Frye a perfect fit for tall task
"Over? Did you say 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no!
And it ain't over now. Cause when the goin' gets tough, the tough get goin'. Who's with me? Let's go!"
-- John "Bluto" Blutarsky, "National Lampoon's Animal House."
The 2008 Sprint Cup season wasn't going so well for Red Bull Racing Team, so general manager Jay Frye gathered his troops, dimmed the lights in the conference room and unleashed John (Bluto) Belushi's famous Delta House fraternity speech from the 1978 movie classic.
The tension quickly vanished.
Perhaps it's time for Frye to dust off the video again. Things again aren't going so well for Red Bull, which -- as we learned Monday -- plans to leave NASCAR at the end of this season.
Fortunately, the organization has the right man to hold things together.
Frye probably never thought saving Sprint Cup organizations would be his calling when he finished playing tight end/offensive tackle at the University of Missouri and graduated with a degree in marketing. He probably never thought he'd be involved in NASCAR, period, until he began managing Valvoline's racing program in 1991 and two years later landed an office at Hendrick Motorsports.
But he has proved to be pretty good at it, overseeing the transition of MB2 Motorsports to Ginn Motorsports in the summer of 2006, bringing in veteran Mark Martin to give the roster credibility. He then initiated the merger between Ginn Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007.
Now Frye is being called on to find investors and sponsors to keep RBRT's two-car operation running. Despite the challenge of finding financial backers in a tough economy and having no driver under contract past this season, there is nothing but confidence in his voice as he talks of putting together the pieces that might include some continued support from Red Bull through 2012.
"We're in really good shape that this thing will continue for a long time," Frye said Tuesday.
Frye is in better shape for the immediate future than he ever was at MB2 or Ginn Racing. Both were in dire financial straits, often not knowing whether they would make it to the next race, much less the next year.
Red Bull's issues aren't financial as much as the fact that attracting the 18-34 age group the company targets isn't currently NASCAR's strong suit.
Nevertheless, Red Bull has assured Frye that the organization will finish this season with Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne, and the Austria-based energy drink company has hinted strongly that, if need be, it will remain involved to some extent through next year to keep everything running.
"There is no comparison," Frye said of this challenge versus the ones he faced at MB2 and Ginn. "The situations there were catastrophic on a week-to-week basis from a financial situation. This is not a financial situation in any way. Red Bull is committed to keeping the program going until the end of the season.
"We're going to finish this season strong."
Frye had an almost Belushi-like tone to his voice as the word "strong" trailed off his lips. In an odd sort of way, saving RBRT is no different from saving Delta House, only the drink of choice here is vodka and Red Bull instead of beer.
"I expect to win the race at Sonoma this weekend," said Frye, who hadn't indulged in any such beverage. "I expect to make the Chase."
And most of RBRT's 150-plus employees are with Frye, as the frat boys were with Belushi.
Most also are hoping Frye, with the help of Red Bull's worldwide connections, can save their jobs. Frye knows what it's like to lay off large quantities of employees. He had to let 75 go at once when Ginn merged with DEI.
"It's more nauseous," he said at the time. "The way it ended was not the way we wanted it to end. It was the worst thing, at this point in my life, I've had to do."
But it is from that experience that Frye is better prepared to handle this one. He's already been on the phone "dealing with people I had dealt with in past situations like this."
Some have shown so much enthusiasm that Frye admits things could turn around really fast and be really good if everything falls into place.
Frye won't name names, other than to say that the investors currently are outside of NASCAR and that some have ties with Red Bull that could lead to marketing or other business opportunities down the road.
And he's far from feeling nauseous.
"We're not far down the road, but in a short period of time, we've made some very good inroads," Frye said. "It's a great team. It's a great company. It's a unique situation. It's very unique."
There will be much speculation over the coming weeks. And for the record, when Frye says he has contacted names from the past, he's not referring to Teresa Earnhardt and DEI.
"No, that would not be one of them," he said with a laugh.
Oh well. Having DEI back in the sport would be nice, but we might never see that.
We're not far down the road, but in a short period of time, we've made some very good inroads. It's a great team. It's a great company. It's a unique situation. It's very unique.” -- Jay Frye
You probably can cross Danica Patrick with Hendrick Motorsports support off the list, as well, although you can't totally cross off HMS supplying engines if the new owner isn't tied to current manufacturer Toyota.
One rumor has Frye reuniting with 52-year-old Martin and up-and-coming Red Bull driver Cole Whitt in a second car. Frye says there have been no conversations about that yet, but he didn't close the door.
And don't forget, Frye and Rick Hendrick are pretty tight. If Hendrick can find a way to keep Martin in the Chevrolet fold and two more cars to supply engines to -- big business in today's world -- he'll do it.
"He's a great friend, someone I confide in often on lots of different things," Frye said of Hendrick. "I'm very fortunate to have that ability to call him. Who knows what the future holds?"
The important thing to remember is there will be a future for RBRT, or whatever it is called after this season, if Frye has his way. He's been through this before and is better prepared than maybe anyone else in the garage for this kind of job.
He's a salesman, and a darn good one. He was close to stealing Clint Bowyer away from Richard Childress Racing before Red Bull officials dropped the bomb on him a few weeks ago.
"We have good contacts," Frye said. "We have an understanding of what people want to see. If you are going to talk to a prospect, it is important to know what they want to look at, what their expectations are, to anticipate their questions.
"The first time I went through this, we tried to anticipate, but I didn't know exactly what they were looking for."
Again, there is confidence in his voice.
But it wasn't confidence his daughters -- 7-year-old Addy and 5-year-old Emmy -- were looking for when they listened to their daddy explain Red Bull's situation to reporters on a Tuesday conference call.
They didn't want to know about RBRT's future at all as they continually asked their mother whether they could press *1 on the telephone to ask a question.
"[They] wanted to ask me if we are still going to build a bear," Frye said. "Puts it all in perspective."
And in case you're wondering, Frye is almost as good at building bears as he is at rebuilding Cup teams, only race employees typically respond better to Belushi than his daughters do.
"We're going to have another meeting on Tuesday," Frye said. "I may have to pull that one out again."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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