From racing dirt tracks in the Midwest to sitting high atop Kyle Busch's pit box in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Mooresville resident Rick Ren has come full circle in racing.
Ren, General Manager and Director of Competition for Kyle Busch Motorsports, is the all-time winningest crew chief in truck series history.
Along the way, Ren has worked in all three of NASCAR's top divisions - Sprint, Nationwide and Truck Series as a crew chief.
Ren's record-setting number of truck series wins stands at 27 to go along with two championships as a crew chief.
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Despite the success, when another opportunity came calling, Ren gave up being a crew chief after the 2009 season with Kevin Harvick Inc. to take what he said was a great opportunity at Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Ren now wears a number of different hats with KBM, but loves the challenge.
"I'm dealing with sponsors, attorneys and all the little things that come with being a GM of a company," said Ren.
Ren designed the race chassis and bodies, his forte over the years, while also directing his crew at the track.
Success came quickly for Ren in his new role. Last year, Kyle Busch claimed the truck series owner's championship, setting the bar early for what would be expected season after season from KBM.
Ren's love for racing began more than 35 years ago while in high school in Illinois. An old golfing buddy started going to dirt track races and Ren decided to tag along. He was hooked immediately and soon wanted to get behind the wheel.
"The second time I went to a race I bought a race car," said Ren.
That was a start of a 14-year dirt racing career, during which he won about 130 races.
"Looking back, it's really cool that a kid from a town of 1,600 people, out in the cornfields and soybean fields of Illinois, was able to achieve that," said Ren.
Ren's success at the dirt track yielded him a nickname, the "Illinois Invader."
"I really had a good time racing in those days," he said.
Attending a NASCAR race in the late 1980s at Charlotte Motor Speedway would refocus Ren's attention.
"I'm sitting in the stands at Charlotte right behind the flag stand and I became more intrigued with what was going on with the pit-stops than the racing on the track," he said.
"I was like, 'so-and-so shouldn't have done that' or 'that driver shouldn't have taken four tires,' stuff like that."
In the winter of 1989, Ren packed his bags and moved to the Tar Heel State determined to pursue a career in NASCAR.
The first weekend Ren was in North Carolina, he headed to Hickory Motor Speedway. After Ren talked the security guard into letting him in the pits, it was there that his first job in NACAR was formed.
"There was a guy running in the NASCAR Busch Series (now the Nationwide Series) that I had known a little bit from racing back in my dirt track days. I just walked up to him and told him I was looking for a crew chief job, and he was like, 'go talk to my owner, he's always looking for help.'"
Ren was offered a $400-a-week job to crew chief for the Texas Pete car driven by Morgan Shepherd and Ward Burton in the upcoming 1990 Busch Series season.
Ren would go on to crew chief for a number of drivers, including Ricky Craven, Johnny Benson, Elliott Sadler, Dale Jarrett, Ron Hornaday and Travis Kvapil while working for a number of team owners, including Robert Yates.
In 1994, Ren moved to his home on Lake Norman off Perth Road. He enjoys his pontoon boat when he can, but finding time is the problem.
"I told my wife 'when you race your whole life, you race to get up, you race to eat, you race to work, you race home and then race to sleep', it's an on-going thing that never stops," he said.
Even though Ren is no longer in a crew chief position, he still travels every race and can be seen sitting next to current crew chief, Eric Phillips, on the pit box. Ren says his wife, Joann, goes to three or four races a year with him.
"For some reason my wife thinks she will bring bad luck to the team, but that's not the case at all," he said.
Ren, who will be turning 54 years old next month, says though he has no plans of retiring he will know it when the time comes.
"Some people have told me, 'Ren, you'll never quit,' and I say, 'watch me,'" said Ren. "The Caribbean is a really nice place and actually someday I would really like to retire there. That's my dream retirement place, I don't know if that's my wife's dream, but it's mine. Even if it's only three or four months living there a year, that would be pretty cool."