Clinton Cram figures he has seen around eight drivers come and go for Go Green Racing's No. 39 car since he came aboard as crew chief in the middle of last year's Nationwide Series season.
So when Cram works with a driver who not only has a sponsor's backing but possesses personality and work ethic, it makes an impression.
Such was the case at Darlington Raceway in May when Cram met Irmo's Danny Efland.
"I didn't know Danny before Darlington," said Cram, who has 10 years of experience as a crew chief. "I heard he was coming to drive our car, and went home and did a little research on him. I had questions going in, which I'm sure he did too. But right off the truck we were competitive."
The result was a 16th-place finish at the Royal Purple 200 -- a career-best for Efland as well as Go Green Racing.
"When people talk about chemistry? We just seemed to have that right off the bat," Cram said "When he was explaining things, I felt like I knew what he was talking about right away. And then the race went great for us. That was our best finish with this team.
"I became an instant Danny Efland fan. Leaving that race track, I said, 'Man, this kid is really good!' and I was like, 'Why haven't I heard of him before?'"
That Efland's name is part of the conversation as the racing calendar nears its midway point is a huge lift for someone only had his sights set on two or three races in 2011.
"At the beginning of the year, we were really struggling to figure out what to do this season," Efland said.
Efland, 22, is a full-time USC civil engineering senior and was content to focus on his coursework if a sponsor was nowhere to be found. He would dedicate himself to running at Talladega in his home-built Chevy Impala, and if the car was in one piece after that, a return to Daytona could be in the mix.
But because Efland secured a sponsorship relationship with C3i, a Columbia company that specializes in using computers to analyze athlete performance, a partnership with Go Green Racing and its Ford Mustang took root at Darlington and blossomed into laps at Dover, Charlotte and Michigan.
However, today's Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona International Speedway will mean another round of the game of "musical driver's seat."
With C3i as his primary sponsor, Efland will try to qualify for the field in his 07 car, whose configuration is optimized for restrictor-plate speedways. Thus, family-run Danny Efland Racing was in the market to find its own crew chief.
Enter Chris Wright, 38, who has been a crew chief for seven seasons for various drivers, notably Regan Smith. But for the past few months he has had to float between teams since finances forced Team Rensi Motorsports to scale back operations.
Efland and Wright met as Wright did work for the secondary team for Go Green Racing owner Archie St. Hilaire. It was then that Efland and Wright discovered they had a connection through the University of South Carolina.
Wright was born in Charleston, grew up in Rock Hill and attended Northwestern. He graduated from USC in 1995, and still keeps up with Gamecocks athletics.
"We actually went to the bowl game this year," Wright said. "Ironically, a friend who was a Florida State graduate ended up getting me tickets."
Wright's career allows his wife, Kathy, to be a stay-at-home mom in Concord, N.C., to their two daughters, who are 6 and 4, but life on the road is never easy.
"The downtime since Team Rensi shut down in that way has been good because I've been able to see my kids a lot, but it's tough," Wright said. "Sometimes the price is overwhelming."
Wright said life as a free agent crew chief is hard to balance, especially knowing how many talented people with connections can't find work. With an uncertain future, the option on whether to cut back could loom.
"Some tough decisions are going to have to be made on my behalf whether I want to continue doing the racing or whether I want to go a different route," Wright said. "After being involved in racing for as many years as I have, it's an awfully hard decision to make."
But Wright finds it encouraging to work with Efland and try to help him elevate his profile as a driver.
"We're both in a tough situation, but he's probably in a little tougher situation," Wright said. "The driving jobs are less plentiful, than, say, a position like mine. Because I don't have to crew chief; I can still go work on cars. But ultimately, his goal is to continue driving, and I hope that works out for him.
"He's a great guy with a super-super family. You want to see nothing but the best work out for those people."
Wright's job tonight is to maximize Efland's pit stops and keep him focused on navigating on Daytona's new surface. And while it will be the first time Wright has seen Efland's self-built car, since the Car of Tomorrow has taken over the Nationwide Series, there is not a lot of difference in what corporate-backed teams can roll out. Besides, Wright does not want to tinker with what Efland has already built to NASCAR specifications.
"You're scared to touch it too much because of the fines that can be levied on to you," Wright said.