In life we often hear that behind every good man is a good woman and in most circumstances that’s probably true. In NASCAR it’s a little bit different. It’s not the wife or girlfriend that gets the nod. It’s the person who tries to figure out what to do next, how to make the car better, what they can do on the fuel they have or if they can make it just a few more laps on those old tires. Behind every good NASCAR driver or team is good crew chief.
We often only hear about the driver. The crew chief is often an unsung hero unless the team wins and wins and wins. Most people can name the crew chief of the Cup series winner and maybe even a few from the past couple of years, but usually the crew chief doesn’t get the glory.
Tony Stewart has won two championships. He has represented NASCAR and Home Depot for many years, very successfully. He has won honors and accolades but he has always been quick to say that he depends on his team on his crew and most importantly on his long time crew chief Greg Zippadelli. “Zippy” as he is affectionately called, has become one of the most successful crew chiefs in NASCAR. How did he do it? Hard work.
Greg Zippadelli started out working on cars at age seven. His father’s NASCAR modified series car was his first conquest. By the time he was 14 he was working on all the cars in the Sherwood Racing stable owned by his family. By the time he was 20 he was already a championship winning crew chief. He led modified series driver Mike McLaughlin to a series championship.
When Mike was later given the opportunity for a ride in the NASCAR Camping World Series East, he took Zippadelli along with him as his crew chief. Even after McLaughlin departed the operation, Zippadelli stayed on and worked with different drivers during 1994 and 1995. In 1997 “Zippy” was teamed up with Mike Stefanik and together they brought home the Series East championship. In less than ten years Greg Zippadelli had two NASCAR championships under his belt.
In 1998 Zippadelli joined Roush Fenway as a chassis specialist for the No. 99 team of Jeff Burton. They had a very successful year and Zippadelli earned the notice of Joe Gibbs, who was laying the groundwork for a second team with Tony Stewart behind the wheel. They didn’t have to look too far, Greg Zippadelli took the job and the rest is history. Zippadelli has said in the past that this was “a dream come true” Greg Zippadelli and Tony Stewart have the longest tenure of any race car driver/crew chief in the garage. They have been together for nine years, since the beginning of Stewart’s NASCAR cup series career.
As a crew chief Greg Zippadelli has had to wear many hats. He has to make sure the engines are powerful, the cars are reliable and fast. He has to make sure the everything goes right. He is a mechanic, a visionary and most of all a coach. His relationship with Tony Stewart is one mutual trust and confidence in each other. He gives Tony the tools to win and Tony drives his heart out. It doesn’t take a village to make a NASCAR team rise to a championship but it does take a great driver and a great crew chief.