By Zane Miller
Stories of players quitting their team in the middle of a game have made headlines in recent years, with Vontae Davis retiring from the Buffalo Bills in 2018 and Antonio Brown leaving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 coming to mind. However, a similar story also occurred in the NASCAR Cup Series during the 1997 season, although, unlike the other two men, his career would continue for long after the incident.
Pat Tryson began his crew chief career by diving straight into the Cup Series with Geoffrey Bodine Racing in 1997, skipping the Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) and the Truck Series entirely. The team started late in the 1993 season after Bodine purchased the equipment from the estate of fellow owner-driver Alan Kulwicki, who had passed away in a plane crash early in the season. Despite seeing early success, with Bodine winning three races in 1994 and taking one win in 1996 (which, as of this writing, is the most recent victory for the number 7 in the Cup Series), the team struggled to find consistency as they never finished above 16th in points. Tryson took over the crew chief job from Paul Andrews, following a 1996 campaign that saw the team finish 17th in the final standings.
Tryson’s first race would be the 1997 Daytona 500, although it would not go as planned with Bodine finishing 52 laps down after being swept up in an early crash. This would set the tone for the remainder of the season, as despite showing promising runs, including a second-place finish at Richmond Raceway, the team would be unable to bring the car home in one piece, including five consecutive races where Bodine took an early exit due to either crashes or mechanical problems. During this span, Bodine claimed the dubious distinction of being the last driver to finish worse than 43rd in a race, as he dropped out at Sears Point Raceway (now Sonoma Raceway) following an engine failure 10 laps in, taking the 44th spot, dead last in the results. The Cup Series would utilize no more than a 43-car field beginning in 1998, before being reduced even further in 2016 with the current 40-car field.
The team began to turn their fortunes around afterwards, taking three top-10 finishes including another second-place finish at Watkins Glen International, the site of Bodine’s victory the year prior. However, for Tryson, the breaking point was just around the corner.
On Saturday, August 23rd, 1997, the series rolled into Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee for the 22nd race of the 32-race schedule. Bodine started 15th off the grid, looking to get his first career win at Bristol. Two weeks prior to the race, Bodine hired former crew chief Tim Brewer for the role of “team manager” for the remainder of the season. Brewer had already established his resume as one of the best crew chiefs in NASCAR history, winning 53 races as well as claiming the 1978 and 1981 championships with drivers Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip respectively. Brewer had most recently crew chiefed for John Andretti, but was released following the 1996 season, which saw Andretti finish 31st in the point standings.
As the race began, Bodine began picking his way through traffic and found himself in the top 10, climbing as high as fourth by the 200-lap mark. However, bad luck would strike once again for the team, as Dick Trickle would spin out to cause a caution almost immediately after Bodine made a green flag pit stop. Now trapped two laps down in 19th place, Tryson attempted to devise a strategy to put Bodine back in contention in the second half of the event. Instead, Brewer jumped onto the radio to come up with a strategy himself, essentially taking over crew chiefing duties. After months of frustration and poor results, Tryson finally had enough.
On lap 285, it was reported on the TV broadcast of the race that Tryson had left the team due to his treatment by the team, and with Brewer taking over his job following the botched pit strategy call. Coincidentally, while this announcement was taking place, Bodine was spun out by Dale Jarrett to bring out the caution once again. Later on in the event, Tryson did a TV interview where he further clarified that he did not feel appreciated by the team, but also did not hold any ill feelings towards Geoffrey Bodine.
Speaking of which, Bodine rallied back to finish on the lead lap in ninth place after the abrupt crew chief swap, as the race would be won by Dale Jarrett. With Brewer now at the helm, the team grabbed more three top-10s as Bodine finished 22nd in points. However, the 1997 season finale would be the final race for Bodine as a team owner.
Tryson sat out the rest of the 1997 season following his departure, but did not have to wait long for another crew chief role to open up, as he became the crew chief for Todd Bodine (Geoffrey’s younger brother) in 1998. However, both would be fired mid-season following a best finish of 10th and the team failing to qualify for eight of the 15 races.
After Bodine sold his team to former business partner Jim Mattei, both he and Brewer remained with the 7 car for the start of the 1998 season. However, Brewer would be canned just eight races in, following a streak of four races where the team failed to finish. Bodine finished the rest of the year with the team to similarly disappointing results, finishing a full season career-low of 27th place in the standings, before parting ways to join Joe Bessey Motorsports.
After the 1998 season, however, Tryson caught the biggest break of his career as he joined Roush Racing for 1999. While the immediate results would not be great, he would pick up his first career Cup Series victory as crew chief in 2001, with driver Elliott Sadler winning at Bristol Motor Speedway. In 2004, Tryson broke through as he was paired with Mark Martin, as the duo finished fourth in points in both 2004 and 2005. In 2007, Tryson became the crew chief for Kurt Busch at Team Penske, with the pair winning six races from 2007 to 2009, with a best points finish of fourth in the 2009 season. After bouncing around several teams and drivers, Tryson stepped back from the Cup Series following the 2021 season.
As of this writing, Tryson is still an active crew chief in NASCAR, as he is set to be the crew chief for Anthony Alfredo in the Xfinity Series for 2022.
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