Donley
Jerame Donley is in his first year as a NASCAR Cup Series crew chief. (Photo: Petty GMS Motorsports).

Ty Dillon’s Crew Chief Balancing Being First-Time Dad

Jerame Donley began 2022 with quite a work load.

After nine years as an engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing, Donley embarked on a new job: his first season as a NASCAR Cup Series crew chief.

Donley, 36, took on the task of becoming crew chief of Petty GMS Motorsports’ No. 42 Chevrolet, driven by Ty Dillon. Donley went from an established team – Ganassi – to one that essentially didn’t exist until December 2021.

On top of that, he had to wrap his arms around the Next Gen car, the biggest technological shift in a Cup Series car in decades.

But wait, there’s more.

If that wasn’t enough, the season was barely underway when he started another new job: being a first-time dad.

Ahead of last weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway, Donley was three months into his dual life of being a first time crew chief and father to a baby boy named Ryder.

“My wife (Jenna) is a saint,” Donley told SPEED SPORT. “She has done an incredible job with our son. There’s some nights that I get home really late and I’m like, ‘Honey, I need to sleep because I’ve had a long day, I got a long day ahead tomorrow, and she will not even hesitate to jump in and feed him both times and middle night or whatever.”

Three months in, which is harder? Life as a rookie Cup crew chief or a rookie dad?

April 08, 2022:  at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia. (HHP/Chris Owens)
Ty Dillon drives the No. 42 Chevrolet at Martinsville. (HHP/Chris Owens)

“Both are equally as hard,” Donley said. “There’s times I have regret of not being at home with my wife and son as much as I probably need to. But it’s a balancing act. The stress of this job is definitely harder than being a dad. But I think it’s because I have more hours of the day centered around this job. If it was reversed that I was in a steady job where I was comfortable and been doing it for three or four years. I think the stress of being a new dad would be more.”

Thankfully for the Donley’s, their son is healthy and is entering “what everyone calls the fun age” where he recognizes his parent’s voices and wants attention.

“The last couple of weeks, he’s really started smiling and giggling,” Donley said. “He’s a happy kid. When you get home from a bad day, and you pick him up and he looks at you, you just start smiling. You’re like ‘nothing else in the world matters right now.'”

Back at work, Donley is 13 races into his crew chief tenure.

Together, he and Dillon have an average finish of 20.6 with a best result of 11th in the Daytona 500. Entering this weekend’s All-Star Open, Dillon is coming off a 12th at Darlington Raceway and a 20th at Kansas Speedway.

Donley’s nine years at Ganassi saw him working exclusively on the No. 42 car, serving as engineer for the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth and Ross Chastain.

Donley described why after nearly a decade with Chip Ganassi Racing, this was the right moment for him to finally go after being the leader of a Cup team.

“Every year I felt like I kept learning more and more and more and I hadn’t tapped out my potential as an engineer,” Donley said. “Last year with Ross, I thought it was a good opportunity to continue to build with a young driver.

Then late in 2021, it was announced that Ganassi’s NASCAR operations were being bought out by Trackhouse Racing.

This provided an offramp for Donley.

“It was kind of my chance, it’s time for me to venture out to do something different on my own,” Donley said. “If I was ever going to have an opportunity to crew chief in the Cup Series or Xfinity, I felt like that was kind of my time.”

Mike Beam, the president of GMS Racing, reached out to Donley.

Donley then had a two to three-hour conversation with Beam, the team’s competition director, Joey Cohen, and Dillon about the role. 

The conversation covered team goals, as well as management style.

“They felt like me being young was good for Ty and good for what they were trying to build with the company,” Donley said. “It was an incredible opportunity. I won’t sit here and tell you that it’s all been peaches and roses, because there was some long nights in December and January that I’d be leaving the shop late and I’d be like, ‘Did I make the right decision in my career?’ But the last few weeks, my wife will tell you, we’re starting to get a little bit more rhythm, we’re kind of getting our process in place in the shop.”

What’s Dillon’s assessment of where he and Donley are a quarter of the way through their first season together?

For the 30-year-old Dillon, making his return to full-time Cup racing after spending 2021 part-time, the 13 races are “virtually no time as a relationship in Cup series.”

“There’s a lot of different things you have to click on in a driver/crew chief relationship, not just do I like the guy,” Dillon told SPEED SPORT. “Yes, we’ve clicked as far as friendship. But we’ve got to get our vernacular continuing to grow, how we speak to each other how we understand each other on days where he might be questioning something, I can see that before he knows or he knows what I’m thinking before I have to say it. Those are things that have to grow to be a championship team or race winning team. That just takes time. The good thing is Jerame is a guy who’s relentless through preparation and execution and with that we are going to relentlessly attack having a good relationship. …

“Him and I are both pretty hard headed and hungry and and want to make the most out of the situation.”

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