Many people who have reached the top of their profession will share how they started at the very bottom and worked their way up.
Few can match Steve Letarte’s strange-but-true rise to the top of the NASCAR world.
The NASCAR on NBC color commentator shared his improbable journey in the sport this week with host Brandon Contes on the Awful Announcing Podcast.
Before he joined NBC in 2015, Letarte served as a Hendrick Motorsports crew chief, first with Jeff Gordon then later with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Letarte won 15 NASCAR Cup races as crew chief, and his drivers finished in the top 10 in the standings eight times.
But long before he started hoisting race trophies in victory lane, Letarte had other, more humbling duties at Hendrick.
Like cleaning the restrooms.
Letarte had been around racing from an early age, as his father built race cars in Maine. When he moved to North Carolina to take a job in NASCAR, the family became neighbors with Ray Evernham, Gordon’s first NASCAR Cup Series crew chief.
Letarte said Evernham invited him to the Hendrick Motorsports race shop when he turned 16, stuck a broom in his hand and put him to work..
“[Evernham] said, ‘Why don’t you start coming in and start sweeping the floors?’” Letarte recalls. “The weekend I turned 16, I started sweeping the floors in the shop and the truth is I just never left.
“You know, I tell everyone there’s nothing I haven’t done and people think, ‘Oh, you know, this guy’s bragging.’ No, I mean, like I’ve cleaned the bathrooms, I’ve washed the vans. I’ve cleaned the wheels for the car all the way up to, you know, the strategist.
“You do what everybody else doesn’t wanna do, right? You’re the guy that washes the hauler that brings the cars or you clean the coolers and restock them with water for the next week.
Letarte said he wouldn’t change a thing about his humble start.
“I mean, you are the labor force and I loved every second of it,” he said.
Along the way, Letarte absorbed everything about the NASCAR experience. He literally worked his way up the ladder one rung at a time, becoming Gordon’s tire specialist, then a mechanic, then car chief, before becoming crew chief at age 26.
Now, the 44-year-old Letarte is sharing all the experience he’s picked up through the years with NASCAR fans tuning into NBC. The network will cap the 2023 season with the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race from Phoenix Raceway Sunday at 3 p.m. (ET). It’s also available via streaming on Peacock.
Letarte knows there will be many new fans tuning into the championship race, and he thinks that’s great. He likens the NASCAR playoffs to the Olympics, giving casual fans a chance to see something exciting, even if they’re not experts in the sport.
“I think that’s the beauty of the current state of global motor sport, is we don’t want this to be a club, right?” Letarte said. “Everybody come on in, racing is awesome. You don’t have to know what’s going on.
“It’s kind of like the Olympics, every four years, the Summer Olympics come, or the Winter Olympics. … Like, I watch some handball. I love handball. … I don’t know anything about it, but I’m entertained.
“So that’s what we try to do in the motorsport world. Come on in. It’s an open book.”
[Photo Credit: Awful Announcing]