Have suitcase, will travel. That is the motto of Jerry Babb, who left the state of Maine to advance his career in motorsports after having a cup of tea in the driver ranks.
He’s worked and tried his hands in lots of places. The journey saw its highest point after a crafty-Maine former driver won the Snowball Derby as crew chief to young Georgia driver Chandler Smith on Sunday.
“I don’t think he cares that I talk funny,” said Babb. “He does his talking as a driver. I mean, he’s from Georgia, but he really doesn’t have a thick accent like I do. Either way, it was a great weekend and we gelled together and made the whole deal work.”
Years ago, Babb was a driver in Pro Stock and Super Late Model ranks in Maine. It got to the point where the funding was too much.
“I went to the Big Dawg at Wiscasset in 2003 and I realized I didn’t have money for tires,” said Babb. “It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I told my dad we had to load the car up. We didn’t have the money for tires. You realize who your friends are at that point. So many people came over offering to buy tires and help out.”
Racing was in his blood, so Babb stayed at it and the phone began to ring, but it was on the crew side of things where he would find his next stint. He worked with Andy Santerre, and in just a few years was the Crew Chief for Mike Stefanik in the Busch North Series. They won two races before the next chapter for Babb, the move south.
“Coming south was a goal,” explained Babb. “When you were around the big teams the itch to drive is there, but it doesn’t pull on your heart as much. You know the costs involved. You meet a lot of good people and you learn a lot of things.”
Babb has bounced around and worked with lots of drivers in the younger scale and he’s okay with that. It has not come without challenges, though.
“Sometimes I only had like a year or two to work with some of the drivers I got,” added Babb. “I was in some good situations and some not great ones.”
One that he described was showing up at the shop in the morning and turning the lights on, only to find nothing in the room but a few jacks. The cars were gone, just like the team.
“It was a house of cards type deal,” explained Babb. “The feeling was if we show up and look big, we will be big and it only lasted a few races. I knew going there was a risk, but the reward would have been great.”
Fast forward to 2021. Bond Suss gives him a call to work with Chandler Smith for some big late season races.
“I came down and looked at the cars and I was like, wow. this a good situation,” added Babb. “I didn’t really know Donnie Wilson that well, but I was so impressed with his team, the knowledge and chemistry of the organization. “Chandler and I got to work together at New Smyrna and he led 115 laps and could have won. The oil pump broke.”
Babb was with the Wilson team all during Snowball Derby testing and kept overcoming the challenges.
“We had a minor part failure, so we swapped engines after a test and that was good because we would have just been putting more laps on that engine.”
Smith took the outside pole and Babb liked the team's chances when Chandler said the car was good. Even early overheating issues could not deter the team.
“When everything is going right, you start to worry, and the first yellow Chandler said the car was running hot,” added Babb. “Instead of staying out we came in and cleaned the grill off and went back out. That was the moment that won the race. We learned coming back up through the field that we had a few adjustments more to do and we never would have made them riding in second.”
Babb is now the first Maine born crew chief to win the Snowball Derby. Understandably, he considers it the biggest moment of his career.
“It’s the biggest win of my career,” said Babb. “I don’t want to underplay it, but you can’t get a chance to have something like this without effort. The Wilson Motorsports team had five cars at the Snowball between the two races. We put the Super Late Models in first, third and fifth. You can’t do that without work and effort.”
With the Snowball Derby, the season comes to an end, but Babb is optimistic that he’ll have more chances with Wilson Motorsports.
“It has been a great opportunity and I hope it continues,” added Babb. “My wife’s family got sick a few years back so she had to move back so the burden of being in the south was too much for us so I came home as well.
"In racing, you make your luck as much as you can and on Sunday we won the Snowball Derby,” said Babb. “I woke up this morning and I had a flat tire on my truck. I’ll take that any day.”
-Story by: Elgin Traylor, Racing America Southeast Correspondent