Championship Team -- In his role as crew chief for defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., right, former TMMC engineer Cole Pearn, left, serves as the driver's right hand man in the pits.
In 2007, Cole Pearn had a doozy of a decision to make: Stick around Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada as an engineer, or head to North Carolina and try to catch a part of a crew for an auto racing team.
TMMC offered stability and challenge. Plus, it gave Pearn a chance to put his engineering degree from the University of Waterloo to good use.
But damn those pesky dreams, always getting in the way for those brave enough to follow them.
“I was maybe 24 or 25 at the time and I kind of knew if I didn’t chase my dream then I’d always regret it,” Pearn says. “I figured, at worst, I’d go and try it and fail, and then I’d always have something to come back to.”
So Pearn strolled up to his TMMC bosses and told them he was resigning his post and moving to North Carolina without a hint of a job offer. He would be sleeping on a friend’s couch while he looked for a job with any racing crew that would hire him.
“They were shocked,” Pearn remembers. “But while they wanted me to keep working there, they were happy to see me chase my dream.”
Pearn’s story comes with a happy ending, of course. His engineering background and work at TMMC made him marketable. Soon after his move, he caught on with NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick. In 2010 he moved over to Furniture Row Racing, then off to JTG Daugherty Racing before returning to Furniture Row in 2012 as the team’s lead engineer.
Today, he’s the crew chief for Martin Truex Jr.,
Furniture Row’s bona fide star and No. 78 Camry driver. It’s a pretty sweet gig considering the team won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title in 2017.
Up North at the Plant
Watching Over -- Pearn, left, grew up in Canada and joined TMMC after earning an engineering degree at the University of Waterloo. But soon, his passion for racing took over and he found himself sleeping on couches in North Carolina, trying to hook up with a racing team.
Canada may not be a racing hotbed, but Pearn still grew up in a racing family in the southern Ontario town of Strathroy-Caradoc. His dad raced late-model and stock cars all over the province.
As a teenager, Pearn ended up racing himself, featuring in CASCAR, Canada’s stock car circuit.
Soon, higher education called. And the uniqueness of Waterloo’s engineering program worked in his favor. The school requires alternating semesters of classwork and co-ops. One of Pearn’s co-ops was working for his own racing team. Another? TMMC.
He was so well received at TMMC that he had a job offer before he even graduated. So that final semester at Waterloo was all about getting his degree so he could get to work at the plant.
Pearn spent just under two years at TMMC, even traveling to Japan for a six-week stint at Toyota Motor Corporation. The knowledge he took from his Toyota experience helped him approach his new world.
“I thought it was amazing that you could have a major car company who can make decisions on the fly,” Pearn says. “And I think that translates to racing. At TMMC we followed Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) I still do that. We use the kaizen approach too, establish a plan and continue to improve on it. If you know the right change to make, why not go ahead and implement it?”
Without his time at TMMC, would he have been able to perform so well on the NASCAR stage? Pearn isn’t sure. Especially without one major lesson.
“Efficiency is the key,” he says. “At the end of the day, racing is a competition, and if you can get to answers faster than your competition, that’s how you win. That’s really the difference. Same as at Toyota.”
The New Champion
“Without Cole, there’s no way we get this far as a team.”
That’s Martin Truex Jr., the face of Furniture Row Racing, and the driver of the Camry that Pearn and his team of about 20 work tirelessly to perfect. The relationship between driver and crew chief is among the most important in sports. When Truex speeds around an oval track each weekend, he’s got Pearn’s voice in his ear, changing strategy on the fly, giving track updates, figuring out the best path to victory.
Truex joined Furniture Row in 2014, with Pearn as the head engineer. Truex led for exactly one lap over 36 races that season. (He also happened to be driving a Chevrolet that year, too. Just saying). The two bonded over their frustration at a down year.
“We were angry about how we were running, but we were never angry at each other,” Truex says. “We had each other’s back. I felt like we were doing the right things, but everything else wasn’t working out. We really worked together and gained that trust in each other that season.”
In 2015, Pearn was promoted to crew chief. Truex led for 567 laps that season and won at Pocono. In 2016, Truex won four races. Then eight and the Cup Series title in 2017.
“As crew chief, Cole just changed our thought process,” Truex says. “He changed the way we attacked. He said, ‘Here’s what we’re gonna do, and here’s how we’re gonna do it. And we’re gonna
do it. We’re gonna
get there.’ He’s just relentless. His work ethic, his drive and determination is unbelievable.”
The Defining Moment -- For Pearn, 2017 was marked with strife , including the sudden death of his best friend. But in the end, he and Truex each earned their first Cup Series championship, celebrating accordingly at Homestead.
For Pearn and the entire Furniture Row team, 2017 was a trying emotional ride, sometimes euphoric and sometimes heartbreaking. Last August, Pearn’s best friend and former TMMC coworker Jacob Damen passed away suddenly from a bacterial infection. Four days later, Pearn guided Truex to a win at Watkins Glen.
“Still just don’t get it,” Pearn wrote on Instagram after Damen’s death. “I can’t believe I am not going to bump into you today, tomorrow or the next. The world is not a fair place, and this loss is the most unfair thing I have witnessed.”
Then in October, as the team was in the thick of the title race, Furniture Row’s Road Crew Fabricator Jim Watson died of a heart attack.
Somehow Pearn, Truex and the Furniture Row team carried on to the championship.
“It came with a wealth of emotions,” Pearn says. “Losing Jacob really hit me. But you’ve been working your whole life in racing just for a chance to even work at this level. And to win a championship is remarkable. But the whole spectrum of everything happening hit all at once, it was a lot of emotion. I’m not the only one that spent his life working toward this. There are tons of other people on our team who have. Seeing that moment for everyone was special.”
By Dan Nied