One Day at RCR

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To start the day I was sent to speak with Oconomowoc, Wisconsin native, Paul Swan. He gave me a tour of the pit crew practice area and showed me video of the new pit stops. Speaking candidly I was told that all were a little afraid of the new 4 +1 crew roster. It wasn’t because it would be hard, these men are ready for the challenge. They all knew that some friends would soon be departing and that, that made this change hard.

I had to ask about the new pit guns, to get the real scoop. While the guys miss their old guns, which were faster, they are embracing the new. Ray Wright has told the guys not to worry about it or complain about it. They don’t have a choice so be the best with what you have. If you watch them practice, it is easy to see they have embraced this and are tackling it, head on. Day after day, hour after hour, they practice and aim to be the best.

It was a busy day in the Richard Childress Racing cup shop. I was able to see the primary car for Las Vegas Motor Speedway start to take shape. From high atop the catwalk you could see all of the shop crewmen working to get cars ready for load up, trucks are rolling tonight. So, let me share a little of the glamour I was able to see.

Getting the cars turned around and ready to race this week is no easy feat. The guys talked of 12 and 14 hour days. There will be some busted knuckles and kinks in the back to work out. No matter what anyone thinks, this is something you have to love to do. It’s a tough job and these guys are getting it done.

I was lucky enough to see the Atlanta “tear down” where they scaled and checked over the car, fresh from the hauler. This will give them a starting point for the next race in Atlanta but also give them information for next weekend. She had a little dust and dirt on her and probably a few hundred pounds of rubber under her from race build up.

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Car Chief, Greg Ebert, invited me to stop in. Undercar Tech, Kevin Gladman went a step further and invited me to cook for this fine group. I brought down brats and cheese curds, with plenty of sauerkraut to go around. At lunch the shop came out to eat and every single man was happy and kind and appreciative. Truth be known, I appreciate them more than they know. They make Sunday’s happen. I’ve spent many Sundays watching the 3 car turn laps and I was honored to spend time with all the guys that make it happen.

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After lunch I was given the opportunity of a lifetime, to go on the shop floor and get up close and personal. After a set of safety glasses I was able to talk my way into doing some work. Folding shop rags. Hey, it has to be done! I enjoyed every second of it. Talking with SJ Golembeski, tire specialist, who meticulously maintains the pit box and supplies. He makes sure that the team has everything at their disposal. Goes through his check list and then helps everywhere else needed. It’s a big job, on Sunday if something they need isn’t there, that could be the difference in winning and fighting for twentieth.

It was truly a state of awe for me. To be here, there… On the floor.

I left the shop around 3pm local time, not because I had to, but I knew they were busy. They were in the middle of a long day and an extra body wasn’t going to make life easier for them. I hope the food helped make their long day a little better.

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The Las Vegas back-up, who should stay in the hauler.

I left Appleton, Wi on Saturday, February 25 to come to North Carolina. There are some goals. I look to move down here. I look to get on a race team. Eventually I will make it to the RCR shop floor. Failing that, I will be the best damn writer there is and I will provide the best social media I can. It’s what I do. It’s why I am here. It’s my dream.

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In the end I can only say, “Thank you.” The good Lord gave me something special today. Also, big thanks to the Wisconsin boys, Paul Swan and Greg Ebert, for taking a little extra time with me. Thanks also to Kevin Gladman and Adam Brown, Josh Sisco and Clay Alexander, SJ and Freddy. Thank you to the entire team at RCR. As Andy Houston said before I left, “See you down the road.”

Love Wins Daytona

February 15, 1998 I woke up in Army Basic Training barracks. I went to chow, church, and came back to clean the room. Nothing more would happen that day. No television, no radio, there wasn’t even email allowed back then. It would take two weeks before one of my roommates would tell me that in a letter from his wife, he was told that Dale Earnhardt Sr. won THE Daytona 500. When first I heard I thought, “No way, Dale doesn’t win the 500. EVER!” It would be months before I even saw a picture and years before I would see that race.

