember thinking, "What do you have to do to move up?" Everybody was telling us, "Oh, bring money and you can drive our car." I thought, "God, how is it ever going to happen?" Then I got an opportunity from Mike Mitler in 1999 to go run five truck races in his truck. At the end of '99 I moved to St. Louis where his shop was, and he gave me a job. We set out to go run as many truck races as we could in 2000. Halfway through the year 2000 I got an opportunity from another truck team to move on. It was really hard leaving Mike because I felt like he was one of the guys who really helped me get going and got me noticed.
SCR: How did the deal with Chip Ganassi Racing come about? I've heard that NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter recommended you for the ride.
McMurray: That's kind of what they told me, that Jim had given me two thumbs up. I guess you could say he thought I was going to be a good driver and good for the sport. Chip and Felix (Sabates, co-owner) had been watching me and so had Tony (Glover) and Andy (Graves, team manager). One thing Felix said to me that I really liked was, "You know, Jamie, you are aggressive when you need to be and you get out of the way when you need to." That's kind of the way I race. If I don't feel like I have a car that's capable of being where it is, I won't race somebody so hard and maybe have them get into me and get taken out. I'll let the guy go. That's kind of neat that they saw that and that they realized that. Obviously they wanted Ricky Rudd, and they were going to hire him and couldn't get everything worked out. You know, everything happens for a reason. I'm thrilled that it's happened. I don't know what I've done to deserve this opportunity, but I feel really blessed and I'm trying to make the most of it.
McMurray spent two mostly...
McMurray spent two mostly uneventful years in the Busch Series before landing a Winston Cup ride.
SCR: Considering the history of the Havoline car, which you'll be driving in 2003, do you feel added pressure to get the job done?
McMurray: Most certainly. There have been so many great drivers in that car. To me, that's about the best sponsor in Cup, and for them to take a chance on a rookie, that meant a lot to me. But a sponsor can't put any more pressure on a driver than what a driver puts on himself. The thing is, there was a lot of pressure for me to perform in a Winston Cup car. Now that we've won a race it's almost a different type of pressure-just the pressure to keep performing and to live up to what I've already done. But really, and I've said this a million times to all the media, I'm just going to go out as a driver and give 100 percent, and the team is going to go out and give 100 percent. At the end of the day, if after every race, we can say that we did that, that's all we can do.
SCR: It was a great TV moment when they interviewed your dad after the win and you could see the emotion on his face. How instrumental has he been in your career?
McMurray: Well, not just my dad but my whole family has been very supportive. My mom and dad gave up a lot to put me through the racing that I went through with go-carts and stock cars. I would say my mom gave up a lot, maybe a new house or a new car, you know, just things you would like to have, just to get me to where I am. To have my dad there ... I had never won a truck race or a Busch race, so to get to have my dad there when I won my first race over the last couple of years, and to make it a Cup race of all things, that was really special. I didn't think about that until we got to Victory Lane and I saw my dad on the front row with a hat on, holding a No. 1 finger up and smiling for the camera. I don't know what was going through his head, but that was probably as important to me as anything, getting to see him there.
Though questioned by many,...
Though questioned by many, Ganassi's (left) decision to put McMurray in a Cup car paid off quickly. 2003 will show whether McMurray has staying power, or if he's a flash in the pan.
SCR: Did your dad race when you were younger?
McMurray: My dad has raced since he was in high school. He did a lot of drag racing and stock car racing, just at the local level. When I became old enough to start racing, of course, I had a huge interest in it. My dad started racing go-carts with me and we did that together for a long time. He actually gave it up for a while and just let me race. But it's in his blood and he still races go-carts. He still goes and does that and has a great time at it. He just loves racing.
SCR: Talk about moving up to stock cars. Do you remember your first race?
McMurray: We went to Lakeland, Florida, in 1994. My dad had bought a pavement Modified, and I remember it was so much different, (but) I just felt like I had a knack for it. The thing is, to me, to be good at any form of racing there has to be a huge level of dedication and desire. There's a lot of frustration that goes along with racing. You have to look past that. I've been very frustrated at times, but at the same time, throughout all of my racing, I was very dedicated and always tried to stay very focused at whatever I was doing. That's what I did when I moved up from go-carts to stock cars. It was frustrating at first because it's so much different, and you go through a completely different learning curve. In go-carts-at least when I raced go-carts, although it's a lot different now-there weren't a lot of setups involved. You put tires on it and pretty much went out and raced it. Nowadays, they're so much different with setups and they scale them now and everything. When you move up to stock cars, there are springs and shocks and sway bars, so much stuff. So there was a lot to learn in that process.
SCR: How has your life changed since the fall of last year?
McMurray: A lot more interviews. Of course, getting a ride with a team such as Ganassi and having Havoline as your sponsor, a lot of people question why they hired me. They're all wanting to know that. It's just been a lot busier. It's a good busy, like I say, but it didn't change a lot when I got hired. It was going to be pretty mellow, just running Talladega and a couple of other races. But, really, it changed after the win. It's been pretty wild, just the people who recognize you. In all my years of racing I don't know that I've ever had anyone recognize me on an airplane, to just say "Good job." Also the crewmembers and stuff who came up and said, "Man, we were on the edge of our seats." I've had so many people tell me they had goose bumps or it brought a tear to their eye. I can't tell you the way that makes me feel inside, to have a grown man tell me, "Man, I was crying for you, Jamie. I'm so happy for you." That's a feeling that I don't know I'll ever get again.
SCR: Is there any part of sudden fame that you would rather not have to deal with?
McMurray: The thing is, like the interviews, maybe they are frustrating or aggravating because you have to do so many of them, but it's great to do interviews about positive stuff like this, versus doing interviews like a couple of months ago when they were asking me why Chip hired me. But I wouldn't change any of it. Every morning I wake up and I literally sit there and thank God for letting me feel as blessed as I feel right now. Like I say, I don't know what I did to deserve all this, because there are so many good race car drivers out there who never get the chance to keep moving up. And I don't know why I did. I don't know what I did different from those guys, because I don't feel like I did anything different. It's just an incredible situation that I got put into. Like I say, I don't know what I did to deserve it, but I'm certainly thankful for it.