Steve’s love and passion to race started at a very young age. Steve grew up in a very small town near Portland, Maine with his parents and sister. His father, Donald Letarte, built race cars for the then Busch North series. Steve would spend many hours helping his father in his race shop, located just a few yards away from their modest log cabin home. At a young age, Steve would travel with his Dad to Saturday night short track races to watch the cars race that his Dad had built and sold. Steve would also help his Dad sell parts at those races. He knew then he wanted a career in racing, but had no idea where his desire would take him.
After multiple offers to move south and build race cars in the Cup series, Steve’s Dad moved the family to North Carolina in 1994 when Steve was just 14 years old and a sophomore in high school. Ironically, his parents purchased a home next door to Ray Evernham, Jeff Gordon’s crew chief at the time. No one would have believed that twelve years later Steve would assume that role as Jeff Gordon’s crew chief.
Steve began his journey to one of the most coveted jobs in racing by mowing Ray Evernham’s lawn. Ray recognized Steve’s work ethic and asked him to help out at the No. 24 race shop at Hendrick Motorsports in May of 1995 when he was a 16-year-old high school student. Steve swept the floors, cleaned parts and essentially performed any duties Evernham asked him to do for the No. 24 Team and driver Jeff Gordon.
In 1996, after graduating from high school early, Steve started travelling with the No. 24 Race Team as a full-time mechanic and tire specialist. The following year, Steve and the No. 24 team celebrated a championship season with 10 victories, including its first Daytona 500, one pole position, 22 top-five finishes and 23 top-10s. For the next two seasons, Letarte continued to work as a tire specialist on the No. 24 team, which recorded 13 wins on the way to the 1998 Cup championship season. The team finished sixth in points in 1999 after positing seven wins.
In 2000, Steve transitioned to the role of mechanic on the No. 24 team, and became the rear tire carrier on the pit crew. This meant practices and workouts, in addition to his duties on the race car. The team won three races that year and finished ninth in the championship standings. Steve continued to work as a mechanic and a member of the pit crew, and in 2001, Gordon captured his fourth Cup championship, achieving six victories, six poles, 18 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s.
In 2002, Steve started the season as a mechanic, but was promoted to car chief before the 29th race at Kansas Speedway. The team posted three wins, three poles, 13 top-five finishes, 20 top-10s and a fourth-place finish in the final standings. Letarte remained the car chief for the 2003-04 seasons, and during that time, Gordon scored a combined eight wins, 31 top-five finishes, 45 top-10s and 10 pole positions. The No. 24 team finished fourth in the 2003 standings and third in 2004.
Steve opened the 2005 season as the car chief for the No. 24 team, but was promoted to crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet with Gordon after the 26th race of the season. In only six races later, Steve posted his first Sprint Cup Series victory as a crew chief at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. He led the No. 24 team to collect four top-10 finishes in final five races of 2005 season.
In 2006, during his first full season as crew chief, Steve led the No. 24 team to two victories, two pole positions, 14 top-five finishes, 18 top-10s and a sixth-place finish in the championship standings. Gordon’s victories were significant that year as Steve called the race for Gordon’s first win at Chicagoland Speedway in July and his ninth overall road course victory—a Sprint Cup Series record—at Infineon Raceway in June.
Steve and Gordon continued to find success in the 2007 season. He led the No. 24 team to six victories, seven poles, 21 top-five finishes, and 30 top-10s—a single season record for most top-10 finishes in the modern era (1972 – present). Steve also guided Gordon to his first win at Phoenix International Raceway. Gordon’s April win at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway marked his 12th career restrictor plate victory—a Sprint Cup Series record. After only two full years as a crew chief, Steve led the No. 24 Team and Gordon to a 2nd place finish in the championship standings, only 35 points behind Jimmie Johnson.
In 2008, the team notched four pole positions, 13 top-five finishes and 19 top-10s. The No. 24 team finished seventh in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, marking its third straight top-10 result in the championship standings. Under Steve’s guidance, Gordon extended his streak of 16 consecutive seasons with a pole position when Gordon notched his first career pole at Texas Motor Speedway.
In 2009, Steve and the No. 24 team improved upon their previous Cup campaign by recording the team’s first win at Texas Motor Speedway, one pole position, 16 top-five finishes and a series high 25 top-10s. Gordon finished third in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The following year, Steve and Gordon continued Gordon’s streak of 18 seasons with a pole position when he claimed the top starting spot during the fall race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The team had 11 top-5s and 17 top-10s and finished the season ninth in the point standings.
Since he began his career at Hendrick Motorsports in 1995, Steve had been associated with the No. 24 team and driver Jeff Gordon. Steve was a part of all four of Gordon’s Cup championships and notably has qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup every year that he has been a crew chief. Steve’s success with Gordon for over 15 years is nothing short of amazing for a young man who has never worked for any other company other than Hendrick Motorsports. Yet, despite his incredible journey, Steve was ready to embark on a new challenge in his racing career. On Nov. 23, 2010, Hendrick Motorsports named Steve as the crew chief of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Steve and the No. 88 team began the 2011 season strong by capturing the pole at the Daytona 500. They went on to post four top-5s and 10 top-10s and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the first time for Earnhardt since 2008. Steve set a goal for the 2011 season--to contend for wins and contend for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The team, through Steve’s guidance, accomplished its goal finishing second at Martinsville and Kansas and finishing 7th in the overall Cup standings.
During the 2012 season, Steve led his team and driver, as an experienced coach, strategist and most importantly as a motivator. Through hard work and dedication, Steve, his team and his driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. won for the first time together on June 17, 2012 (Father's Day) in Michigan after leading the most laps and dominating most of the race. The team then captured the pole position at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in September. Steve led the team to one win, one pole position, 10 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s with drivers Earnhardt and Regan Smith (two races). The team finished 12th in the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The 2013 season started off strong for Steve and the No. 88 team. In the first 5 races they finished 7th or better with two 2nd place finishes at Daytona and California, with a total of five top-five finishes in the regular season. The team captured its first pole of the season in Kentucky in June and solidly remained in the top ten in points during the regular season. With that success, the team made the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which is the third time for Letarte and Earnhardt together, and after three 2nd place finishes, a pole at Dover, and finishing in the top eight in 8 of the 10 Chase races, the team finished fifth in final championship standings for the 2013 season.
A lifetime dedicated to performance paid off in 2014 as the No. 88 team won the Daytona 500. With the win cemented, Steve now focuses on building a championship season in 2014 before joining NBC as an Analyst in 2015. To that end, the team posted second place finishes at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Darlington and a third place finish at Martinsville. The team won its second race of the season at Pocono to give Dale Jr. his first multi-win season since 2004. With two wins so far this season, the team all but solidifies their ticket to the Chase for the Sprint cup.
Wins as Crew Chief: 13
Top 5s as Crew Chief: 117
Years in Chase: 8 (Every year as a crew chief)