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The driver gets all of the attention, and the owner gets the credit for fielding the operation, but often it is the crew chief that is the heart of a racing team.
That couldn’t be more true than in the case of Darling Racing’s leading man: John McKenna.
When faced with a decision as to whether to start competing in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour back in 2005, team owner Wayne Darling asked McKenna what he thought.
When a decision was on the table as to whether to step up their part-time operation for a full season in 2012, Darling left it up to McKenna.
And now, after saying “let’s give it a shot” to both of those decisions, McKenna is a championship-winning crew chief on the Whelen Modified Tour.
As Darling Racing’s only full-time crew member, McKenna is essential to the operation, which is why Darling gives him so much clout.
After competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for a number of seasons, Darling saw that the series was migrating south. With the team’s operation setup in Seekonk, Mass., Darling wanted to stay local, and McKenna’s wealth of experience allowed the team to make the transition from stock cars to the open wheel Whelen Modified Tour.
“John had dabbled in the Modifieds,” Darling said. “He used to help Lenny Boehler, he grew up with them. So once we made the decision to go Modified racing, it intrigued him.”
After seven seasons of competing on a part-time basis on the Whelen Modified Tour the No. 52 team’s driver, Doug Coby, came to Darling with the proposition of running the full schedule in 2012. There was a tough decision to be made.
“It was never really a question of the money, it was a quest of the help,” Darling said of his years of fielding a part-time team. “John is really the only guy we have that works at the shop [full-time]. I didn’t want John to be put in an awkward situation. He’s got kids growing up and I was more worried about his time commitment. If he told me he couldn’t do it, then we wouldn’t have done the full year, but he wanted to try it.”
So McKenna took the No. 52 Reynolds Auto Wrecking/Furnace & Duct Supply Chevrolet to the track for each of the 14 events, and all of the hard work paid dividends. Coby recorded more wins (5) and top 10-finishes (11) than any other team on the tour – a season that resulted in the team’s first touring series title.
“John busted his tail to get the car to the track every race,” Darling said. “John put it all together, he should get all of the credit. I give him the pieces and he puts the puzzle together.”
McKenna, Darling and the rest of the No. 52 team will now get to celebrate the fruits of their labor as 2012 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champions with the NASCAR Touring Series Awards on Saturday, Dec. 8 in Charlotte, N.C.