Many teams love to say that their team is a family and that’s sometimes true. But Furniture Row Racing was a family through and through, and the man who really shaped the team to be a family was owner Barney Visser.
It was Visser’s vision to make Furniture Row Racing what it was and give his employees a sense of purpose and belonging; that working for him and his team was more than “just a job.” In fact, now that the team has shut down, at least 12 employees will remain in Denver with Visser and work at Visser Precision, learning a completely new trade while others go to North Carolina to remain in NASCAR. That tells you what kind of a person Barney Visser is and what Visser sees in the people who work for him.
“It’s been fun to be part of Barney’s team,” Truex said. “He’s a great guy. He’s really been, it’s been cool to be part of this team that he built from the ground up, and doing it his own way. He’s definitely a unique personality, but it’s really just been a pleasure to get to know him and his family and represent his race team and kind of his way of doing things. It’s been fun. So, I’ve learned a lot about what kind of guy he is, a lot about what you can do when you put your mind to things and yeah, its just been fun to be a part of his team.”
“Obviously creating a team and making it work out of Colorado is really cool and [Barney’s] given us everything we need to do our job,” Pearn said. “Obviously there’s a lot of hurdles and stuff you have to jump to do a team out there. He’s been willing to do it all along. I think at the same time, never sacrificing on what we needed, [it’s] really cool that he’s made it work and allowed us to do it from out there.”
One wrinkle to Furniture Row Racing was that the team had their headquarters in Denver and stayed out West for the entire run of the team. Being 1,500 miles from the Charlotte, NC area, where everyone else in NASCAR is based, has to have its pluses and minuses. Since there are more races based in the Eastern United States, the team needed to spend more time and money in transportation and travel. In addition, trying to recruit talent within the sport to move from Charlotte to Denver was a tough ask.
Sights and sounds from last night's 78 team send-off in Denver. 🚚
BIG #shoutout to our hauler drivers for getting us to the track and back every week and to every single person at our shop for building the best race cars in the business. #WeAreFurnitureRow pic.twitter.com/tzYjOkEr5l
— Furniture Row Racing (@FRRacingTeam) November 14, 2018
When discussing those advantages and disadvantages, Pearn noted that it might’ve been tough, but being away from everything also meant being able to focus and do their own thing.
“There’s definitely disadvantages to it for sure,” Pearn said. “But it’s nice, it’s a lot calmer and I think I really stay more focused on stuff. Then sometimes you have the periods of time where you kind of get behind and stuff. We’ve grown through those over the history of the company. I think we’ve got better at preparing to not get into those traps I guess. It’s been a learning experience along the way and we just try to continue to get better at it.”
Truex added that being in Denver meant the team got an opportunity to be a lot closer since it was just them and they worked together a lot. That, and since they were 1,500 miles away from any rival crew members, they couldn’t spill secrets with anyone when hanging out at the bar.
“Well I think one of the advantages was that our guys are a tight knit group,” Truex said. “It’s a real family atmosphere. They do everything together. They don’t go to the bar and meet up with guys from other teams and share secrets because they had too many beers or let something slip, [laughter] you know? And there is something to be said about that. But I think most importantly it’s just the team atmosphere.”
“Those guys all have a lot of pride and doing it out of Colorado, doing it different than the other guys, even though their travel hours are more and they’ve made more sacrifices as far as being away from their families more because of travel time. But they, I think, share a lot of pride in that, and at the same time they really spent a lot of time together and they’re like a little family. They’re like best friends. They’re all family. They all do everything together. They have each other’s back and it just works. They’ve got all those things going for them, and for us, I think, just being out there by ourselves when we find something, when we find an advantage, or when things are going well for us. It’s harder for other people to see how we’re doing it and get things from us.”
Because the team was situated in Colorado, Furniture Row Racing went outside the sport to look for talented individuals to propel them into a championship winning team. With people from as far as Australia and working in IndyCar or Supercars, Furniture Row Racing tapped into a market that isn’t usually looked at among other NASCAR teams. With those new ideas, along with those from people who had been in NASCAR, Furniture Row Racing took the best of the best and improved.
