Determination, Drive, and Dedication: How FOX NASCAR Analyst Larry McReynolds Crafted a Remarkable Career in Racing
If you dream of building a career by doing what you love, use ex-crew chief and current FOX racing analyst Larry McReynolds as a role model — especially if you need to reinvent yourself.
NASCAR on FOX analyst Larry McReynolds in the broadcast booth at Daytona. CREDIT: FOX Sports
As Cal Newport, the author of So Good They Can't Ignore You, says, "Telling someone to follow their passion -- from an entrepreneur's point of view -- is disastrous. That advice has probably resulted in more failed businesses than all the recessions combined... because that's not how the vast majority of people end up owning successful businesses."
Or, by extension, crafting successful careers.
But don't tell that to Larry McReynolds, the hugely successful NASCAR crew chief and long-time Fox broadcaster. As a crew chief he won 23 races with legendary drivers like Ricky Rudd, Davey Allison, and Dale Earnhardt. In 2001 he shifted to the broadcast booth for FOX's inaugural season covering NASCAR.
Currently he serves as an in-race analyst for FOX, appears on a number of different FOX studio shows, is the co-host of a radio show... all of which makes him one if the busiest people in racing broadcasting.
And he's taking on yet another new challenge this year: Helping to anchor FOX coverage for all Cup and XFINITY series races from the network's new virtual studio in Charlotte. The virtual studio will be on full display during Speedweek and the Daytona 500, and Larry was a key part of the development process by helping to build the new "virtual" car from the ground up. (And learning to interact seamlessly with the incredibly sophisticated technology involved.)
The virtual car is a FOX production, but in many ways, it's at least in part Larry's baby -- and signals the next step in a long career of constantly reinventing himself so he can continue doing what he loves.
My understanding of television is that producers develop the technology, graphics, etc, and the talent then puts it to use. Kind of like when I worked in manufacturing and engineers would give us what they thought we needed, rather than what we asked for.
(Laughs.) That's not how it works at FOX.
The virtual car has been a really fun but also really complicated project. In a way, this offseason reminds me of when I was a crew chief... which means basically there hasn't been an offseason.
It's also one of the reasons I'm so honored to be involved with FOX Sports. This will be our 19th year of doing NASCAR. I'm one of a number of people that have been there since the very beginning in 2001. And in all that time, Fox has always been a step ahead of what everyone else is doing.
In life, there are leaders and there are followers -- and there is no question the top brass at FOX have always and will always be leaders.
Which is also a risky thing. I remember when FOX first started leaving the score box up during NFL games. People thought they were crazy.
They're never afraid to try things, that's for sure.
When I was a crew chief, it would have been nice to know everything you tried would be better. But that's not the way things work. (Laughs.) But FOX gets it right a whole lot of the time.
We first started playing with a small virtual set roughly a year ago. Then FOX stuck their toe in the water with the virtual set during the World Cup. That was very successful, was received well... and the decision was made to take it up another notch with NASCAR.
Which led to a full-court press to create our virtual studio.
Ultimately the goal is that all studio shows, Race Hub, Race Day, the pre-race shows, the post-race shows, and all the in-race hits will come from the virtual studio.
And that's where I'll be for every single day of our NASCAR coverage.
Tell me about developing the virtual car. During races, using it will be one of your primary roles.
We've had a cutaway car for the last few years. But we wanted to create a touch-screen virtual car and take it to the next level, just like we're doing with the overall virtual set.
So we built a virtual full-size, full-scale race car with every single piece and part of a race car. I can push in, show you the throttle body on top of the engine, show you rods and pistons, rocker arms, valve springs, push into the trunk area and show you the fuel cell, the fuel pumps... even though I'm standing in an empty area of the studio working off of monitors.
Like a meteorologist, but with significantly greater detail and options.
The good news is we're going to be doing rehearsals throughout January and into February. (Laughs.)
It's funny you mention the weather. I've actually gone to the local FOX affiliate and to the Weather Channel and done the weather. Of course it's apples and oranges, but it did help me get my feet wet.
The best thing about the virtual car is that we've had meeting after meeting, conference call after conference call... and the main thing we've concluded is the only limit to what we can do is our imagination.
But just like with a real race car, we have to get the basics right first. We don't want to out-trick ourselves.