February 18, 2018 I woke up and readied myself for this year’s Daytona 500. Through a morning of coffee and complaints, laughs, and ribbing my friend via text, we got excited for the race. I watched so much pre-race I thought the race might not live up to the hype, to all the hoopla that surrounded it. Interview after interview and prediction after prediction I waited for something that would make me cheer.

Finally, the ceremony began. The prayer, the national anthem, the command to start engines. Crews, wives, girlfriends put their drivers in their cars. Belts were tightened and the pace car began to roll. The starting lineup would be shuffled from incidents in the Twin 150’s and this would find Austin Dillon starting from the rear of the pack.

“Austin, have a good day out there. Guys have a good day in the pits. Let’s be there at the end and we can win.” The familiar voice of Richard Childress came across the radio. Every race Richard says something similar and this signals the start of the race.

“First stage here is 60 laps, total of 200. Gonna be a good day here and I’ll see you in Victory Lane.” Andy Houston always breaks the race down to segments and always tells Austin he will see him after. Sometimes he will just say see you, but today it was Victory Lane.

All of Speedweeks the 3 team had shown speed in the new Dow livery. Austin charged from the back up through the field before being hung out. Austin could see the competition getting wild and backed out, content to let others fight for stage points. Dealing with a tight race car, the team waited for pit stops to put tires on, fuel in, and get some adjustments made to help. Throughout the middle of the race, Austin hung back, dodging wrecks, avoiding debris, and keeping the car clean.

“I have t even really pushed to be totally honest.” Austin told Justin well into the final segment. Nobody had really taken tires throughout the day. Austin saved his tires for when he needed them. With the new 4+1 pit crew roster and slower air guns, teams couldn’t afford to give up time, so it was left to the driver to take care of his equipment.

“The Fords are all coming, the Fords are coming, we will come too.” Late in the final stage the 3 team would be snookered by the #17 team into pitting at the wrong time. When the 3 car steamed out of the pits with only 4 injured cars with, the race looked like it could be over. Falling into the clutches of the leaders, Austin awaited a caution to get back on cycle. The leaders would pit and allow Austin to cycle around, 7 seconds behind first place. “We need a caution.” Andy Houston knew if they wanted a shot, they had to have help.

CAUTION CAUTION CAUTION

Andy called out, “Yeah man, that’s what we needed.”

“Are we gonna get four here?” Austin knew what he needed to keep the car charging forward.

“Hell yeah we are getting four!” The excitement in Andy’s voice could be felt through the radio, he was energized.

This, was not the last caution. With each new accident the 3 car cut through the field.

“He’s gonna have to go top/bottom/top like the rest of them. He’s not gonna be able to ride one lane, Andy.” Richard is one of the most observant men in the garage. As a former driver, he can see the lanes move and the cars change position. You can hear his desire to get in the pack, to compete, to race.

Finally Austin saw himself in P4, outside of the second row coming to restart. I am trying to balance watching the race and update in-car radio on Twitter. I’m not part of the team but people surely want to know what’s happening inside the car. Twitter is slow and I can’t update fast enough. The radio is 40 seconds ahead of TV and Andy calls him to green. The entire time I am looking at the black and red nose of this car and it is covered in speedy-dry. White dust. This will look amazing in the museum if he can pull it off.

This overtime restart, if we make it to the white flag, the next flag ends it. Andy calls Austin through the field.

“43 on your bumper. Stay with this 10 for now. Big push coming from the 43. 43 two back, one back, bumper.”

*silence*

I look up to the TV. Twitter isn’t fast enough for me to update, I have to watch. A lap is 45 seconds, radio is 40 seconds ahead.

*heart beats faster and faster*

“Keep coming, keep coming, all the way to the line… Daytona 500 WINNER!”

I am glued to the TV, over half a lap left and Andy just told Austin on the radio he is the winner.

“YES! WE WON THE DAYTONA 500!”

“Way to go guys!”

