The championship lineage of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice team of Stewart-Haas Racing is impressive and deep.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet has won 11 titles in his 30-year driving career, including two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships (2002 and 2005). And his crew chief, Darian Grubb, earned a Sprint Cup championship in 2006 as the lead engineer for the No. 48 team of Hendrick Motorsports and driver Jimmie Johnson.
But the championships earned don’t stop at the driver/crew chief level. They continue onto the shop floor at Stewart-Haas Racing, with front mechanic Cam Strader bringing an impressive title in the form of his 2001 NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series championship.
“I feel very fortunate to be with a company that has a lot of racers in it,” said Strader, who grew up in a racing family and as a driver climbed all the way to the NASCAR Nationwide Series. “It’s great. You can still talk and relate. They’ve been through the same struggles.”
Trying to make a career in racing, especially as a driver, is filled with struggle. Success isn’t achieved easily.
“I raced full-time, but I was living above the garage in the crew chief’s house. I didn’t have heat or anything like that. I was struggling the whole time financially, but it was still fun and I didn’t care about that,” Strader said.
The fun began when Strader was 10. The Wilson, N.C.-native raced go-karts on dirt until he was 15 and advanced to the Late Model Stock Truck division at Southern National Raceway Park in Kenly, N.C. After only a year, Strader moved up to the track’s premier Late Model Stock division in 1998. After two years in Late Models with four wins and back-to-back third-place point finishes, Strader made the jump to the Dash Series in 2000.
The entry-level NASCAR touring series operated from 1975 through 2003 and featured sub-compact stock cars with a 100-inch wheelbase and the choice of a 168 cubic-inch, 13:1 compression four-cylinder engine or a 268 cubic-inch, 9:1 compression V-6.
At age 19, Strader became the series’ rookie of the year thanks to one win, two poles and 11 top-five finishes. He followed up that season by winning the Dash Series championship in 2001 with four wins, two poles, 14 top-fives and 16 top-10s. Strader ran the Dash Series for one final full season in 2002, where he picked up another win before running only three events in 2003 as he attempted to make the jump to ARCA and the Nationwide Series. Yet even with just a three-race schedule, Strader scored two victories.
“We would have 30 cars show up to an event and there was a lot of really good competition back when I was racing in the Dash Series,” Strader said. “We had some good years there with the rookie of the year title in 2000 and the championship in 2001. In 2002 and 2003, we were kind of part-time racing and trying to do some bigger events with a few ARCA and Nationwide races here and there.”
Strader drove in three ARCA races with a best finish of third, which came in his first ARCA start in March 2002 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He attempted to qualify for a 2002 Nationwide Series race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway for Means Racing, but the underfunded team didn’t make the show.
“Sponsorship was hard to get. The exposure in the Dash Series wasn’t the greatest. We just never could get the finances to continue on.”
The decision to quit driving was a tough one.
“When I first got out of driving, it was really hard,” said Strader, now 30. “Over the years, I’ve kind of come to accept everything. That part of my life led me into a good career, and a great career working for an organization like Stewart-Haas Racing.”
While Strader’s driving career stopped, his motorsports career did not, as he went to work for Hendrick Motorsports in its research and development department in 2004.
“I worked in the R&D department for two years, and then I moved over to the Nationwide Series team on the ‘5’ car as a front mechanic for a year. After that, I assumed the car chief role there for three years working mainly with Kyle Busch and Casey Mears. We always had a lot of different drivers through my time. Then JR Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports merged, so I continued the car chief role for two years over at JR Motorsports. Even served as the interim crew chief for a bit and won a race with Ron Fellows at Montreal.”
The experience of being a driver has served Strader well in his second motorsports career.
“If I had my choice, I would still be driving, but I always look at my current job as if I was still in the seat and ask, ‘What would make the best change?’ or ‘What would be the best place to make a different change?’ and things like that. It definitely helps.”
That mechanical acumen combined with his experience behind the wheel was on display in Strader’s final appearance in a Dash Series car.
It was the Pabst Blue Ribbon 150 on Aug. 21, 2003 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, and on a whim, Strader decided to enter the 150-lap race on the tight and fast .533-mile bullring.
“We put together a Dash car a week before the race. We had just up and decided to go race it. We got everything together, worked all night through the whole week. We went there and we ended up winning the race. That was always really neat to me. Just spur of the moment, last minute and ended up going to Bristol and getting the win.”
Now Strader gets to enjoy a rare off-weekend on the marathon-like Sprint Cup tour before heading back to Bristol for next weekend’s Food City 500. There, he’ll look to end up back in victory lane with Stewart and the Office Depot/Old Spice team of Stewart-Haas Racing.