Once upon a time I had a wish. I wished that I could be part of a race team for a weekend, just so I could show them how dedicated I was. I had this dream that if I had one weekend I could prove myself. As fans we all have those moments. Then, I got to live it.
Last year Derrike Cope Racing gave all fans the opportunity to purchase hot passes for a weekend. So my dad and I did it. Not only did it change my view on race teams but also on us fans. It was an eye opener as to how much we bumble around in a giant cluster-you know what. So I want to share with everyone what I saw.
Thursday was roll-in at Road America. Late afternoon the haulers roll in and park. They had their annual gig in Random Lake with a cookout and then full parade to the track. The trucks aren’t just transportation, they are homes to the men that drive them and many have their own personality, but they were all spotless and beautiful.
Friday morning we wake up, have some coffee, head up from the campsite to the garage. Dad and I both work 6am-2pm every day so we are up and ready and rolling and in line to get hot passes at 7:15. Well, apparently every person in the garage without hard card is there too, waiting. So we wait. In line it is almost every driver and crew member you could dream of. By the time we get processed through, it’s going on 8am. When we get to the garage crews are already a**holes and elbows in the car and under the car, awnings are up and it is just a busy mess.
This is the best time to walk the garage and just see the teams and mechanics in their most excellent moments. I had hawked autographs for years, so I didn’t need to get any. It’s a good thing too because this is the worst time for autographs. If you see a driver they are heading somewhere. Could be NASCAR meetings, could be team meetings, could be to see the car in inspection.
As you walk through some teams are down off the jack stands quick and then into inspection line. Now, this is a great time to say hello to some of the team members simply because they are doing nothing in line. Seriously, it’s like waiting in a long bank line. The only difference is they are pushing a 3,400 pound stock car and not talking into a phone. This is literally the slowest parade ever.
Aftwr they go through the big claw they go to rear end and front end and laser grid. Every inch of that car is checked and rechecked and that’s before they even go set up for the day. Before any of this NASCAR will have come around and checked body and chassis and motor. There is nothing that is not touched. If you like to touch cars, this job is for you! Now, if you pass all the inspections and can continue on you go back to the hauler and it’s back on jackstands. Now begins initial set up.
Things will be adjusted and changed for the weekend. NASCAR will come around again to check window nets and windshields. It sounds stupid but it is all checked again. Meanwhile mechanics are working on all parts of the car at the same time. I’m not sure if it is organized chaos or chaos in motion or absolute organization. After all this the car may be resubmitted for inspection, if you failed, you have to fix it and many times go back to station number one.
By the time practice rolls around the engineers and mechanics are just grabbing something and throwing it in their mouth. There may be coffee cups strewn about and yes, fans all around. During hot periods I am convinced they don’t just kick fans out for their safety, it’s to give crews a break. They’ll have earned it after 4+ hours of solid work. As cars hit the track some will watch from the wall, others will escape to the hauler. Small teams, likely their people will still be working or pulling double duty. Big teams, the tire tech will go down pit road and wait for the driver so they can hop over and check temperatures and pressures and gauge wear.
Also during practice there may be a big change, shocks and springs and ride heights, so the crew really doesn’t get a “break” they just get a little less busy. At the end of practice everyone is back up on jackstands with mechanics in the engine bay and under the car and in the car. Back to the craziness. At least, it looks crazy when all you do is stand there. It became so much easier when I started helping with little things. I felt less in the way with DCR.
If there is a second practice, this will all be repeated. From inspection to tear down and set up. It is truly amazing the countless hours invested in a machine. That’s if it was kept clean during practice. Usually there’s a team that will go to a back up car and start from the beginning. There’s always someone changing a transmission or steering box at Road America. Somewhere before all of this there was a driver/crew chief meeting.
By the time the garage closes for the day you can see the team members are spent. I have always told my teams that they are welcome at my campsite, I always will but I can honestly say… They will likely never make it. Most will be in a hotel several miles away. Some of the drivers have their RVs there, but crews will have hotel rooms from what I saw.
When Saturday morning rolls around its all right back to it. Wheels off the ground and crews double checking the car and making adjustments the car chief, crew chief, and driver discussed. Then, back to more waiting in line. Danny will be gaping and fans will be watching everything. After inspection it is wheels up and put in qualifying set up if they haven’t. Then you have a qualifying session which is short. Then it is back up off the ground and adjustments for race setup, then back down for prerace inspection.
After all of this, all the checks and changes and verifications someone has to set up the pit box. I got to do this part, since they do it every week, not a huge ordeal. My first time, I was like a leg less duck trying to swim. After it gets all set up and you get all the VIP seating set it will be almost race time.
Now, a small team will actually cobble together a team at conjunction races, when it is a separate race they take who they can. A big team has their guys and many help the small teams when their cars aren’t pitting. Though I have to say this for the over the wall guys, if you think a stop is fast on TV, you should see it in person. It is so much quicker and it happens all around you.
During the race there are guys getting tires and fuel. There are guys by the hauler packing in the unneeded stuff. There are guys practicing their stuff and some sit on the wall. A pit box will have up to 6 people on it making decisions, that’s just what I saw.
At the end you have the winner in victory lane, that’s where you want to be… Especially if you have teammates. Why is that? Glad you asked. If you are in victory lane, your teammates teams will tear down your stuff for you while you celebrate! If your teammate wins, your work doubles.
After all is said and done, they pack it all up in a race to be out of there as soon as possible. The sooner cars get back home, the sooner they can assess the total picture and load up another car and get it back on the road.
This is just the small bit I saw with a hot pass. The teams roll out and head home. The funny thing is, during the week they do many of the tasks at the shop, then they go do it all again. Racing is about heart. You have to want it to be in it. From the smallest team of Morgan Shepard to the biggest teams like Richard Childress Racing, there no easy task for anyone on the team. While we idolize the drivers, it’s the crews that deserve our applause.
This is just the Xfinity series. This is such a small glimpse. It doesn’t even include what happens when there is an issue. What happens when David Green starts getting involved. By far the biggest display of heart is how teams help each other. Big teams help small teams. It is big brother and little brother. The more fortunate helping the less fortunate.
So the next time you are in the garage, take a look around, give the bus some room, cut them some slack. Remember, this is their job, the paddock is their desk. Say hi, say thank you, and keep your head on a swivel. 3,400 pound cars win and none of them want to be the one to hit you with it.
Thank you for reading, I’ll see you in the box.
This is solely written based upon my experience and recollection of events from Road America, 2015. Any crew member that would like to add to this or change something or tell me their weekend story, please let me know. We fans love to know about the sport and I value your input. I would love to help write an article or open letter to fans from you who work in the business, from those in the garage, from those under the car and in the car. Also, I’d like to take this chance to tell all crew members on all teams, “Thank you, for selflessly giving to provide us with entertainment.”