Wednesday, April 16, 2014
From staff and news services
The Maine teenager who once stacked firewood for his father to earn money for the Fryeburg Fair has a new job. Steve Letarte has been added to NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR broadcast team for 2015.
In the meantime, Letarte will keep his current job as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the elite Sprint Cup Series.
It’s been quite a ride for Letarte, who once balked at leaving the small western Maine town of Cornish when his father, Don Letarte, moved to North Carolina nearly 20 years ago to help build race cars for Rick Hendrick Motorsports. In 2005, Letarte became crew chief for former champion Jeff Gordon. They won 10 races together and Gordon finished second in the Sprint Cup season points standings in 2006.
Letarte was teamed with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2011. They had one victory at Michigan a year later. Letarte helped Earnhardt find consistency on the track, qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship for the past three seasons.
Rick Hendrick said he understood the NBC opportunity was an exciting offer for Letarte, who has two young children.
“You never want to see a talented and all-around quality person like Steve move on,” Hendrick said in a statement, “but we understand this is an exciting opportunity for him and his family. He has all the tools to be a terrific broadcaster, and I know our fans will enjoy hearing his perspective.”
Hendrick praised the chemistry between Letarte and Earnhardt, and said he was confident the two would be successful in their final season together. He also said he would not address the 2015 crew chief vacancy until after the season.
Steve Letarte was a friendly freshman at Sacopee Valley High School with a love for skiing. To soften the uprooting, his father introduced Letarte to go-kart racing.
Soon he was mowing the lawn for Ray Evernham, Gordon’s longtime crew chief, and sweeping floors at Hendrick Motorsports. That he was paired with Gordon wasn’t a surprise to those who knew him.
“It’s our work ethic,” said Don Letarte to the Portland Press Herald at the time of the announcement. “You’re better off to hire a Mainer because he’ll work so hard to learn.”
Scott Maxim, another Mainer who went to work in Hendrick’s motor program years earlier, thought at the time Letarte would do fine. “You’ve got to believe you can conquer the world.”
Letarte has said he learned from his mother, who worked 16-hour shifts as a nurse in Portland, and from his father who built race cars for Busch North Series (a former NASCAR minor league in New England) drivers and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway drivers.
A Letarte-built car was generally prized for its workmanship.
Steve Letarte, 34, who has also been a motivational speaker, will join lead announcer Rick Allen and analyst Jeff Burton, who were previously announced by the network.
“I’ve always been impressed with Steve Letarte’s interviews, and feel smarter after hearing him break down the crucial elements of each race,” said Sam Flood, executive producer of NBC Sports and NBCSN.
“It wasn’t long into our first meeting about this potential role on our broadcast team when I realized that Steve is going to be ‘Must See TV.’ ”