Peterson's Tibbetts works magic for NASCAR

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Forty-year old Tracy Tibbetts would rather be working in the car racing business than anything he can think of.

"It beat's working, that's for sure," said Tibbetts, a Peterson native now living in this North Carolina city about 30 miles north of Charlotte.

Tibbetts works on chassis' for cars owned by the famous Winston Car Cup team Roush Racing. This past Nascar season, Roush Racing produced two top 20 points finishers in the Winston Cup standings, including overall points champion Matt Kenseth.

Tibbetts built most of the chassis for Kenseth's car along with 20th-place finisher Greg Biffel's chassis as well.

"It's a real thrill to win a race let alone win a Winston-Cup points championship," Tibbetts said in a phone interview with the Pilot-Tribune Sunday night. "It really is an accomplishment to win a race, but winning a championship is real icing on the cake."

Yet Tibbetts' rise to the top of the NASCAR business didn't come easily, or without a few setbacks and some sacrifice.

"At times, I had to find other jobs to work at along with pursuing my dream of working for NASCAR," Tibbetts said. "It wasn't all easy, but it was worth it."

A dream came true for Tibbetts Dec. 5 in New York City, where NASCAR held its annual awards ceremony at the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

During the ceremonies, Kenseth, who won one NASCAR race this season but won on the depth of many top ten finishes, thanked all his pit members and mechanics who worked on his car.

"I remember exactly 13 years ago, a day before my oldest son was born and we were watching the NASCAR awards ceremony on TV," Tibbetts said. "To be there in person - with each of the top ten drivers there and many more - was a real dream come true."

Tibbetts is married to Aurelia native Charlotte Watts Tibbetts.

"She helped see me through all of this and stuck with me the whole way," Tracy said.

Tibbetts said he became interested in building and fixing cars at an early age, and is self-taught.

"I just started fixing and messing around with cars when I was about 13 or 14," he said. "I used to read 'Hot Rod' and other racing magazines when I was younger but I simply taught myself most of what I know. I knew I always wanted to work with cars and particularly in the racing industry."

Tibbetts' was a steady climb up the ladder. He actually raced cars at the figure eight track in Primghar, Iowa for a time. He also raced in Alta for a couple of seasons

Then he began building cars for C.J. Rayburn Co. in Tennessee for a while, but came back to Story City, Iowa in the mid-1990's to help build Modified Cars for Harris Racing there.

"After that, I started sending out resumes, mostly to companies in North Carolina," he said.

All his persistence finally paid off. In 1999, he worked for Andy Petrie Racing. which owned several Winston Cup cars. Among them was the Skol Bandit car driven by Henry Schrader and the No. 55 car driven by Kenny Wallace.

Tibbetts also helped build chassis' for Winston Cup winners Bobby Hamilton and Joe Niemencheck.

He was hired by Roush Racing in December of 2002.

He said he built the front and back part of the chassis of Kenseth's No. 17 car, and also for rookie Greg Biffel, who finished 20th in the Winston Cup Standings this past season.

Kenseth's' win came in Las Vegas, but according to Tibbetts, the Winston Cup champion's trademark was consistency.

"And for Greg to be just a rookie and finish 20th, that's pretty good," Tibbetts said.

During the races, Tibbetts is right where all the action is at - in the pit crew.

"It was a real thrill the first couple of races to be that up close," he said. "But after a while, it gets to be pretty routine and you get used to it."

Nevertheless, he was surprised his first few races how people would greet him.

"People would come up to me and because I was in a uniform, want my autograph," he said. "Even though I wasn't famous or anything, they still wanted the signature. That was kind of overwhelming to me."

Meanwhile, the NASCAR season is a long one and the offseason is short. But for car builders in the Busch and Winston Cup Series, from now until February is the busiest time of the season, he said.

"That's when we go to work and build most everything on the cars," he said. "After the actual racing season starts, it slows down a little bit."

As for his future, Tibbetts said he hopes to stay with Roush Racing as long as he can.

"If everything keeps going as well as it has, I would work there until I retire," he said.

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