On my side, the biggest role I have played is working with our graphics teams and artists in Charlotte, as well as in Los Angeles to convey through pictures and PDFs and any and everything I could gather to paint a picture for them of every part of a race car. Ten minutes ago I was texting Todd Gordon (Joey Logano's crew chief) with a few questions. Guys like him have really helped me as we walked this journey.
That's another great thing about this: The fans want us to get this right, and the people in the sport are willing to help us get it right.
The virtual car requires you to quickly gain a new skill set. Was that intimidating?
I enjoy challenges. I'm not a "sit still" type of a guy.
What really excites me is basically I've been doing the same thing for 19 years at Fox. Even even though my role changed a little three years ago, I've basically been doing the same thing.
And that can be a problem, because when it comes to being an analyst... your shelf life eventually expires. Even though I feel like I work as hard as any analyst in the sports world, I still know my shelf life can expire.
In some ways, this project almost creates a new identity for me. I'll still be serving in the same role but I'll be at the studio in Charlotte using all the cool new tools we've developed.
So to finally answer your question, the only thing that makes me nervous is that I won't be be at the racetrack. I'm a "get in the garage and stay there until I have to leave to be on the air" kind of guy.
But I've created enough relationships, visited enough race shops... I can reach out to the Todd Gordons, the Rodney Childers, the Chris Rices... all the people I've developed relationships with trying not to wear out my welcome. (Laughs.)
One of the keys to what you do is staying not just current, but having an accurate sense of where the sport will go -- which requires a tremendous amount of work.
I'm not saying I work harder than everyone... but I challenge you to find someone that works harder than I do to stay current with this ever-changing sport.
We're on the air from mid-February to the end of June, but I don't check up (slow down) at the end of June. I treat it like we're still on the air. I'm still reading, digging into rule changes, talking to people, watching video...
Several months ago I told someone that with what I've learned over the last 19 years, if I did go back to being a crew chief -- which trust me is not going to happen -- I could not make the calls on a race car, but I guarantee I could go back and call a race in terms of strategy better than the last year I actually was on a pit box.
Observing, learning, analyzing... all that has given me a perspective I never had when I was on the pit box.
Speaking of being a crew chief: How did you make the transition to being a broadcaster?
Unfortunately no one gave me a blueprint on how to be a good NASCAR analyst. No one gave me a handbook. No one told me to do this or do that.
Plus, there is one key difference in being a crew chief and being an analyst: As a crew chief I never needed anyone to tell me whether I was doing a good or a bad job. There were measuring sticks everywhere: Stopwatches, practice sheets, race results, where we finished in the points... I knew.
That's one of the biggest challenges to being an analyst. I don't have a measuring stick. There is no one objective way to say whether you had a good day as an analyst.
So I just went all in and created my own blueprint as to how to be the best analyst I could possibly be. That includes staying fully engaged throughout the entire season, and a big portion of the off-season.
I feel like that's what it takes for me to be the best I can at what I do. So that's what I do.
In effect, you decided that no matter what was required, you were going to make it work.
When I told my wife about the virtual studio and the virtual car, she said, "Do you think that will work?"
I said, "I don't have a choice."
Making this work, making it successful, making it exciting and interesting... all of those things, quite honestly, dictate my future going forward.
You brought up an interesting point about measuring sticks. How do you define "success"?
As a broadcast analyst, I listen to fans on social media. I do a radio show on Sirius where we interact with fans. I get feedback from my bosses and my peers, and from people in the sport. All those things together help me feel like I've been at least a little successful.
On a personal level, whether it was working at a junkyard, working on race cars, being a race analyst... and all my years as a parent and now as a grandfather... before I close my eyes I think about whether I did everything, professionally and personally, to be as successful as I possibly could.
In 1997 I was Dale Earnhardt's crew chief and we went winless that whole season. It was devastating. But I kept my sanity because every night when I closed my eyes... even though I was just about going crazy wondering why I couldn't get the world's greatest stock car driver to Victory Lane... I knew I had done everything possible that day.
And there was nothing I could have done differently to change the outcome.
That gave me at least some measure of peace.
So did winning the Daytona 500 in 1998 as Dale's crew chief.
That gave me a whole different level of peace. (Laughs.)
But that's how I measure personal and professional success. Whether it's a day spent with family, a day doing something around the house, a day in the studio, a day at the racetrack...
When I close my eyes at night, I may not be totally happy or excited about the results... but if I did everything I could to the best of my ability, it was still a really good day.