Iracingone On One:/I Michael Mcswain
November 7, 2001 | 10:00 P.M. EST
RacingOne: First of all, “Fatback:” Where did that come from? Who gave it to you? And why did they give it to you?
Michael McSwain: It’s not a very interesting story. I got it when I was a kid, and that’s pretty much all anybody knows about it and all anybody’s ever going to know about it. It was somebody in particular, but that’s all anybody needs to know about.
RacingOne: Are you a big eater?
Michael McSwain: No, I’m not really. I’ve been a big guy all the time.
RacingOne: You said once the nickname never really bothered you. Why is that?
Michael McSwain: It’s a lot better than asshole. Isn’t it? Most everybody’s been called worse than that.
RacingOne: Not a lot of people know too much about you. You’re married and you don’t have any kids. How long have you been married?
Michael McSwain: Two years.
RacingOne: Any plans for kids?
Michael McSwain: Not right now.
RacingOne: Does your wife travel with you? Is it good to have her around?
Michael McSwain: Yeah, of course. It’d be nice if all these guys could have their family with them. I’m fortunate to be able to do it. Probably if I couldn’t, I couldn’t be as relaxed in my job as I am. I’m very thankful that I have that opportunity.
RacingOne: Growing up, did you work on cars? Where did you get the interest?
Michael McSwain: Growing up, I was interested in football. That’s pretty much all I ever did or all I ever cared about. I hurt myself in high school and figured I wasn’t going to go any further playing football, so I went to Nashville Auto Diesel College and learned to work on cars and trucks. I didn’t really start messing with racing or anything until after that. My dad started racing, and we went from there. It all escalated to what I’m doing.
RacingOne: You went to Crest High School in Shelby, N.C. That’s one of the powerhouse programs in the state, isn’t it?
Michael McSwain: It’s been that way a lot of years. We were 3-A (the second highest classification in North Carolina). We never won a state championship, but we were one of the powerhouses. We were always there. We won a lot of conference championships.
RacingOne: What position did you play?
Michael McSwain: I played tackle and center.
RacingOne: What happened when you got hurt?
Michael McSwain: I hurt my knee my senior year. I was too slow for as tall as I was and not tall enough to be as slow as I was. I was kind of in the middle. I could have been a little bit bigger. At the time I was 6-0, 220. But I was never really fast. It’s one thing I loved to do, but never really fortunate to have the physical capabilities.
RacingOne: Had you been recruited by anybody?
Michael McSwain: I talked to some Division II colleges, like Elon, Lees-McRae, places like that. I wasn’t going to get any free schooling out of it. They were going to be glad to have me on. I had a lot of heart. I had more heart than I had capabilities.
RacingOne: So “Rudy” is your favorite movie?
Michael McSwain: It’s pretty close. But what’s my favorite of all time? Wow. I don’t know if I have a “favorite movie.” I really like movies. I love movies. That’s a good movie. A movie called “Brian’s Song,” that’s a good movie.
RacingOne: Do you have a big collection?
Michael McSwain: We’ve got probably several hundred VCR tapes, and now we have several hundred DVDs. Most of them are at home, and some are in the motorhome, too.
RacingOne: After graduating the college, you and your dad (Michael Sr.) raced some. Was it hard to get into Winston Cup?
Michael McSwain: We raced, but we really didn’t have the money to race like we needed. To support our racing, I worked on other people’s cars. That’s how I got into doing what I do now. Along the way, you meet people and make acquaintances. Some of the small, low-budget teams don’t run the full season, and they always need help. I never really worked on a well-funded team until I went to work here. We had a little bit of money when I worked with Ricky, but nothing like now.
RacingOne: When you first met Ricky, did you and him hit it off immediately?
Michael McSwain: We met probably six years ago, maybe longer. He’s a neat guy, down to earth, kinda personable. We just hit it off. Every time we crossed paths, we stopped and talked. It kind of went from there. We tried to get together several times over the past five or six years. Every time he needed somebody, I had a job. And every time I needed a job, he didn’t need anybody. It was kind of a timing deal that never materialized. But it’s probably for the best because I learned a lot more, got a lot more experience. I appreciate a lot more what I have now because of what I went through at other teams. I’m not saying the teams were bad or there was anything wrong with them, but they were under-funded, they were lesser experienced and with lesser-experienced drivers. It’s helped me to do better here with Robert (Yates).
RacingOne: Why do you think you and Ricky get along so well? Is it because you both have similar backgrounds, similar personalities?
Michael McSwain: Ricky’s been racing for 25 years, and he’s had a successful career and made a successful living doing it. If someone saw him walking down the street and didn’t know who he was, you wouldn’t think he was rich, you wouldn’t think he’s had the success he’s had in racing. He’s just a normal guy. He doesn’t enjoy buying a million-and-a-half-dollar boat just so he could ride around the Keys once in a while. He enjoys going to his farm and riding on his tractor or playing with remote-control cars, just normal things normal people like. Not saying these people aren’t normal, but just normal things every Tom, Dick and Harry likes.
