|Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the No. 19 Evernham Motorsports Dodge, during practice for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.|
DCX also caught up with Jeremy Mayfield, one of Evernham Motorsports’ stars, en route to the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Evernham is on the cutting edge of the Nextel Cup Series. Founded by Cup-champion crew chief Ray Evernham, the team entered its fourth season at NASCAR’s highest level of racing hungry for wins and fielding Mayfield’s No. 19 Dodge Dealers-UAW Dodge, Kasey Kahne’s No. 9 Dodge Dealers-UAW Dodge and Bill Elliott’s No. 91 Evernham Motorsports Dodge. The team racked up four wins and eight poles in three years, and Elliott finished the ’03 season in the top 10 in points.
Mayfield first raced at the age of 4 in his grandmother’s backyard, carving an oval in the yard by running laps on his motorcycle. By the age of 10, Mayfield was racing for real on BMX bikes at a track in his hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky. Next, Mayfield assaulted the go-kart scene, and at times, he raced up to three nights a week in any class he could. From karts, Mayfield hit the street-stock division at Kentucky Motor Speedway. When his car was impounded owing to his numerous victories (a division rule), Mayfield started late-model racing, occasionally making the trip to run at Nashville. To make money to race, he painted signs at the track, and even painted numbers on race cars.
|Jeremy Mayfield and Kasey Kahne drove special No. 9 and No. 19 Dodge Dealers UAW/Popeye Dodges in the Pepsi 400, which was part of a yearlong celebration of Popeyes 75th anniversary and featured die-cast replicas.|
After he moved to Nashville at 19, Mayfield worked as a fabricator at Sadler Racing, where his determination paid dividends. After six months, the Sadlers gave him a late-model car to race. In 1987, he moved to the ARCA Series in which he finished the season with eight, top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. When he also earned Rookie of the Year honors from Kentucky Motor Speedway, many in the Cup community began to take notice.
Based in part on these performances, Earl Sadler agreed to back Mayfield in four Cup races. In October 1993, he made his debut, at Charlotte Motor Speedway and finished 10 laps down in 29th. Despite that, Cale Yarborough came calling at the end of the season, and Mayfield made the jump to full-time Cup racing in 1995.
The following season, Mayfield garnered a pair of top-five finishes before being released from his contract late in the year. He went to race for Michael Kranefuss for two years, but had little success before he joined Penske Racing late in the 2000 season. In 2001, Ray Evernham picked the charismatic and speedy Mayfield to pilot his No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge.
DieCastX: What do you think about merchandising and how it relates to Cup drivers and their teams?
Jeremy Mayfield: It’s nothing I’m concerned about; it’s just something that goes along with it. It’s part of being branded; I guess you’d say. It’s cool to have your stuff out there, but to be honest with you, when I first got into racing in NASCAR, I had no idea that this was all part of it. I thought it was cool to be able to have your own baseball card and your Digest Card and all that, but I never knew that things were this big. I had no idea, and that’s certainly not why I do what I do. When you start seeing your stuff come out, it’s cool, but I’ve always made a promise to myself that even though it’s great to see it, I’m not ever going to worry about the sales. To get the stuff out there is awesome, but for me to sit here and wonder, “Man, I wonder how much I made today”-I mean, that’s Rusty Wallace right there. I’m not into that. I’m more into how did I run today and how my chassis is working. [Note: Mayfield and Wallace were teammates previously at Penske Racing South].
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|Left: Popeye, Olive Oyl, SweePea and Bluto are featured on Jeremy Mayfields No. 19 Dodge Dealers UAW/Popeye Cup car.|
DieCastX: How do you handle fan mail and autograph requests?
JM: I try to do one-on-ones at the track as much as I can, and I try to never ever turn anyone down. When I sign someone’s stuff or I’m at my trailer signing, I’m always trying to look them in the eye and talk to them. As far as fan mail goes, I think all drivers try to answer as much as they can on their own, but it’s hard-for me, anyway-to keep it up. When so much comes in and you get behind, it’s just part of the deal. There’s always a lot going on.
Collectibles, die-cast in particular, are a big part of NASCAR Nextel Cup Racing, and the fans follow drivers and teams. Having replicas of a car driven by their favorite driver races fuels fans’ passion for die-casts-almost like being a part of the team or having an opportunity to share in the experience that is stock car racing.