Stafford Springs native Peter Jellen has been working with Sprint Cup race teams for over 23 years and I saw this article by Joe Menzer on NASCAR.Com and I had to share it with you. Peter and his family grew up directly across the street from me right on route 190 above his father’s piano shop. He and his sister Kathy used to watch me when my parents were away. It is awesome to see yet another person from Stafford do so well in this industry. Peter drives the big rig for Kyle Busch’s race team, probably the best driver on the planet. I talked to him briefly today and he agreed to talk to me throughout the season to talk about his experiences on the road. Read the article below, and make sure to look for Stafford native Charles Lewandoski in this weeks Nationwide Series race in California. He will be driving the Go Green number 39. I will try to talk to him this week, so stay tuned.
Life in the hauler ain’t all that bad for Jellen
March 22, 2011 1:06 PM, EST
That’s because Peter Jellen drives the hauler that gets the race car to the track each week. Jellen, currently driver of the No. 18 Toyota hauler for Joe Gibbs Racing, talked with NASCAR.COM about working with Kyle Busch as well as former champions Bobby Labonte and Alan Kulwicki and some of the challenges he faces in the job he’s held for 23 years.
I haven’t seen a lot of craziness. I’ve seen a lot of stupidity. You know, cars cutting you off and telling you how great they think Kyle is. There is some stuff I can’t say, but nothing that out of the ordinary.
Question: So how nuts will this week be, getting back from last Sunday’s race at Bristol and turning around to drive the hauler to the West Coast for the next race at Auto Club Speedway in California?
Jellen: You get used to it and you just do it. What’s different this year is that we’re killing three of our five West Coast trips right off the bat. So if you look at it that way, it ain’t bad.
Q: But what’s this week going to entail?
Jellen: Well, it helps that we’re running Interstate [sponsored] cars this week and not M&M’s cars. That means we can be prepared decal-wise, paint-wise. That helps out, because logistics-wise they’re ready to go [even before the race is over at Bristol]. We’ve got a guy back at the shop, so as soon as I get back at the shop Sunday night we start turning the truck around. There is a lot of planning involved.
Q: How much would rain have screwed you up?
Jellen: We’re leaving Tuesday morning regardless, so not too bad. It would be a quicker turnaround, that’s all.
Q: What time will you hit the road Tuesday to drive the hauler to California?
Jellen: I told the guys I’d like to hit the road about 8 [a.m.] or so. Noon at the latest.
Q: Wow. That’s a pretty wide window. Is it sort of like when a family says they’re leaving on vacation?
Jellen [laughing]: Yeah, it’s a pretty wide window. Listen, we’ll probably leave first thing Tuesday morning. But I’ve been gone all week and want to spend a day with my daughter. You still have a life you have to balance, you know?
Q: How old is your daughter?
Jellen: She’s five. So I’m going to take her out of day care [Monday] and have a daddy-daughter day with her. We’re going to go fishing. I won’t see her for another week, so those are the checks and balances you have to figure out.
She’s a great little girl, 10 years in the making. She’s my pride and joy and I love her to death, so that’s the best part of the week.
Q: So how many hours will you be in the truck going to California, and how do you split up the driving time?
Jellen: I usually drive first, and we go in 10-hour shifts. By law you can only drive 11. It’s about 40 hours to get out there. So we switch out. We stop to get fuel, get something to eat, check our cars out, things like that. But we can do it in about 40 hours, and that counts getting washed, getting gas, getting our groceries.
Q: After driving all across this country for more than 20 years, what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen?
Jellen: That’s the funny thing. I haven’t seen a lot of craziness. I’ve seen a lot of stupidity. You know, cars cutting you off and telling you how great they think Kyle is. There is some stuff I can’t say, but nothing that out of the ordinary.
Q: So you get a fair amount of one-finger salutes from drivers telling you what they think of Kyle?
Jellen: Oh yeah. But I’m glad Kyle’s my driver because he gets it done.
Q: Speaking of getting it done, what was it like working with Alan Kulwicki when you first started out in NASCAR?
Jellen: Oh, that was a trip. He was a smart guy, almost too smart sometimes. But he taught me a lot. We worked on the cars together; we worked on the truck together. It was a small team, so everyone was close-knit and everyone did everything.
He could drive you nuts sometimes, but he was always teaching you something, too. He taught you about racing, he taught you about the money, he taught you about the sport. He taught you how to handle yourself with the sponsors.
Q: You actually had to drive the hauler out of Bristol Motor Speedway after his death? (Kulwicki, then the defending Cup champion, died in a plane crash on April 1, 1993, as he was attempting to come to Bristol following a sponsorship appearance in Knoxville, Tenn.)
Jellen: It was no fun, especially after all the success he had enjoyed [at Bristol]. He had won races on this track, and then he gets killed coming here. I heard it on the CB radio first; then I heard it on the FM radio. Long story short, I got to the race track and I didn’t know what was going to happen then. Jerry, Alan’s father who passed away just a couple of years ago, told us we could try to race if we wanted but he really thought we should come on home. So I got in the truck and made a couple of laps with the guys to kind of honor Alan. And once we left, we really thought we weren’t coming back racing. [Kulwicki’s father kept the team running that year with substitute drivers and later sold the team to Geoff Bodine].
Q: What has it been like working at Joe Gibbs Racing the past 14 years?
Jellen: The team has really grown. I’ve won two championships — one with Alan and one with Bobby [Labonte, when Labonte was with JGR]. I’ve been around when Tony [Stewart] won his two, and with all the success Denny [Hamlin] has had and all the success Kyle has had. … I’ve been pretty blessed. This sport has been very good to me. I’ve got no complaints.
Q: Does Kyle draw the biggest reaction from fans, good and bad, of any driver you’ve worked with?
Jellen: A lot of good, yes. People forget that. But some bad, too. They all know I’m not Kyle, so when I pull in somewhere with the hauler and someone starts in on me, I’m always like, ‘Look, I’m not Kyle. If you don’t like Kyle, I’m sorry. There are 42 other drivers you can choose.’
But the reason they don’t like Kyle is because he’s beating their driver. It’s kind of fun. … It’s all positive stuff, because the kid is good. You can’t take that from him. And Kyle’s a good guy. He’s a good-hearted guy, he’s good to us. He expects a lot from us because he gives us a lot. If he’s giving us 110 percent, he expects us to give it back to him. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Q: So in addition to driving the hauler, you double as the race-day cook? What was on the menu at Bristol?
Jellen: Pork loin, chicken breast — and I’ve got some steamed vegetables for the guys along with little mini-potatoes.
Q: I’m guessing you didn’t cook steamed vegetables back when you were working with Alan?
Jellen: Uh, we had baloney sandwiches. My wife made pasta once in a while, but that was it.