“There’s no question that there is, [an untapped market of talent outside of the Southeast] and this sport has come from, traditionally Southeastern “good old boys” work not that long ago, 25 years ago, and the mentality has shifted over time and I think today there’s still a lot of untapped potential,” Truex said. “I think our team’s the perfect example of that. The engineering background that the leaders of our team have, like Cole [Pearn] and our other engineers in there, guys that come from IndyCar and guys that have raced Supercars in Australia and just different, people from different areas that are able to bring in some new ideas and new ways of doing things. So, there’s absolutely more, there’s still a lot of guys in this garage that do it the old school way. And it works for some people. But the wave of the future is going more engineering and simulation and all those things that they do in other series around the world and we’ve definitely tapped into that and it’s been a positive for us. So, I would say that we’ll see more of that in the future.”
“We got two Australian engineers and I’m Canadian and we got a pretty international team,” Pearn said. “That’s what’s kind of nice about Denver in a way is it’s a little bit different lifestyle than being in North Carolina. So if you get … we have a lot of ex-IndyCar people and just people want something different than … still want to work in racing but don’t necessarily want to live in the South, so it’s kind of quite a unique opportunity.”
Crew chief Cole Pearn and driver Martin Truex Jr. were the two most visible faces of the organization. Their partnership really personified Furniture Row Racing and were a huge part in the team’s success.
Pearn came from Ontario and got his start behind the wheel. Starting in karts and following the family business (his father raced), Pearn drove late models. But when he realized he wasn’t going to get far as a driver, Pearn got his engineering degree and moved to North Carolina. What caused Pearn to move from Canada to the United States? Pearn said that it was his way to be involved in racing and felt he needed to take that leap of faith at that time.
“My dad raced short tracks of Ontario and stuff like that, so we really grew up, right when I was born, I started going on the race track,” Pearn said. “Laying on the floor of the truck. Sleeping in the pits, stuff like that. I started racing go-karts when I got old enough. Then started running cars. Then went to school for mechanical engineering. Then decided to give up my driving career and move to North Carolina.”
“I just always wanted to, you know, I grew up watching sports and stuff like that. I think when I realized I wasn’t going to make it as a driver, I knew I wanted to be involved in racing. That was really the only way was to kind of take that leap of faith [moving to North Carolina]. I was fortunate to get on with RCR [in 2007 as Kevin Harvick’s engineer] at the time and really go from there.”
While Pearn admits early on that he knew he wasn’t as good of a driver as others on the grid, he was able to take what he learned behind the wheel and apply that to being a crew chief. Like any job, you can go back on the mistakes you’ve made and come away with some life lessons. When Truex is talking to Pearn on the radio about something happening with the car, there’s a better chance that Pearn understands what Truex is talking about because he used to be behind the wheel. That can only make himself better but also help make Truex better on the track.
Truex grew up in New Jersey and like Pearn, followed the family business. His father and uncles raced and Truex started racing in karts at age 11. Truex was making a name for himself in the northeast in one of NASCAR’s regional series and once he struck a friendship and business partnership with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Truex made the move to North Carolina when he became a full-time driver on Earnhardt’s Xfinity Series team.
“[Moving to North Carolina] was always something I thought about [when] racing in the northeast, racing at Busch North series, having a lot of success and winning,” Truex said. “My goal was obviously to try to move to the next level. So, I got the opportunity to drive for Chance 2 Motorsports and Dale Jr., and that’s when I, I ran part-time in 2003 as I was still running my own team up North, and once I realized that I was going to run full-time in ’04 down South, it was like, okay, here we go, time to move and start a new life.”
“Back then it’s like you don’t know if it would be for a year or what it was going to be, but getting that opportunity was huge so I was ready to go anywhere I needed to go to be able to drive cars like that.”
Truex had immediate success racing for Dale Jr., so he had a rather smooth transition coming from the North. As he settled in NC, Truex shared how Dale Jr. helped him settle and get him prepared for immediate success.
“Honestly [moving to North Carolina] went about as smooth as you could ever imagine,” Truex said. “Dale Jr. and I became good friends, and I moved in with him for a while. Then I rented a house off him and that first season we won the championship. So it was like, it was just kind of whirlwind. It happened fast, you know. Crazy how quickly it all went and how successful it was. So I definitely got lucky and the timing was right and it was just like I hit the lottery. I just went, started winning races and been there ever since.”