MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Matt McCall will have a different view for the STP 500 than what he’s accustomed to at Martinsville Speedway.
For most of his racing career, McCall has viewed the historic track through the windshield of his Late Model Stock Car competing in the MDCU 300, NASCAR’s richest and most prestigious Late Model race.
Next spring McCall will be sitting atop a pit box for the STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, calling the shots as crew chief for veteran driver Jamie McMurray. McCall, who has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was tabbed last month to take over as McMurray’s crew chief at Chip Ganassi Racing.
He spent the last four years at Richard Childress Racing and served as Ryan Newman’s car engineer in 2014.
“I came in (to the Ganassi shops) the week after Homestead (the season finale) and tried to get my feet wet, not drowned, but a little wet,” said McCall in a phone interview Monday. “It is pretty exciting to get an opportunity like this.”
For more than a decade McCall was one of the top Late Model drivers in Virginia and the Carolinas, frequently visiting victory lane while running about 35 races a year. In 2008 he had nine victories and three poles and followed up with similar performances the next few years.
McCall was always strong in the MDCU 300 at Martinsville with several top-five finishes. In 2011 he was leading the race on the final lap but was the victim of a bump-and-run from the eventual winner in turn three and wound up fifth.
“We finished from second to fifth numerous times,” McCall said of his Martinsville Speedway performances. “We were really, really close a couple of times.”
Over the last two or three years his on-track competition dwindled as his Cup career blossomed. McCall said the move wasn’t a conscious decision, but a different direction he knew he had to pursue.
“I think it was when my wife tricked me and I got married and had to quit playing,” McCall jokingly said about his move away from a fulltime driving schedule. “After a while, as you get older, more mature, you have to attempt to make a living and provide for yourself.”
McCall competed in just two races this year, but even with his new job he hopes to continue to dabble in weekly racing.
“On the off weekends as long as I can go play a little bit, it gives me a fix,” he said. “With the new job, I’m going to give it (driving) an effort, try to plan enough ahead. We have three off weekends, if it all works out, I’ll try, but it will probably be the week of a race before I make a decision.”
The one race he won’t be able to make is the MDCU 300 at Martinsville. It always falls on the weekend of a Sprint Cup race. But he figures with the rough finish in 2011 and engine problems in his final Martinsville appearance a year later, the track owes him and he wants to collect.
“It may be years down the road, I may even be an old man, but I want to come back there and try to win.”