Men Behind the Wrenches – Michael Waltrip Racing’s Tim Brown

There are many people that work in professional motorsports, and all have their own viewpoint. Some see the auto racing world behind the view of a wrench set. Some get to see it through a crash helmet visor and a racecar windshield. Tim Brown is one of few that have both angles covered.

Michael Waltrip Racing began as a self-owned team for the driver. Waltrip’s efforts in NASCAR’s then titled Busch Series were first fielded from a shop behind his residence in the North Carolina countryside. It has grown to the multi-car Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series operation. Brown oversees the suspension department that works with all of MWR’s teams and chassis.

But that does not finish the description of his racing involvement. He is also a dedicated owner-driver of a NASCAR modified team competing in the Southern Tour and at the historic Bowman Gray Stadium.

Our talk begins, of all places, at a racetrack. I am able to find some time to talk with Tim inside his large, white hauler that transports his modified. The weather forecast for the day’s scheduled race is not good. Clouds are gathering on the horizon and the Brown Motorsports’ bright blue car sits in the pit area, waiting the day’s first practice session, which is a few hours away. Still in his street clothes, the Virginia resident speaks to me in Ace Speedway’s infield.

“My grandfather owned racecars,” he answers my first question about how he first caught the racing bug and also answers my modified division question before it was asked. “(He) owned modifieds while I was growing up and had as many as five cars running at one time. I grew up playing in them and playing on them and grew up going to the racetrack and I knew from that time that’s what I wanted to do.”

Roger Hill, Johnny Johnson and Jerry Cook are some of the big modified names that have filled the seat of the Ed Clifton-owned racecars that caught the eye of a young Tim Brown.

I continued questioning him about his childhood goals and asked him if he wanted to be a professional Cup driver. “Still do,” he bottom-lined. “There are so many people that could be there that (are not) there. It’s all about money. I spend more money doing this (racing modifieds) than I can afford. This is it. I can’t go any higher.”

But the pilot of the Hayes Jewelers-sponsored machine points out he is getting a chance to make his Nationwide Series debut later this season. “We are going to run a few races with Rick Ware Racing. The schedule is not really set but we’ll get some races in. If I’ve got a shot at winning the (NASCAR Southern Modified) Tour here I wouldn’t miss a race to go run that (Nationwide Series).

“If I am leading the points at the (Bowman Gray) Stadium or have a shot at it I definitely wouldn’t jeopardize the championship just to go run a few races. That may be the wrong way to look at it, but it’s a deal where after our season is over there are still some (Nationwide) races left to run.”

Brown made his racing start not in a beginner class, but right in the high horsepower modifieds, the fastest car NASCAR has under their sanction. “Concord (N.C.) was my first race,” he referenced.

Another long time southern modified division driver draws high praise from Tim, Al Hill. “He has been like a second dad to me. He has taught me so much about racing and life. He is one of my best friends and a great competitor.”

But during the week he is out of the cockpit and making a living helping other drivers be successful. David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose, in addition to Waltrip, are at the controls of the cars running on the suspensions built from the department in which Brown leads.

“That’s my career. As my job goes, I give 120% there, to make sure my department gives 120%, so when we (MWR) show up at the racetrack we do a really good job. Reutimann just sat on the pole at Texas, Ambrose is doing phenomenal, and Michael is doing well too. There is no reason we shouldn’t have a car in the Chase this year with the performance we’re building out of that shop. Everybody at MWR is doing a great job. We are on the verge of winning races and being competitive week-in and week-out.”

The Winston-Salem native describes his team owner, “With Michael it is pretty simple, what you see is what you get. He is always cheerful and happy. Always fun to be around. Very serious when it comes to his company doing well in the Cup Series. Gives us everything we need to prepare great racecars and it is starting to show. I love my job and will do whatever it takes to keep MWR running as good as possible.”

The seven-time Bowman Gray Stadium Champion has a hard time narrowing down just one favorite accomplishment. “I enjoy it all. Any time we are in victory lane I’m not sure it wasn’t sweeter than the last time just because it is so hard to get there.” The victory resume can boast the annual 200-lap Stadium season opener and numerous touring checkered flags. “If I had to pick one, the first time I won Caraway (Asheboro, N.C.). As long as I have raced there, I finally won last year. That was one of my biggest wins for my team because we have struggled there in the past. We ran second there six times and wondered ‘Are we ever going to win here?”

His team is filled with talented people like many grassroots level operations. His wife Laura, Ben Brown, Mark and his daughter Nicole Ruhmann, Tony Widner, Dennis and Travis Jarrett, Johnny Ireland, Denis Pruchnik, Brandon Smith, and Marty Mitchen provide the help Tim needs.

Circle K Convenience Stores occupy some prime sponsorship space on the Troyer chassis. “Since I am going to drive for them in the Nationwide deal this gives them extra publicity.”

His off-track racing activity is something Tim devotes time to but does not get the publicity that his on-track actions result in.

“Her Mom and Dad tried to keep it a secret,” the story of a birthday surprise for a young fan starts. “They told her ‘we are going to go out for your birthday’ and they were going to a little Mexican restaurant that’s on my way home.” The young fan’s parents told him, “If you could just stop by and say hello it would mean the world to her.” On his way home from work Brown described her Dad as “waiting outside for me.”

“I gave her a poster from our championship banquet, and the trophy from the last race we won at the Stadium for her birthday present.” Brown went on about the twelve-year-old’s party. “It was pretty sweet, to see the joy that it gave to her and her family. Her grandma and some aunts were with her and they were all super nice and appreciative.

“I try to do as much of that as I can. Whether it does or does not make me a better person I feel better about myself. As long as I can do things like that, I will.”

As the day grew later and practice time neared Tim and his team had to continue their race preparation. Track competition meetings were scheduled and some car work still needed completion. I thanked him for his time and left the car hauler confines. Unfortunately the event fell victim to rain later that evening. Before our conversation ended Brown left me with an impression of a true racer who understands the value of race fans.

“I have a pretty hectic schedule but I find it pretty easy to take thirty minutes out of my day. If it wasn’t for the fans we wouldn’t be here racing. If we run a race and nobody came up there,” as he gestures towards Ace’s grandstands, “regardless if they pull for me or you or whoever, we wouldn’t have a race.”