Let me start by saying that this isn’t a post about how Austin Dillon ran or how he finished. Results are easy to look up.
Today’s story starts a long time ago, long before Twitter. I would say somewhere around 1987. Let that sink in for a second…
My family has always been in northeast Wisconsin, home of the Green Bay Packers, Sunday we checked to see how Richard and Dale finished. We would look to see if they won or not. We would gather at my grandparents to see a race on occasion and sometimes when it wasn’t on we would listen to it on the radio.
It was in those years I remember saying, “I want to drive a race car.” Years later I said, “I want to be on the pit crew.” Then a little while later I said, “I want to be the crew chief.” Funny how our heroes and dreams change over time.
Of course it was always THE 3 car. Nothing else would ever do! There was a point when I didn’t know if there would be a 3 car again. In fact my dream of being part of the 3 team had completely left my bucket list because I never thought it possible.
Til this weekend. Sunday morning my cousin Franky and I loaded up in his Chevy 2500HD and turned wheels south. A little over 3 and a half hours, 250 miles, $12 in tolls we pulled into Chicagoland Speedway outside of Joliet, Illinois.
Entering any speedway, for me, is always akin to a religious experience. That’s not sacrilege, I pray at an altar of speed! I was excited as always, I could feel it throughout my body. I never show this. Like I said on Twitter, “I maintain a military bearing.” Soldiers will understand. What this is, is keeping an even keel. Never moving far from zero.
We entered the garage and I had one objective, find my guys. Garage 27. The Dow Chemical Energybag Chevrolet number 3.
My second Cup race, first points Cup race, first time in the Cup pits and here she was… beautiful, long, black, sexy. The epitome of what a race car should look like with a history only rivaled by that of the number 43.
I can’t remember who I talked to first, I think it was Slugger Labbe. An awesome guy no matter which way you look at it, very welcoming and personable. On a day filled with potential and tension and strife and work, he makes time for everyone.
One by one I met the crew throughout the day. Frank, SJ, Ratto, Gladman, Sisco, Adam, Clay, Greg, Andy… every single guy on the team greeted me and talked, making me feel like an old friend who had come home from a trip long overdue. It felt like I was part of the team.
My cousin and I walked the garage for a bit and met up with another old friend, then came back and stood in the inspection line with the guys. This is where I felt most like part of the team. A whole lot of hurry up and wait. The guys laughing and joking, talking of their families and other randomness.
Standing there, next to the car, I couldn’t help myself… I reached out and touched her. I didn’t get odd looks and nobody yelled at me. I don’t even think they noticed but that there, well, if you could see inside my head and inside my heart… I was exploding with excitement. I don’t know how to describe what I felt, it wasn’t just the feel of the quarterpanel or the paint. It was touching my dream.
My cousin and I circled the garage, you like to take it all in, but I kept coming back to my guys and the 3 car. I found the over-the-wall guys who were as welcoming there as they were at Road America. I introduced myself to the 3 team’s new jack man, Adam Lewis. I said hi to Austin and Ty.
Yet I still kept returning to the car and mechanics. The unsung heroes, the guys who spend days setting her up for practice, qualifying, more practice, then resetting her for the race. These are the guys that spend more time in her or under her (you can laugh) than the driver.
As the sun rose high over the track and the team had been through inspection and the naughty line and more inspection, she was pushed through the gate and onto the grid. I set myself up on the wall for prerace ceremonies. I was trying to find myself and out of the way spot so I could take pictures of the guys for them and their families.
We were asked to move back, several times and ushered against the fence. I only regret this as I couldn’t get the pictures I wanted of the guys and for the guys. The pictures I do have will be posted Wednesday, I did get some great pictures anyways.
Now, anyone can tell you that race isn’t easily watched from the pits, you see next to nothing and if you don’t have a headset, you have no idea what is going on. I don’t know anything of what was said on the radio this weekend which I hate, only because it felt like I wasn’t doing my “job” for the team.
As the race ran on and the VIPs got their turn up on the pitbox, I was eventually asked if I wanted to go up! Hell Yes! (If my fat butt could fit and I made it!) We weren’t up there long, we let other get a turn. I didn’t want to bother any of the handlers there.
Pit stop after pit stop I watched my team in action. When something wasn’t as good as they wanted it, you saw it on their face. Everyone got beat on by the sun, these guys in black, just sit there and take it, they jump on that wall and give it hell every time.
It’s funny, when I first saw pit stops, I felt like it was so quick. The more you watch the more it all seems to slow down into a manageable event. The best I could tell we held serve or gained spots all day.
When it was all done I stayed behind as they closed up the box and tore it down. I thanked them for their hard work and told them all great job, not because it is right or polite but because I can honestly say they earned it. They left it out there in the box. When they give it their all, you have to recognize that effort and commend them on it.
Throughout the day every man on the team thanked me for my support of them. They commented how much they appreciated what I do. To me, it’s just being a fan. I recognize that it’s not just a driver, car, sponsor, and number.
It’s a large group of guys who week after week give it their all. Who dedicate themselves to a single cause, making a car go fast to entertain us fans. These guys are nameless and faceless to most, but to me they are more than that, to me they are more than mechanics, to me they are more than pit crew members. To me, they are…
Friends. My guys. My team.
The part that really got to me at the end of the day was when someone from another crew asked if I was THE “Couch Crew Chief” after I said yes he thanked me for all I did and said he loved everything I write. When I asked who he was he told me his name and then said, “I’m a nobody.”
That’s when I knew I had started down the right path. Not one person in the garage is a nobody, you can’t fake it and make it in the garage. It doesn’t work that way, there’s too much blood, sweat, and tears shed for anyone to feel like a nobody in that garage.
So this is for “nobody” and “everybody” my friends in the garage. Hope to see you all soon… in the box.