DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Mike Skinner has seen just about everything, both high and low, the Truck Series has to offer. The inaugural series champion back in 1995, Skinner now finds himself in a development seat for 2011, offering a veteran perspective on both the equipment and team that Eddie Sharp has assembled in trying to make the challenging jump from ARCA to big-time NASCAR. Though Skinner missed the field at Daytona, optimism remains high this opportunity could turn into a full-time deal that would allow one of the sport’s aging but productive veterans to have one final shot at a Truck title.
Can he do it? What are the goals and expectations? And how far is he willing to stretch himself to keep competing? Frontstretch caught up with Skinner earlier in Speedweeks to discuss his new ride and role with the Eddie Sharp truck organization.
Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch: Talk about your new ride. You’re in a second truck for Eddie Sharp Racing.
Mike Skinner: Well, we kind of put this thing together last minute. Eddie [Sharp] called me a few nights ago and asked me if I wanted to run his second truck, and I said sure, let’s work on it. So I told my wife Angie, she got on the phone and talked to our friends at E-Z-Go, they’ve got a brand called Cushman. They’ve been in business for 110 years this year and they said they’ll put their brand on there.
A good friend of mine, a home builder in the area, jumped on board for Daytona and decided to get some recognition for their local folks, let everyone know they’re out there building new homes even in a tough economy and that we’ve got a lot of homes out there. Then Toyota pitched in, everyone’s kind of pitched in and made this thing work.
Keith: Talking about that, you’ve driven for an established team for the past few seasons. Now, you’re coming to Daytona and planning to move forward with a last-minute deal. How much of an adjustment is that, to really not have a plan?
Skinner: It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I really like. Eddie Sharp and I have been friends for a long time, and when he told me a couple years ago that he wanted to get into Truck racing, first of all I told him he was crazy. Then I told him, go find lots of money and have fun. Now here we are.
It’s OK if you know going into it that you’re helping somebody build something. You know, I’m not willing to come over here anymore and be with an established team and think running 10th is good, because I want to win. I’m not satisfied with that. When you’re building something, that’s a goal. You’ve got to run in the top 10. You get to the top 10, you start shooting for the top five. You start running in the top five in any of NASCAR’s top-three series, you’re going to win a race now and then.
Our goal right now is to get out there, get these guys some exercise, get these guys figured out. This is what we need to do to make the truck faster. We need to get a communications database with the driver. Once we start working on that, two or three races down the road, we move our goals up. We need to do better, we need to make the trucks faster. It’s a challenge, it’s OK. My expectations are always to go out and try to win, but right now I need to help get this team to the next level, help my teammate over there Craig Goess, get the No. 46 Truck in better shape. [We do that], I’ll feel like we did our homework, we did our job.
Keith: Talking about that, Craig had a lot of success in ARCA, this team had a lot of success in ARCA. They’re taking a step up here. You’ve been here awhile by comparison; so what role does that have you playing besides driving the truck? What does your presence in this stable bring to the table?
Skinner: I think it’s the vision and the experience. I think having the seat time and experience… I’ve been with the teams that had all the money, I’ve been with the teams that had no money, I’ve been with the teams that are in between. Utilizing your resources and doing what you do, I think that’s our goal right now and that’s what I can bring.
I can sit down with Eddie after the race on Monday or Tuesday and tell him this is what I think we did right, this is what I think we did wrong, here’s the top 10 things we need to work on now and here’s some long-range goals. You know, hopefully we can put some sponsorship together and hang around to help these guys out for a few races. Put enough sponsors together and we’ll be here all year.
Keith: What’s the deal with your current Cup schedule?
Skinner: We’re looking at possibly doing some development work for a few Cup teams and to continue our involvement with Toyota, help them continue to develop the engines and chassis on the Truck side. Right now, we’re scheduled to run Phoenix and Vegas for Frankie [Stoddard] and we’ll just see what happens after that.
Keith: Talk a little about your involvement with Toyota. You’ve been with them since they came over, been very successful. What’s their involvement been at ESR and what have they done so right as a manufacturer?
Skinner: I think they’ve embraced Eddie Sharp because of his success in the ARCA Series. If he utilizes all those resources, he’ll move his Truck deal closer to being as competitive as his ARCA efforts.
Keith: You’re searching for sponsorship in a bad economic climate; what’s the key in approaching such a task?
Skinner: If I knew that, we’d already have something on the side of the truck. [But], in a day, we found enough sponsorship to run Daytona. We’re working on things for Phoenix right now, but the day will come when we don’t have anything and then we’ll have a tough decision to make. The things that I can do is work cheap, help build, help pull the rope.
If I need to go fly somewhere and meet with sponsors, talk to them, Angie and I are the best at doing that out here. We can get it done, we can make sure their experience at the race track is second to none, just as we’ve done in years past. We’re blessed to be able to do that and to have the connections that in the past have allowed us to do that.
Keith: How cheap does that go? What can you do, when that day comes, to pull an unsponsored race out of your pocket?
Skinner: Well, I don’t know that I’m wealthy enough to retire, but they’re not going to turn off my lights in the next week or two at home. I can help a friend out for a few races. At some point though, you’ve got to put your business hat back on, and so do they. You can’t race these trucks for nothing, and I can’t drive them for nothing forever. But we can put a good effort forward here the first two or three races and put together what we can, and see what comes of it.
About the author
Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.