TRACKSIDE with RICK MINTER (April 4, 2016)

TRACKSIDE with RICK MINTER (April 4, 2016)

Senoia Raceway fans, drivers, crew members and family can look forward to this new weekly blog from journalist Rick Minter.  Rick has been reporting on motorsports at Senoia Raceway and elsewhere since 1976.



Back in the day when I traveled the NASCAR circuit a lot more than I do now, rarely a week went by that I didn’t have a conversation with Ronny Crooks, the shock specialist who helped some of the sport’s greatest drivers find their way to Victory Lane.


 You’ve probably seen him on TV with his shoulder-length gray hair and gray beard. He’s played a role in wins by Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Ward Burton and his first boss, Bobby Allison. He’s also had a hand, behind the scenes of course, in a lot of newspaper stories, some by me and some by others.


 Credible stories in NASCAR don’t come just from press conferences and official pronouncements. To put things in proper perspective it takes some “insider” knowledge. That information comes from people like Ronny Crooks, who understand and appreciate the role of the media.


 Most of the teams that employed him had rules prohibiting people like him from talking to people like me unless they went through the “proper channels,” which meant they’d probably never get permission to talk.


  Ronny never paid any attention to that. And those of us who were friends with him never put his name in a story. But a lot of stories were influenced by the knowledge gained from him.


 He helped us understand what rules changes really meant, told us which drivers and their crew chiefs weren’t getting along, which drivers had the talent and which ones didn’t, what was going on with tires, with shocks, with aerodynamics.


 Once we got to talking old-school set-ups, and I told him about a trick Leon Archer used to use at Senoia and other tracks back in the day. He’d use a piece of chain to pick up the lower left A-frame of the car on acceleration, which gave his No. 222 a distinct handling advantage.


 Ronny said the same thing would work on a Cup car, and a few weeks later, Tony Stewart ran a race at New Hampshire with his No. 20 car fixed just like Archer’s.


 NASCAR didn’t like it and made him take off the chain, but Ronny accomplished the same thing by tinkering with the shocks.


 Despite the wins and the championships he was a part of, the rigors of the Cup schedule, and the politics and the changing ways of the NASCAR world wore on Ronny. A couple of years ago, Penske Shocks offered him a job that let him work in circuits with more open rules and more challenges. Crooks accepted.


 Since then, he’s worked on suspension designs for drag racer Erica Enders and on shocks for dirt Late Models and any other racing vehicle that uses shocks.


 Easter Weekend found Crooks working at Senoia Raceway in Georgia on the Late Model cars driven by Chris Madden and Casey Roberts among others.


 “I wouldn’t want my bosses to know it, but I feel like I’m getting paid to hunt and fish,” said Crooks, who recently was inducted into the Alabama Auto Racing Pioneers Hall of Fame. “Actually I don’t hunt and fish. Racing is my job and my hobby. If I wasn’t here for work, I’d probably be here anyway.”


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