Jim McGee, General Manager and Crew Chief of Patrick Racing, is a pragmatist. In his line of work, being practical is the only way to keep from becoming a nervous wreck.
A couple of Sundays ago at the Detroit Grand Prix, McGee faced a racetrack which had changed dramatically when the rain stopped and his driver, Scott Pruett, had dropped from the lead to mid-pack. When asked about the changes and the possibility of making up the differences, McGee just said that things would work out if they're meant to.
After 40 years of preparing successful race cars for other people, Jim McGee should know. McGee is one the winningest Team Managers in the history of Indy Car racing. Since he started working as a car builder and mechanic for Indy Car teams back in 1956, McGee has had 80 championship wins, four Indianapolis 500 victories, nine National Championships, thirteen 500-mile race wins (including Indianapolis), Six poles at Indianapolis, and numerous pit and mechanic awards.
Quite simply: he is the best.
McGee, who began his career as a driver, has had a lot of time to forget that fact.
He started racing modifieds in New England, and then decided he was ill-equipped to drive and turned his efforts to wrenching and tuning. In '61 he formed a friendship with Clint Brawner, the man who discovered Mario Andretti. Working on the Dean Van Lines Special, McGee worked with several drivers from Andretti to Eddie Sachs, becoming the Co-Chief Mechanic with Brawner until 1969, when Granatelli bought the team. That was the first year McGee had a hand in winning the Indy 500.
From there, McGee was a prime-time player. In '71 McGee worked for Parnelli Jones in California on what's now known as the "Superteams Operation" -- a very high-tech, high-dollar team which was so far advanced that it failed. He departed in '74 for Fletcher Racing, taking Pancho Carter to Rookie of the Year honors at Indianapolis, and in 1975 McGee was finally able to turn his genius into consistent results. He moved to Penske, running Penske's operation from '75 to '80, with Mears and Unser and Mario and Tom Sneva doing the driving chores, winning 22 races and three championships along with the Indy 500.
Although the Penske years were successful and put Jim McGee on most team owner's short list of capable Chief Mechanics, the best was yet to come. Under Penske, McGee was still effectively leashed as to what he could do. With Patrick, McGee was able to make all the decisions and all the calls. In that atmosphere, he flourished. When Patrick's operation was sold, McGee moved on to Newman-Haas racing and helped Nigel Mansell capture the championship in 1993.
In 1995 he was back at Patrick. There he was with his comfortable old friend and with the position came the title General Manager. He was back where he knew the surroundings and knew the game. Pragmatically, he was back home again.
"I never got burned-out on racing," McGee said, "because I never took the highs too high or the lows too low. I just liked to do it. People who get burned-out are the ones who take the victories and make big things out of them and by the same token the same with their defeats."
"One of the things I've always tried to do through my career is try to forget things -- bad things -- quick. The minute we crash a car or blow and engine, that's the end of it as far as I'm concerned. I don't even care that it happened."