Jeff Jefferson is not in the trucking business, but he’s like many whose livelihoods depend on the performance of a Peterbilt truck.
Jefferson is the co-owner of Jefferson Pitts Racing (JPR), which operates two full-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series stock car entries and is headquartered in Naches, Wash. In this, his second season as a team owner — he’s long been a crew chief and still works the pits — he and his partner Jerry Pitts bought a Red Oval-certified 2014 Peterbilt Model 389 to ensure safe delivery of the cars, tools, tires — all that’s necessary to field a competitive race team.
As of this writing, neither JPR driver, Noah Gragson or Gracin Raz, has yet to win in the 2016 season, although each posted victories in 2015. And both are regular frontrunners in the series, designed to groom young up-and-coming racers for NASCAR’s marquee circuits. In fact, a late-race, broken fuel pump likely cost Gragson a win in a road-course event at Virginia International Raceway in May.
“The racing gremlins got us,” says Jefferson.
Avoiding just that type of gremlin on the highway is part of what drove JPR’s decision to invest in a Peterbilt.
Finding the right truck
With little time to shop and immediate needs after taking ownership of a team that both he and Pitts had previously worked for, Jefferson leased a Peterbilt in JPR’s first year of operation. Once they got a better sense of the Peterbilt cost-of-ownership equation, Jefferson thought it made sense to own their equipment. He contacted Gary Mears, a team member who also runs his own trucking operation in Yakima, Wash., and Mears helped Jefferson settle on a spec that included a PACCAR MX-13 Engine rated to the top end of its horsepower range to deal with cross-country runs pulling gross loads measuring right up to 80,000 lbs.
“We race because we want to win. We don’t want to have to worry about getting our equipment to the race track.” –Jeff Jefferson
Then it was on to the local Peterbilt dealership, which helped Jefferson dial into the Red Oval pre-owned truck inventory.
“We knew we wanted a Model 389, and it had to be the right color (white) and a one-owner truck,” says Jefferson. “We just like that classic styling and flat hood. I think it connects with racing fans who see us on the road or at the track, too. It’s an image thing. To us, it’s just better.”
Through the Red Oval network Jefferson found a 2014 Model 389 featuring a 63-inch sleeper with 400,000 miles. Besides the Red Oval Assurance Warranty and the 150-point factory inspection the truck passed, Jefferson also drew some peace of mind that the truck was still under warranty from the original purchaser. Additionally, he knew he’d have the backing of the 330-plus Peterbilt dealerships that could provide service support virtually anywhere the race season takes them.
The bottom line for JPR is a truck that can be counted on to deliver, especially as its team criss-crosses the country competing on both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West circuits. From the recent Virginia weekend event, for example, Jefferson expected his truck and its cargo to return to team headquarters in central Washington state late the following Tuesday. He and his crew would then fix what needed fixing on the cars and reload them for a trip beginning Thursday morning to Tucson, Ariz., for the following weekend’s events.
“It’s seven days a week,” says Jefferson. “This country’s wide open. It’s a long ride.”
Focus on winning
Jefferson acknowledges that focusing on the West series would reduce travel time. But the opportunities to race at tracks like Dover, Del., Loudon, N.H., and Bristol, Tenn. — all of which hold top-tier NASCAR Sprint Cup events — gave his team both exposure and development opportunities for their young drivers.
Besides, it’s what they do.
“We race because we want to win,” he says. “We don’t want to have to worry about getting our equipment to the race track. We want to get to the track and do what we’re there to do, and that’s getting these kids to the next level and seeing them move on.
“We were them 20 years ago,” Jefferson adds, with a nod to the young drivers in his stable. “And we still got that fire burning pretty good.”
To keep that fire burning, Jefferson needs his focus on the racetrack, not on his transporter – even if he does plan to add a bit more attention-drawing chrome and some new stacks to it at the end of the race season.
“Well, I’m just a Peterbilt guy,” he says. “We’re very happy with the truck.”