RacingOne: You’re like that, too?
Michael McSwain: Yeah, just down to earth. The way this schedule is and as hectic this sport is today, you really miss the things that other people take for granted, like on Saturdays, being able to ride downtown to your local hometown and have lunch at the cafeteria where everybody eats. Then, on Saturday night, you ride down to wherever the local hangout is and everybody is hangin’ out. You don’t get those things any more. So when you do have a little bit of time, you enjoy the smaller things more than you enjoy big trips.
RacingOne: But some guys start making money and they look beyond those simple things. What’s kept you and him from doing that?
Michael McSwain: I don’t know. Possibly the way we were raised, what we were brought up around. My family was never a rich family. My dad had a good job, and I had a lot of things growing up that other people didn’t have. But we didn’t have a lot of frills. Maybe it was just our upbringing. He’s the same way. He grew up in a junkyard. We enjoy things like movies, for instance. We enjoy spending time with our families, sitting around watching a movie and relaxing.
RacingOne: You’ve gotten pretty famous the last couple of years. People across the country know who you are. How do you handle that?
Michael McSwain: I feel real fortunate. It’s a pretty cool deal. You sit back your whole life and you watch people on TV, you watch football players and baseball players. Ninety percent of the world dreams of being that football player or baseball player or that race-car driver. You never really thought you were going to get to that position. I’ll be honest, sometimes when you’ve had a bad day at the race track or practice didn’t go real good, it’s hard to make yourself stop and sign that autograph. But on the other hand, you’ve got to remember that because so many people like me and like the sport and like what we do, they spend their money to watch us and come see us. So really, we owe it to them to stop and sign those autographs, speak to the kids. They are what has made me be able to have what I have. It wouldn’t be right for me not to say I appreciate it.
RacingOne: You hear a lot lately about aerodynamics and the cars being so sensitive. Do you deal with much of that specifically, and what do you do with it?
Michael McSwain: If you split up what I have to do, 25 percent of it is chassis, 25 percent of it is engine stuff, 25 percent of it is people and 25 percent is aero. The engine stuff, I don’t have to deal with because I’m fortunate enough to have a good engine department. Chassis stuff and body stuff, we have to deal with. Chassis stuff is controlled a lot, so there’s not a lot we can do with it. But body stuff is a never-ending, non-stop battle trying to be better. The Fords in particular are a little behind the 8-ball right now. The whole world knows it, except maybe the guys down in the red trailer. And I see their point of view. Here I am telling you I want more help, but I’m second in points. But also know because I understand aero and I work on cars, I know what Dodge has got would help us, even small, minute bits of it. I probably won’t ever stop fighting for it because I know what it’ll do. I know how it can help us at tracks like Charlotte and Michigan and Homestead.
RacingOne: You talked about some of your responsibilities. It seems like a crew chief’s job is just about impossible. There’s so much stuff going on, how difficult is it to keep track of everything?
Michael McSwain: Bottom line, it all starts with the people you’ve got surrounding you. When I worked for Harry Hyde, he always told me, ‘You’re no better than the guy you’ve got with you.’ That’s not just true in racing. That’s true in life. I’ve tried to surround myself with the best person for each job I can get. And I try to surround myself with people like me. Believe it or not, the amount of responsibilities I have is a lot, but because I have some really, really good people, I leave some of that responsibility to their hands. In today’s world, as hectic as it is, there are crew chiefs out there who try to do everything. And you have to have control of everything, but you can’t do everything, not the way the schedule is now. I’ve been fortunate. My shop foreman is an ex-crew chief. The lead guy in my chassis shop used to be a car chief. Because of that, it allows us to get a lot done and get it done right so me and my guys won’t have to worry about it.
RacingOne: When you won at Pocono, was that your career highlight?
Michael McSwain: Yeah. We won at Richmond, and that was great. But everyone says there’s nothing any better than your first win. Richmond was great. It was awesome. But Pocono was the peak of a 10-year battle. We worked 10 years to get there. We finally get it, there’s no way anything can ever replace that. It’s real special. There’s guys who spend their whole careers in this garage area and never win a race or are never part of a winning race team. I was one of those guys for 10 years. To finally get that done, after we had been so close so many times – a lot of people had counted Ricky as a washed-up old driver; he was done – we both proved we know what we’re doing.
RacingOne: At Dover a few weeks ago, you were seen on TV between Ricky and Rusty Wallace. In a situation like that, when drivers are mad, do you see your role as somebody to calm one driver down or keep them from beating each other up?
Michael McSwain: When you put as much heart and soul into something – especially where we’re at right now, we need every point we can get to try to catch Gordon – if something like that happens, there wasn’t a guy in that garage who had a star on his chest who wasn’t mad. But it wouldn’t do any good for our team or any good for our sponsor for us to end up in a big old fight. Ricky wanted to go voice his opinion, and I feel like he needed to. I’ll fight for him to the end. I’m behind him 150 percent, and he knows I am.