Grissom geared up for another Bristol victory

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Nine years ago, Steve Grissom was unstoppable in Busch Series action at Bristol Motor Speedway, taking a season sweep of 1995 events at the .533-mile track.
   "This place is in a way like Daytona and Talladega," said Grissom, who made his first Bristol appearance back in 1983 driving in the All-American Challenge Series. "It's hard to get a car capable of winning and when you do, it's about twice as hard to win the race.
   "It's always an exciting deal. To be able to win two Busch Series races here in the same year, that is really special."
   On Saturday, his goal is to return to victory lane period as his last win in NASCAR's number two series came in the 1996 season opener at Daytona. Along the way, it's been an up and down battle, with rides ranging from cars in the Nextel Cup Series to Busch cars that have little chance of being winning.
   "When you have a competitive nature, it's frustrating driving some of those cars," admitted Grissom. "You know what you can do and what you are capable of doing. It is frustrating, but you keep your head down and keep working and hopefully the right opportunity will come along.
   "As long as I've followed the sport, you see guys up and down. They work to try to get back in the right situation. My experience is that you're in one big circle, either on the way up or the way down. I feel like I'm on the way back up now. It's not a lot different than other sports, like the quarterback or the pitcher, the driver is the one everybody focuses on."
   He enters this weekend's Sharpie Professional 250 driving the No. 36 DCT Motorsports Chevrolet for a relatively new race team. One place that does have veteran leadership is the crew chief position.
   "The guys at DCT haven't been in racing before, but they're committed," said Grissom. "We feel like this can be a good partnership for both Steve Grissom and DCT.
   "Ricky Pearson is the crew chief and there are a lot of positive things there. From where we started to where we are, we see the things we need to work on to get better. Ninety percent of the battle is getting everybody on the same page. When you do that, the other stuff falls into place."
   Grissom has shown an ability to excel at all kinds of race tracks. He has scored wins from the smallest circuits like the 1/3 mile Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina to the 2 1/2 mile superspeedway at Daytona. Coming to Bristol, Grissom sees a place where his new team competes on a more even playing field than the larger speedways.
   "Here at Bristol some of the aerodynamic things and all go out the window," said the North Carolina resident. "We feel like we have as good a shot as anybody here coming in."
   He counts 11 Busch Series wins overall and the 1993 series championship on his racing resume'. Grissom has driven in a variety of interesting situations over the years from his family operation to Diamond Ridge Racing, where the team partnered with World Championship Wrestling.
   One ride Grissom will never forget was driving for the King Richard Petty out of the famed Level Cross, N.C. shops. He drove for the Petty's Craftsman Truck Series team in 2000 and competed in 11 Cup Series races for the Pettys in 2002.
   "Those guys have been over for 50-some years," said Grissom. "It's not just the fact that Richard Petty has won 200 races and seven championships. You look at how long they've been here and how many races have come and gone.
   "There's not many situations that they haven't seen before. From a driver's standpoint that gives you a lot of confidence. The King is a racer. He wants to run up front. You learn at Petty Enterprises they have a system that they do things. It's amazing that it has worked for them for 54 years now."
   The former Gadsen (Ala.) High School football star keeps in tip-top shape, concealing the fact that he turned 40 this past year. He knows that conditioning will be key to surviving the physical rigors of racing on Bristol's 36 degree banks. Despite the challenge, Grissom is ready for Saturday.
   "You always look forward to coming to Bristol because it is fun," said Grissom. "All you here leading up to the deal is Bristol, Bristol. You go to other tracks and talk to race fans and they always talk about Bristol. There's not a conversation with a race fan that Bristol doesn't come up.
   A new tire combination brought to Bristol, Grissom thinks could bring some outside passing back to the high banks.
   "A lot of the tracks with the speeds have become nose-to-tail racing," explained Grissom. "That's why NASCAR went to Goodyear to try to put some racing back into it. There was plenty of passing at Vegas, Rockingham and Atlanta.
   "I think you will probably be able to pass cars on the outside more at this race than you've seen in the past few races at Bristol. Track position is always important, but you always wanted to come in and take on tires until Elliott Sadler won the race three years ago running the same set of tires over the last 150 laps. With the new tires, you should get back to seeing tires important with some passing again on the outside."