Although it’s been a decade since he gave up driving race cars full time, Mark McFarland still has a competitive fire to win races. In 2020, the former NASCAR Weekly Racing Series national champion still has the opportunity to win races. Only, now it’s atop the pit box and not behind the wheel.
McFarland oversees the No. 18 Monster Energy Toyota team that is shared by drivers Ty Gibbs and Riley Herbst. Gibbs, still just 17, is already a two-time ARCA Menards Series winner, and Herbst is the series’ 2017 Bounty Rookie of the Year and is driving full time this season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
The move to crew chief is one that many former drivers make, and like most of the others, it’s a move that McFarland initially made somewhat reluctantly.
"When I first started crew chiefing, I still had that desire to drive," he said. "I had to do it to pay the bills but I still wanted to go out and drive. But when I started to put all of my attention to being a crew chief is when I started to have some real success at it. Driving race cars used to be at the front of my mind and now it’s more in the back of my mind. It’s still there but that competitive fire is there to win races as a crew chief now. A win is a win whether you are driving or the crew chief."
Following his 2003 national championship season, in which he won 16 of 18 Late Model races at the now closed Old Dominion SPeedway in Virginia, he progressed up the NASCAR ranks. He ran 21 races in the No. 88 US Navy Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in 2006 before being let go. He subsequently found success in the crew chief ranks – he guided Ben Rhodes to the 2014 East championship, and was on the pit box for Justin Haley’s rookie year in the East in 2015.
Over the years, McFarland has been a crew chief in the East and ARCA for Matt DiBenedetto, Kyle Benjamin, Alex Bowman, and Todd Gilliland among others.
One of the interesting challenges that McFarland faces is one that’s familiar to any parent of a certain age trying to raise teenagers in 2020: Overcoming the generational communication gap.
"Yeah, that is a big challenge," McFarland said with a laugh. "He uses a lot of words guys my age don’t use, but we overcame that pretty quickly because we got to go test a lot. We figured out what he liked and we did some things we knew he wouldn’t like just to build that communication."
It also helps that Gibbs is a racer, like McFarland, and they share a common love for late model stock cars.
"I love late model stock car racing with all my heart," McFarland said, befitting a driver whose opportunities arose out of success in the division that is popular up and down the eastern seaboard. "Whenever we have an open weekend, Ty is off racing a late model and if I can I want to be there. They are cool racecars, they don’t have a lot of power and they have really sticky tires so they can really race. Ty has great equipment with (former NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors driver) Timothy Peters. Any time he goes to race one of those cars he’s got a shot to win, and I will be there any time I can carrying his bags for him."
Went to a Christmas party at my good buddy Jefferson’s house and found this picture. What a group of good people! pic.twitter.com/225uF6FpGX
– mark mcfarland (@mmcfarland17) December 22, 2018
It’s been a challenging start to the season for all teams, and McFarland’s Joe Gibbs Racing organization is no different. With limited time in the shop to stay ahead of the game during the pandemic, the team is now back at work as often as they can getting ready for upcoming races at Toledo with the ARCA Menards Series East and at Talladega with the ARCA Menards Series.
"It’s been tough being stuck at home for as long as we have been," he said. "We’re ready to get back at it. We are back in the shop now, but we share our shop with the XFINITY team and only one of us is in there at a time. We’re in good shape for Toledo and Talladega. We know any time we go to the track with Ty and Riley we have a chance to win, so we’re ready to get back to the track."