Spearheading Bilstein's return a boost for T-Mac
By Kevin KovacDirtonDirt.com senior writer
Like any racer, Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., is always intrigued by the possibility of finding an edge on the competition. He’s hoping to do just that in 2019 thanks to his new technical partnership with Bilstein Shocks. | Complete PRI coverage
Announced Thursday morning during the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis, the sponsorship and support deal between Bilstein and McCreadie’s Sweeteners Plus-backed Longhorn Chassis house car team has the potential to be a boon to the 44-year-old standout’s program. A German-based company that is the world’s leading manufacturer of monotube gas pressure shock absorbers, Bilstein, through it Bilstein of America division, is making McCreadie’s national-level operation the centerpiece of its effort to return the shock firm to the prominence it had in the Dirt Late Model world in the ‘90s.
“Nothing’s gonna be easy, but I think for us at this time it’s a good move to try,” said McCreadie, who unveiled his newest No. 39 machine at Bilstein’s PRI show booth with the company’s logo on the spoiler. “It can help us get things we couldn’t get this year. I mean, we didn’t test at all this year, and we’re just trying to get all the help we can. If it ain’t all money (backing), at least we’re trying to get a little bit of product and support as far as data acquisition stuff, things that we haven’t been able to do.”
According to Bilstein Head of Motorsports for the U.S. Aaron Morey, McCreadie will have the full resources of the expansive, worldwide Bilstein company at his disposal as the manufacturer attempts to reclaim its ample former share of the Dirt Late Model market. Bilstein has been active on dirt in the modified class, among others, in recent years but has been largely out of the full-fender action for a lengthy period of time.
“In Dirt Late Models, we had a lot of development to do,” said Morey, a 38-year-old Michigan native who over the past 17 years has raced on dirt in several divisions including Late Models. “You debate, do you just basically copy stuff or do you try to go out and innovate? It takes time to innovate, and we’re ready now.”
Morey, who joined Bilstein last year to work out of its Mooresville, N.C., location, closed an agreement with McCreadie and his team just over one week prior to the PRI show. It is based on Bilstein providing McCreadie and Co. heavy technical backing.
“We’re going to support them, have him be our main guy,” Morey said. “They’re gonna be doing all our development. We’re gonna be doing a lot of data testing, a lot of simulation testing.
“Bilstein is just an enormous company, so to be able to put our engineers — we’ve got over 800 engineers on staff — to work on building shocks for our Late Model program is huge. (McCreadie) will have those resources behind him. It’s a sponsorship, but it’s also dedicating our engineering staff to work with them. Whatever event he needs us at, we’ll be at. We’ll be going to his shop (Longhorn’s home base in Trinity, N.C., where McCreadie’s Dirt Late Models are maintained) to service everything every time the truck and trailer comes in from the road. It’s going to help them be able to concentrate on other areas.
“This would be a big deal for anyone we went with because not many companies are out there where you can develop something with and not have to worry about it going to everyone else in the pit area because their truck and trailer is there,” he added. “It should be real exciting. We’re going to work really close with that team and chassis builder to get back on top.”
McCreadie is coming off a roller-coaster season that saw him struggle at times (just three overall victories), slip to a sixth-place finish in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points standings (after placing second in 2017) and face well-documented transportation issues (he used a dually and one-car box trailer for much of the season) but also capture the sport’s most prestigious event with his $51,000 triumph in October’s World 100 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. He is hopeful of not only winning more but finding more consistency through his pairing with Bilstein.
“We’ve had very good years with Penske and very good years with Integra,” McCreadie said of previous shock brands he’s utilized. “They’re all good. For me, it’s about what they were gonna do maybe to work on their product with us, and this (deal with Bilstein) is gonna hopefully allow us to do a little more testing. It’s not that Penske and them companies wouldn’t do it. (Bilstein) has just come directly to us to say, ‘Hey, we would like to try to do more testing with you involved to build a product.’
“It’s hard to try new stuff at the track all the time. If you’re running one of the two (national) tours, you can’t unload a half-second off the pace all the time and come from 15th. It’s just impossible. There’s always instances where that happens, but on the whole, to be successful, you got to unload fast. So maybe if that helps us get our cars a little bit better right off the trailer, it will benefit us.
“If they’re looking for something that revolves around my engine program, my race car, my driving style, my data traces, and that’s maybe what their baseline build will be off of, that would be good for me.”
While McCreadie noted that his deal with Bilstein “happened real quick” so he truly “doesn’t even know all the possibilities yet” that could buoy his effort, he felt it was a move worth making.
“All these years, I’m loyal and I’ll always be loyal,” said McCreadie, who will also use Bilstein shocks when he makes periodic starts in a big-block modified from the Sweeteners Plus stable’s home shop in Avon, N.Y. “I hate to even switch stuff. I’m not a guy that likes doing it. But also, if this deal does work out and we are the focal point … there’s other race teams that have gotten quicker because they were the guys that a company worked with. That’s kind of what we’re hoping happens with us.
