Generation gap seen as having little to do with friction within teams
Sometimes the communication gap between drivers on the same Sprint Cup team can be a bigger obstacle to achieving harmony than a gap in the teammates' ages.
For four full seasons, teammates Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman shared the same car owner [Roger Penske] but little else. Both men were and are accomplished drivers who knew how to get to Victory Lane. Wallace won a NASCAR championship, 55 races and 36 poles during his storied career. Newman won eight races and 11 poles in the 2003 season alone, and won the Daytona 500 just last month.
"It was pretty obvious I couldn't communicate the way I really wanted to with Ryan Newman," Wallace said. "I was just a lot older than him. Our thoughts were opposite and our personalities different. I'm a very outgoing guy and a seat-of-the-pants type of driver. Ryan is a quiet guy. He's an engineer, a new age guy when it comes to information."
And so when both cars struggled to find speed at a track, neither guy was of much help to the other.
"Answers just weren't the same to questions about the cars," Wallace said. "If our cars weren't running right, I might change the springs. They would want to work on something else."
It was old school versus engineering school. The 21-year gap in their ages played a significant role in their inability to find common ground. But Wallace said age was not the primary reason he and Newman didn't get along.
"I think drivers of different ages can communicate just fine if their personalities are close to the same," he said. "I just really had a struggle with Ryan. He's a big fisherman. I'm a big golfer. There was just no common interest.
"Jeremy Mayfield and I always got along fine, even though what we wanted in the car was totally different. I get along great with David Stremme, who drives for me in the Nationwide series. We get along so well it's amazing. We see eye to eye really well. Jamie McMurray, same thing."
Another case of teammates who didn't exactly click was the tandem of Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner. Both had strong cars every year on the superspeedways. But it seemed that Earnhardt, six years Skinner's senior, had no interest in helping his younger teammate out on the track. Now in the Craftsman truck series, Skinner says he understands his late teammate's attitude.
"When I was at Richard Childress Racing, it was just about the time that two- and three-car teams came about," Skinner said. "Dale didn't want a teammate. He didn't think he needed a teammate, and didn't see the value of having another team to share information with.
Again, the difference is between the "Been there, done that" generation and the younger one out to prove itself. But like Wallace, Skinner is skeptical of age being the biggest factor in lack of communication.
"I don't know that age makes that much of a difference," Skinner said. "I think it's the status more than the age. You're not going to be on the same level of the food chain as a Jeff Gordon or a Dale Earnhardt. You just have to realize that going in.
"I'm doing stuff right now with Red Bull Racing with A.J. Allmendinger (24-year age difference), and he's been great to work with. I'm also working with Brian Vickers (26 years). Vickers likes to pick my brain whenever he can. He's decided he's going to use this old-timer to help learn the ins and outs of the sport, because he knows I've been around so long."
At 22, Kyle Busch is one of the youngest drivers in the sport. He says he might be more inclined to get more out of a younger teammate in terms of general communication, but downplays the notion that he couldn't get what he needed from someone much older.
"It might matter a little bit because if you're the same age, you might listen to the same kind of music or have been through some of the same kinds of things growing up," Busch said. "But it probably matters more what kind of personality you have than how old you are. Some guys are chill and some are high-strung. So I think your personalities affect how well you get along and maybe how well you communicate more than how old you are."
For parents and kids everywhere, there is hope.