The TV shows Austin get into the back of the 10. The 10 turns and collects the wall. The 3 car streaks off of turn 4, through the dogleg, across the finish line.

I’ve been pulling on my hair, eyes as big as silver dollars. Austin won the Daytona 500. We won the Daytona 500!

I sit back, lost for words. Emotions welling up but this time, I am left speechless. After almost 30 years of cheering on RCR, I get to see the 3 enter Daytona 500 Victory Lane.

Austin pitches the 3 sideways in the grass and proceeds to burn it down. The biggest victory of any stock car driver has become a reality. The smoke rolls and pours out of every part of the 3 car.

And then the dab.

The belly flop slide in the infield.

Victory Lane ceremony is done in a heartbeat. The confetti has been dropped. Champagne corks popped. Pop-Pop has been sprayed the team and he’s praised the team.

This is Daytona.

And in Daytona, the winner always takes home the girl. Mrs. Whitney Dillon called this win. Tonight, she will help Austin take that trophy home. A new home made together. If love conquers all, it conquered this track today.

The competition better be ready to see a lot more of the 3.

Conquering at the Clash

Welcome back NASCAR fans!

Today we got our racing back and boy, was it interesting. Some of the new things you saw, no mandatory ride heights, no NASCAR issue springs. This is something I’ve wanted to see for awhile. By adding a half inch to the spoiler to keep the speeds under 200mph, this is a big win. This means teams have control over their car. They can do some research and development. You can squat the rear end down, increases speeds but makes the driver actually drive the car. This little change puts control back in a team’s hands and allows them to set things up a little different than others. This allow allows for better drafting by reducing turbulent air that comes from under the car ahead. Now you’ll see cars “suck up” better in a draft and will reduce the dreaded “aero-push.” The slingshot, is back.

The Camaro ZL1 made its stock car debut and looked strong. With a body reminiscent of the car on the street, not only does this car look good, it drives good. The Camaro looks to have more front downforce, which will allow better turning, but it also appears to have improved side force which will increase stability in the turns.

Something else you may have heard about is standard issue splitters. Why is this important? Simple, it’s one of the few things teams would manipulate for a higher downforce advantage. Angles, edges, curves, and even bending corners up all played a factor. By standardizing this, it will reduce teams from spending thousands of dollars on this one piece. I am all for getting rid of the splitter, to me this is the next best thing.

There are more subtle changes, but we will get into those later, today, these three things made for a better race.

What did we see today? A race where the drivers really mattered. The cars could move and pick up the draft easily. Higher closing rates that allowed drivers to get a real run. Plus a saw cars that appeared more stable.

Austin Dillon started on the pole, he was shuffled back but was able to change lanes and move at will. Pitting just as the caution flag came out for the competition caution, the 3 team executed a solid stop. Back on track Austin held position and moved forward. In just a few laps he was able to move up before getting shuffled back again.

The field strung out into a single file on top and when someone would try to pull down they would get hung out. This is a product of the drivers, not the cars or rules. The drivers were afraid to lose a position, all day long. For a non-points event, I’ve never seen drivers so worried about a “good finish.”

It was Austin that wanted to go, lap after lap. Austin asked Andy Houston to find someone to go with him. In the final lap when Austin pulled out, he made up ground, drivers eventually went with him. He was closing on the leaders when the wreck happened which would end the race. After the race, Dillon told Houston & crew chief, Justin Alexander, “I want to be the one leading the charge at the end, I think we could have made it.” In deed they could have made it. Had they gone a lap earlier, I believe the 3 car would’ve challenged for the lead.

Thursday I think you can expect to see more from the 3 team, if they can find someone in their Duel, I believe the 3 car will return to Thursday’s victory lane. The hardest part will be finding other drivers who want to win and are willing to risk a few positions to move forward, rather than playing it safe for the “good finish.”

A “good finish” will never be great. If these drivers want to win, if they want to be great, they will have to “Get Like 3” as Mrs. Whitney Dillon puts it. Austin wants to be great and it’s his time to shine. Now, who else wants to be great?