(6/1/21 – Alex Nieten) … Defending NARC King of the West Fujitsu Sprint Car champion DJ Netto offered high praise of his Netto Ag/Penny Newman Grain KPC No. 88N following his seasoning opening victory at Stockton in March, crediting crew chief Drew Warner for giving him “a car that I could run anywhere I wanted.” As the young duo continues to sharpen their dynamic, Warner hopes to provide Netto a similar feel throughout the season in his bid to make history.
Warner is a familiar face in the pit area of California’s dirt racing scene. In the last six years, he has worked with some of the west coast’s most recognizable teams and talent.
Roth Motorsports hired the son of legendary crew chief, Ricky Warner, in 2015 to begin Drew’s time in the Golden State. The lineup at Roth Motorsports underwent some significant changes shortly after Warner started, forcing the budding mechanic to elevate his role and educate himself quickly while working with driver Kyle Hirst.
“They (Roth) didn’t have anybody full-time except for me then,” Warner reflected. “So, Monday through Friday at the shop it was my responsibility to do everything to get it to the track. And obviously it was a lot at first, but now looking back that was the best thing I ever did because you’re thrown into the fire. You’re kind of thrown into it where you have to know this stuff because, basically, these guys are counting on you to get it done so we can go racing on the weekend. It really sped up my progression a lot.”
With Roth having plans in 2016 that didn’t match what Warner knew he needed at that point in his career, the two parted ways. This led him to Stan Greenberg’s team with driver Mitchell Faccinto.
Warner and Faccinto produced a steady run together. They earned seventeen top-10s in twenty-two NARC feature starts and scored Faccinto’s inaugural series victory in the 2017 Cotton Classic at Keller Auto Speedway, topping a strong field of thirty entrants. Warner’s tenure with Stan Greenberg came to an end in April 2018 when Rico Abreu Racing came calling.
Warner’s time with Abreu yielded a stretch of success just as his previous two positions had. World of Outlaw wins at Pevely’s Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 and in Silver Dollar Speedway’s historic Gold Cup Race of Champions highlighted his stint with the 24 team.
Notably, Warner’s success throughout his blooming career has come with a variety of driving styles. While both Abreu and Faccinto can maneuver their machines around any lane of a racetrack, they have their preferences. Abreu is commonly found ripping the cushion while Faccinto finds success rolling the bottom. Having worked with racers who, based on their style, need different things out of a racecar, Warner prioritizes understanding how a driver will handle the track.
“With sprint car racing and being a crew chief that’s one thing I’ve learned,” Warner tipped. “Fifty-percent of it is just figuring out how your driver attacks different situations… A lot of it is just figuring out where your driver is more comfortable and on what types of tracks and making sure that you’re going to give them a car that is going to be good where he needs to be good and where he wants to be good.”
Even while having success figuring out his drivers’ tendencies, a different obstacle arose. A challenge that presented itself as Warner learned what his drivers needed with each team was understanding the nuances of different kinds of chassis. Grasping these distinctions was necessary to give each driver what they needed from the car.
“When I was with Roth, we ran KPC cars,” Warner explained. “Also, with Greenberg, we had KPC cars, so that kind of helped out, not changing a whole lot of stuff there. But then once I went with Rico, then we were on Eagle cars. The Eagle cars are way shorter and stuff like that. That plays into a situation like ‘these four bars worked on this car with this driver, so why is it not working on this car with this driver?’ You can see different driving styles and different things they like, but also the cars are just made different, and they just don’t respond the same to the same stuff.”
As the impressive results with Abreu show, Warner didn’t have much of an issue figuring out the new cars, once again proving his ability to quickly adapt. Warner not only cleared this hurdle but also discovered an added benefit. The knowledge he gained equipped him with data and resources heading into his current role with Netto.
“Both with Mitchell and with DJ now we have the same cars, KPC,” Warner said. “I had a good baseline. I kind of knew how these cars reacted to certain things and was able to have a decent notebook on that… Just knowing the cars, with DJ, I was able to adapt a lot quicker because I knew based off our language, he wants to be loose, he wants to be laid left, stuff like that, so I knew with these cars from the past what things I could do to help do that, so I was able to speed that curve up.”
Shifting gears to the present, Warner aims to use his range of experience and fast learning capabilities to help guide DJ Netto to consecutive NARC championships. If the pair of Hanford residents can end the season atop the standings, Netto would join an exclusive group. Currently, only five drivers in NARC’s sixty year history have earned back-to-back titles.
Looking to how the team might improve this season, Netto’s impressive results don’t leave much room. His consistency is off the charts. Dating back to early 2016, the pilot of the 88N has 67 top-10s in his last 74 NARC feature starts, an astonishing 91% mark.
One track where Netto and Warner will be aiming for better finishes is Placerville Speedway, which hosts two dates on the remaining NARC calendar. The tricky quarter-mile might be Netto’s kryptonite. While he may have only missed the top-10 a mere seven times in his last seventy-four series starts, three of those results came at the El Dorado County bullring. Warner and Netto have acknowledged the need for improvement at Placerville if Netto plans to repeat and have already taken some steps toward accomplishing this.
“We ran a couple races there last year throughout the COVID deal basically just because he (Netto) knew we had to,” Warner said. “It wasn’t a NARC race. It wasn’t anything that mattered to us necessarily, but it was basically like a practice race to try to get him better and get him more comfortable on that track. And I think we were there twice, maybe, and we actually got going pretty good towards the end. There was one race where we started fifteenth or so, and I think we ran fifth and were coming on really strong at the end and they cut the race short for whatever reason.”
The team has already found better production in another area. Despite claiming the 2019 NARC championship, Netto didn’t find himself in victory lane a single time during the campaign. In fact, prior to snagging this season’s Salute to Leroy Van Conett for his fourth career victory, Netto hadn’t won since June of 2017 at Calistoga. Warner and Netto winning in the season opener may announce the beginning of many trips to the winner’s circle. They also added a Kings of Thunder 410 win at Keller Auto Speedway in April.
Netto currently sits second in points having collected a trio of top-10s in the three events so far including the win at Stockton. With 18 races to go, the pairing of Warner and Netto have plenty of time to climb back to the top. And given Warner’s track record of quick learning and evolution as a crew chief, Netto should be in contention in a comfortable racecar all season long in his quest to earn back to back championships.
“The field that we have is pretty stout,” Warner offered on what the title would mean to him. “We’re going to have fifteen guys who are all capable of winning at any point. So, just to be able to be consistently better than those fifteen guys, that’s what means a lot to me because I know that’s good competition. And, for the history of it, just to put your name kind of with those guys it would mean a lot.”
Warner and Netto can next be seen in action with the NARC King of the West Fujitsu Sprint Cars on June 11th and 12th for a double-header at Ocean Speedway and Placerville Speedway. The entire NARC calendar can be viewed live on floracing.com.