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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Teens talented, and troubling
Roush Racing is wary of drivers who are still maturing and might end up leaving. But a falling-out with a 15-year-old could end up haunting the team.
By BRANT JAMES
Published August 20, 2005
Joey Logano was spotted by Mark Martin, who arranged a Roush Racing meeting. Martin predicts NASCAR stardom.
Roush Racing president Geoff Smith felt betrayed when 15-year-old Joey Logano severed unofficial ties with his team and agreed to a developmental deal last week with Joe Gibbs Racing. He blamed Logano's father, Tom, for using Roush as leverage to get a better deal, underscoring his belief that no teenager, no matter how talented, is worth a championship-winning Nextel Cup team's time.
That thinking and Smith's behavior are why Logano, the youngest winner ever in the USAR Pro Cup series, now drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, Tom Logano said.
If Mark Martin is right, Smith might have made a major mistake. Asked in June whom he would like to see replace him in the No. 6 Ford when he retires after this season or next, Martin, the man who unearthed 2003 Nextel Cup champion and teammated Matt Kenseth, made a bold assertion. The best man for the job was a boy.
"I am absolutely, 100 percent positive, without a doubt that he can be one of the greatest that ever raced in NASCAR," Martin said of Logano, who at 15, in his second USAR start, became the youngest to win in the series, eclipsing Brian Vickers' record by a year. "I'm more sure of it than I was sure of Matt Kenseth. I would put him in that No. 6 car in a heartbeat."
Martin discovered Logano while watching him race against his 13-year-old son, Matt, and was so impressed he arranged a meeting for the Loganos with Roush and Smith in November. A seemingly perfect situation eroded, however, amid Smith's philosophy born of hard experience, and Logano's search for a "NASCAR scholarship" for his son.
"Geoff Smith is a little upset, but he never put a nickel into the Pro Cup series," Tom Logano said. "He's never been to watch Joey race. No one from Roush has ever been to watch Joey race except for Mark Martin. The unfortunate thing about this whole thing is Mark Martin doesn't own Roush Racing. Because if he did, we never would have moved. Mark Martin is the most reputable person I know at Roush. Geoff Smith is the biggest ... attorney I've ever known."
At Roush's suggestion, Tom Logano moved his family from suburban Atlanta to the Charlotte area and bought a $900,000 race shop in Mooresville, N.C. In late November, Roush gave Logano a Cup car for use in testing. Contract negotiations stalled, however. Logano says Roush told him that Smith would never agree to sign a teenager.
Smith's views on the subject are clear.
"Dealing with minors and contracts is extremely problematic and in my view it's something to be avoided if you possibly can," he said on Aug. 7 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "We have so much talent between 18 and 25 years old, all adults capable of contracts. In these situations where you have a 15- or 16-year-old and you have to deal with a substantial level of immaturity, almost no sponsor interest whatsoever and putting corporate America behind a still-maturing teenager and then you have to put all this extra money in to get them ready before they even race."
Still, in March the team issued a release saying Logano had been signed to its developmental program, angering Tom Logano. Smith told Logano he was simply trying to "raise some publicity for Joey."
"So Jack and I sat down and made an agreement, and when it got to Geoff Smith's hands, it got changed. "Then it got changed again, and it got drawn out for four months. And after four months I said, "You know what? I might have been in the trash business, but I am not a piece of trash,' " said Tom Logano, who once owned a waste management company. "And that's how we were getting treated and I have a little more dignity than that so I stepped back and thought, "Who is going to treat us right?' So I thought of Gibbs."
Logano said he finalized a deal with Joe Gibbs Racing in a week, and he and his son explained the situation to Martin in person.
Smith said he understands perfectly.
"Joey Logano's dad used us to go out and shop, simply misled us into thinking he really wanted to be with Roush and when we had all the terms worked out, we get the call saying, "We have a better deal,' " he said.
In the end, Logano said, the familial atmosphere created by Gibbs and son and team president J.D. won out over Roush's corporate approach of "exercising their muscles."
Logano's racing operation has moved into Gibbs' Busch series garage, allowing his father to sell the Mooresville shop. He is scheduled to make his debut for JGR on Sept. 3 in a USAR Pro Cup race at USA Speedway in Lakeland.
Roush's latest failed dalliance with a talented teenager is over, but the trend remains strong in NASCAR as long-range driver development is seen as a hedge against escalating driver salaries.
Hendrick Motorsports has 15-year-old Chase Austin under contract and racing Late Models, and there are teens, albeit older, sprinkled through several developmental programs. Matt Martin is under contract with Ford. He is the youngest ever to sign a developmental deal with the company.
Teenagers have been a touchy subject at Roush since 2003, the first time a kid with major potential used the team's equipment and expertise but ended up elsewhere. Roush spent a great deal of money developing Kyle Busch, seven years younger than Roush's Kurt Busch, only to lose him at 18. At age 16, Kyle Busch had two top-10 finishes in six NASCAR truck races for Roush but was forced out of the series when NASCAR instituted an age limit of 18. Roush helped fund an American Speed Association program for him in 2002, but Busch signed with Hendrick Motorsports in 2003. He finished second in the Busch standings last year (winning five times) and has eight top 10s in 22 races in his first full-time Nextel Cup campaign.
"If a young kid 12 or 15 years old wants to sign with a big-name team, more power to him," Kyle Busch said. "That just means that he's been recognized at a young age and that he's got the ability there that the team has been looking for."