“If you got the top teams and they’re working with a certain brand and they’re building this brand, it migrates in this direction, it usually does help every team that’s under them,” he continued. “But also, it’s always going to be better for the guy driving the car because he’s the guy out there doing the work and he’s the guy out there feeling it in his backside and saying, ‘Oh, yeah, that was better,’ and the data backs him up. On paper, the team that builds the data platform, that builds the shock platform, with that brand of chassis, they should theoretically be better than anybody that buys the product as far as in the beginning.”
Of course, Bilstein’s ultimate goal is to sell more shocks to Dirt Late Model teams, though Morey said the company isn’t looking simply “to get half the Lucas Oil pit or the World of Outlaws (Craftsman Late Model Series) pit.” He said they want to attract those racers “who leave their car at home when those (national touring) guys come to town,” so the hope is that developing shocks with McCreadie and a small initial group of regional racers — including Jackie Boggs of Grayson, Ky., Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, Tyler Carpenter of Parkersburg, W.Va., and Matt Long of Concord, N.C. — will lift up the Bilstein brand.
For McCreadie, the Bilstein affiliation is one of what he hopes is several off-season additions that will strengthen his team in 2019. He has full confidence in his operation — there were many who wondered whether he would continue his Sweeteners Plus-backed Longhorn house car program in ’19, but no other opportunities that he felt would have been better materialized — but just needs a bit more backing to make it all that it really can be.
“I believe that we have on paper one of the five best teams in the country, top to bottom — Longhorn organization, me, (crew chief) Philip (Snellen), (Longhorn’s) Justin Labonte, everybody at the shop. I believe that,” McCreadie said. “I think it bears it out when we get on equal terms with everybody, we usually run really well. But that doesn’t get you anything. Hopefully we can get people to say, ‘Oh, I’ve always helped people,’ and maybe their finances are in order and maybe they help us.
“By no means do we have underfunded race cars. We just don’t have the extra crew help to compete with some of the teams on a 60 (plus) race point schedule (with the Lucas Oil Series). Justin Labonte has enabled us to stay at a high level by doing what he’s done. Vic (Coffey, the former WoO regular from Caledonia, N.Y., who oversees the Sweeteners Plus racing team fielded by his stepfather, Carl Myers, and mother Ann) and me, we’re obviously doing everything we can with Coffey-McCreadie (Enterprises, the name for the Sweeteners Plus racing division). We’re doing our part but we’re still limited until somebody comes through (with financial support).
“Everybody gets tired (racing on the road), and the biggest issue you’ve got is when you’re out there running clusters of races together in a two-week stretch, there’s no substitute for manpower. To make our deal really shine would be payroll. I’m not saying payroll like everybody’s getting a 100-grand, I’m just saying payroll where we can hire a kid to do tire work, who wants to learn this stuff and can be Philip in five years. If we can get somebody to fund it, that’s what we really need it.
“We have a few people who are maybe going to get their feet wet with a little bit of monetary (sponsorship) stuff,” he added of a group that includes racer Donald Bradsher's Mega Plumbing of the Carolinas. “We’re not asking for millions. We’re just saying, ‘Hey, if somebody wants to partner up and maybe take two teams and make them better,’ that’s kind of what our M.O. has been. If not, we’ll just do the best we can.”
McCreadie did suggest that his 2019 racing schedule could hinge on whether he obtains the financial resources to add another full-time crewman alongside Snellen and secures a truck and trailer that is more suitable for long-distance traveling. His first, and most likely, option is to return as a Lucas Oil Series regular, but switching gears and focusing on the sport’s richest races is also a possibility.
“We have our platform — what Ann and Carl Myers gives us, that’s what it is,” said McCreadie, who has driven for the Sweeteners Plus team since 2003 when he joined it to race big-block modifieds full-time. “We have to split (the budget) between three race teams (including Coffey’s modified program with his son and big-block star Matt Sheppard). It doesn’t go as far as people think.
“We do our best with it. I’m not gonna cry about not having enough. If the money doesn’t show up, we’re still gonna race. But this is one of the years where we’re gonna take a serious look and say, ‘The World 100 is what made us happy, so now, do we want to be at certain tracks in the middle of June or July on a six-race stretch?’ If it’s gonna be me and Phil, it isn’t feasible going down the road. I’m not getting any younger so I don’t want to go out and spend money flying all over the place and buying hotel rooms because we don’t have anywhere to sleep. That’s all coming out of my pocket.
“I love doing it and I want to do it,” he concluded, “but we just have to find the right way to do it.”
Editor's note: Adds McCreadie's backing from Mega Plumbing