We have all heard the statement, “Behind every good man is an equally good woman.” The same goes for NASCAR, for behind every good driver is an equally good crew chief. We have heard of some of the great duos; Dale Earnhardt and Kirk Shelmerdine, Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham, Tony Stewart and Greg “Zippy” Zipadelli. Now, we have one more duo to add to NASCAR, Chris “Shine” Heroy and Kyle Larson.
A crew chief is the glue that holds the whole team together. They wear many hats throughout the racing season. They are trainer and therapist, they are reassuring and they are the calming force when others collide. When they make the right call in a race, they are the hero but when they make the wrong call, their heads are on the line. They give the driver what they need, even if it’s not what the driver asked for.
Heroy is by no means new to the NASCAR scene, but he took, perhaps, the long way around. He started in Indiana but ended up in California where he got his first start in racing with a Toyota Atlantic Series team (open wheel). In 2004 Heroy began his career in NASCAR as a chassis engineer for Hendrick Motorsports on what was the final season for Terry Labonte. He stayed with Hendrick Motorsports for eight years working as the chassis engineer for a diverse group of drivers including Kyle Busch, Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, Mark Martin.
In 2012 he left Hendrick Motorsports for the opportunity to be the crew chief for the No. 42 Target sponsored Chevrolet for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, driven by Juan Pablo Montoya. In 2012 Montoya announced that at the end of the season, he would return to IndyCar and all eyes turned to a driver who was taking the K&N Pro Series by storm. It was a young driver, who had caught the attention of many fans with his no holds barred driving style, Kyle Larson.
The 2014 season started with an uproar over the return of Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 with Austin Dillon at the wheel. It was the most eclectic season for rookies that NASCAR had in many years and all eyes were on the No. 3, wondering if Dillon would live up to the reputation.
While that was happening Heroy and Larson, who had clicked from the start, were forging a friendship beyond racing, but it was showing on the track as well. With Heroy’s knowledge and Larson’s natural talent, they became the duo that stole the rookie spotlight from Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and Dillon. Now all eyes were on Larson as with each race the team was becoming the one to watch come race day. Heroy and Larson had a rookie season like no other and the fans loved it. It was no surprise when Larson won the 2014 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year title hands down.
Heroy already has everything ready for Daytona and is eager to race. In fact, the Atlanta car was on the floor getting ready for that race when I spoke to him. I asked him if the new testing rules had affected them at all and he explained, “It does yes, we come up with all these ideas, but we have no idea if they will work or not so we put them in what we call a “bucket.” We have a full bucket of ideas now, we just have to wait until we get to the track to see if they work or not, which adds more pressure to race weekend because there is much more to try.”
I asked Heroy if the push from Ryan Newman at Phoenix International Raceway upset Larson and he surprised me by saying, “Actually not really, Kyle isn’t one that gets really heated in the car too bad. Once I told him Newman needed that spot to make it (into the Chase) he was okay with it.”
Heroy also talked about the goals for this year, commenting, “Our goals for this year are pretty much the same, win our first race (at least one), make the Chase and hopefully we win it all.”
I questioned whether Larson has changed since becoming a new father. Heroy chuckled and said, “Nah, he takes Owen (Larson’s son) everywhere. Once he is in the car, that all goes away and it’s all about the race.”
Next, I asked Heroy if he had any pet peeves about Kyle. He laughed and said. “Yes, getting him to the car quicker. He is so grateful for all his fans and he hates to walk away and not have the time to sign an autograph for everyone.” He added, “Fans mean everything and he still is amazed by the fans that say, ‘I remember you back in your open wheel days at such and such track.’ It really makes you think how much fans have really followed your career.”
We also talked about driving styles and I asked Heroy if Larson’s driving style reminded him of Kyle Busch because many fans find it similar. He answered, “Not really,” adding, “I have heard that before but in truth he is more like Jimmie Johnson, more controlled than you think.”
Heroy is comfortable in his role with the team. Each member of the team has a role to fulfill on race day. It’s the crew chief’s job to ensure that everyone knows what to do and to make adjustments all race long for the car and subsequently the driver and Heroy is perfect with Larson. It should not come as a surprise that this team is capable of accomplishing great things.
NASCAR is Heroy’s family for the moment and that’s okay with him. However, if you are on the beach early one morning and spot a Target painted surfboard out catching a wave, say Hi, as odds are, it could be Heroy, as not only is he a superb crew chief but he is an avid surfer as well. In fact, that’s how he got the nickname “Sunshine” which was further shortened to, “Shine.” So perhaps when they give the command to “start your engines,” one day we should just say “Surf’s up,” and watch his reaction.