How many tires do you go through? Four tires every five years? Every 10 years? Well, how about 20 in two hours?
That’s a normal race day for Chris Lawson, crew chief for one of the most successful and popular drivers on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series – Zane Smith.
In 2022, their first year together for the Front Row Motorsports team, Lawson and Smith won the Craftsman championship, taking the lead on an overtime restart and holding off defending champion Ben Rhodes to win at Phoenix Raceway.
Currently, Lawson and Smith are leading the standings after nine races with seven more to go before the playoffs begin Sept. 14.
“We’ve had a little misfortune, a couple of crashes this year,” says Lawson. “But I feel we are running strong every week. We’ll just keep continuing to control everything we can, control how fast we can be.”
It’s been a great tandem for FRM, and Lawson appreciates the talent he’s working with in Smith.
“I’ve always been a big fan of his,” Lawson says. “A lot of the reason for his success is mental. His game was already strong, and he never gets worked up. He stays calm when misfortune happens. That’s his strength. He’s seen all these situations played out many times.”
Smith seems to have a lot of strengths. Prior to winning the Craftsman Truck Series championship last year, he finished second in 2021 and 2020, when he was named Rookie of the Year and voted Most Popular Driver.
(Front Row Motorsports and Tipico have partnered on our ‘Ride with Zane’ campaign, in which for $38 you can get your name or a name of someone along with bet credits.)
Lawson has done his fair share of racing himself, in quarter midgets, late models and modifieds. He also competed in a few races in the NASCAR Busch Series, which later became sponsored by Nationwide and then Xfinity.
Lawson decided years ago to focus his career on the ‘shop’ side of racing, and he’s built up a huge skillset that’s enabled him to move to the top of the industry. He was crew chief for David Gilliland Racing (DGR) – now called TRICON – for five years before joining Front Row Motorsports, where he’s now in his fourth season.
Before entering the truck series circuit, Lawson was crew chief for NASCAR Cup Series teams Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull Racing. Some might wonder why he would go from the Cup Series – the pinnacle of NASCAR racing – to the truck series. But for Lawson, it was kind of a matter of, “been there, done that, didn’t like it much.”
“I didn’t really enjoy it,” Lawson says. “The Cup stuff is all computerized. I’m more of a hands-on guy.”
Lawson says being a crew chief in the Cup Series didn’t let him get his hands dirty, so to speak. There were too many computers, and too little grease.
“I’ve always tried to put in that extra effort that can make a difference,” Lawson says. “You can always outwork someone else, and that’s where you can really shine.”
Becoming a top-notch crew chief includes a wide array of knowledge and skills that Lawson has gathered over the years – fabricating, engineering, mechanical and more. “It pulls at all your strengths. We have a lot of experience in every aspect of what we’re doing.”
Lawson and his teammates in the FRM garage know how to help keep Smith in the lead or help Smith rally from behind and help him shave seconds off a deficit. That could include checking fuel burn rate, track temperatures, adjusting truck balance – and changing out all four truck tires several times during a race.
“Pit stops are the easiest way to make up time in a race,” Lawson says.
On non-race days, Lawson and his team are just as busy. They will be working on two trucks for the next two races, and they actually rotate through 10 total trucks. The vehicle you see Zane racing one weekend isn’t the same one you’ll see the following race.
“I’ve really enjoyed the truck series,” Lawson says. “I’ve really settled in, and I’m taking things as they come.”
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