Saturday, September 18, 2021

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Mike Skinner reflects back on career and Dale Earnhardt

When you look at NASCAR as a whole, the Camping World Truck Series is well known by fans. Though, there was a day when things were different.

The series got off the ground in 1995 and had small humble beginnings with the start of the series coming on short tracks. That first year of the series also saw a new star come to light in the form of Mike Skinner. Skinner dominated that season driving for Richard Childress Racing, taking home the inaugural championship.

“My truck was superior to the others,” he commented. “It was the first year of the series and we had the edge on horsepower. We had 660 horsepower – bonus 10 more than others. I basically handpicked my team except for Will – he was to serve as shop manager and kept us out of jail. Other crew members included Jesse Cope, Johnny Sauter, Todd Barrier – Richard asked me how I wanted to do this. We had picked our team.”

The successful 1995 championship led to a solid second year that saw Skinner finish third in points.

“When you’re on top, you don’t want to mess with things,” Skinner commented about the year that followed. “They had 700 horsepower – we still were at 660.”

The success in the truck series led to Skinner moving up to a full-time Sprint Cup Series ride with Richard Childress in 1997, which gave him the chance to work with Dale Earnhardt.

“He’s definitely someone I’ll remember my whole life and tell my grandkids about,” Skinner said. “Sad thing is my grandkids will not know him. He will always be one of the top guys in the sport – Richard (Petty) and Dale. Richard still has the nicest autographs.”

Skinner went on to recall when he first started with Earnhardt and how Earnhardt didn’t want to have a teammate.

“One time at Texas, the 31 was at the top of the charts and Dale was 32nd,” Skinner retold the story. “He was mad and says, ‘I don’t know what them son of a bitches are doing’. I took the car out and timed in third. After that, we had a new found respect for each other.”

Skinner added that from that point on, Childress always made sure that Skinner tested Earnhardt’s car while Earnhardt tested Skinner’s car to make sure information was shared.

One of the other memorable moments that Skinner brought up was at Talladega when he was leading in 2000 and Earnhardt came up from 20th in the final four laps and passed him for the win.

“That’s why we called him the mattress truck – you could drop him off a roof and there’d always be a mattress for him to land on,” Skinner joked. “That’s why he was Dale Earnhardt. As he came up through the pack, he could just get through there. If they saw him coming, they’d move. If they saw me coming, they’d give the finger.”

Through the years he spent at RCR, Skinner had many memorable moments – though for many, both wins in Japan stands out above any of them.

“What’s so special is how they came about,” he commented. “Racing hard with Mark Martin and pass him, it was tough. Racing Jeff Gordon at the end of the other was tough. Probably won’t ever forget those races.”

Skinner got his start after he crashed his road runner and built a racecar out of it.

“The adrenaline rush I felt my first time speaks to no other that I’ve ever felt,” he commented.

He then went through his fair share of struggles on the short tracks, though started to win some races and championships, which led to a chance to drive for Richard Childress.

When it comes to racing this year, Skinner says that he’s going to focus on late model racing.

“It’s so much fun getting back to how we started,” he commented.

He also will be going to the Goodwood Festival to try and set the quickest lap in a NASCAR prepared vehicle. Skinner said the truck that was driven to the first win for Toyota is being restored to make the trip.

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