By Joe Verdegan
Greg Ives smiled, and autographed race cards as fast as he could.
He chatted with fans and posed with them, young and old, for photos from the minute he stepped onto the frontstretch at Norway Speedway until it was announced to clear the track. The long line never seemed to shrink as Norway’s third-mile, paved oval hosted fan appreciation night to the biggest crowd of the season to date on June 17.
Norway honored Ives — who’s 36-years-old — as he had a short break in his work schedule — in between NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Michigan and the following one coming up at Sonoma, California.
Ives, from Bark River, Michigan, is the crew chief for one of the most popular Sprint Cup drivers — Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ives is used to the busy, fast paced schedule. And as such, the racing community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was more than eager to welcome home one of their own — one who’s made it far in the racing world.
“It’s always great to come back here to Norway,” said Ives, as he continued to sign autographed cards. “It’s great to see all the old workers. It’s a lot of work not only to field a race car in any division, but to promote these tracks. It takes a ton of effort and I’m glad to come back to Norway.”
There was a long line of people who wanted Greg Ives’s autograph. (Photo courtesy Tim Soper @www.norwayspeedwayphotos.com)
Ives seized the opportunity to move up the NASCAR food ladder — beginning in 2004 as a mechanic for Hendrick Motorsports. He’s worn many hats prior to working with Jr., including being the race engineer on Jimmy Johnson’s 48 car.
Ives grew up in a racing family. His first job was as a mechanic at the family business, Ives Truck Repair. He graduated from Michigan Tech University with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.
During those years he raced himself for a time at Norway Speedway.
He worked his way through Michigan Tech, working nights and weekends as a mechanic for UPS.
“I had to work hard and a lot, to make sure the bills were paid, and I didn’t want to have student loans,” Ives said. It taught him the discipline to stick to a schedule and keep his grades up, in addition to making sure packages got delivered.
As he was finishing up at Tech, his resumé made its way to Hendrick Motorsports through a distant relative. A couple of in-person interviews later, and he had to choose between NASCAR and a job in Grand Rapids. It essentially was a no-brainer.
He spent several years working at Hendrick Motorsports.
With the pressure cooker world of NASCAR, with the long hours and constant travel, Ives doesn’t get home very often. So when he does have a few, rare days off, he normally heads home to the U.P. for some relaxation.
“You know I really don’t get any time off,” Ives admitted. “Last year I put a pool in. I get to do that with my kids when I do have time off. This weekend here in Norway is probably my last weekend off until December so we’re gonna have some fun tonight.”
Ives does miss some things from back home.
“Biggest difference now is it’s my job to work on my race cars,” Ives said. “It was always something to do after work. So it was more relaxing you might say. Now it’s what I do to make a living. So it changes things a little bit. It was a hobby at one time, but it’s not anymore.”
So what’s Dale Jr. really like?
“He’s a very down to earth guy. He and I have some very similar characteristics. There are some days that are better than others. He’s a hometown guy who loves having family and friends around all the time.”
Ives stressed that people need to continue to support their local short tracks — no matter where that may be.
“These short tracks are really where it is at and we’ve got to continue to support them — that’s why I’m here tonight,” Ives said.
Ives’ nephew, Jordan Ives, competes in a Super Late Model Friday nights at Norway.
As hectic as Ives’ life can get at times, he always puts things into perspective.
“Some days I have to pinch myself because I’m working in the racing field for a living,” he said. “It’s an opportunity not many people get.”
(This article appeared in the July 2016 issue of Full Throttle magazine.)