Meeting the NASCAR Team
You may not think of stock-car racing as a team sport — racing certainly seems like an individual sport, considering all the attention a driver gets. But while a driver is arguably the most important part of a race team, he isn’t the only reason a team wins or loses.
Dozens of people work on a race team and contribute to the performance of a car every weekend. From the owner to the crew chief, the engine builder, and the guy who orders parts, everyone on a team has to work well — and work well together — in order for the team to succeed.
Consider the driver racing’s version of a quarterback. And a good quarterback can’t accomplish much if his team lets him get sacked. So, without further adieu, a look at all the major players on a NASCAR team.
- The owner is boss. The owner has the final say in hiring everyone who works on the team, from the driver to the crew chief to everyone who prepares the cars for racing. The owner spends money on cars, parts, and payroll. Better-known NASCAR owners include Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, Richard Petty, Robert Yates, and the Wood Brothers.
- With all those bills to pay and paychecks to sign, an owner has to be a shrewd and savvy businessperson, because that money has to come from somewhere — ideally not his own pockets. So in order to make sure he has enough money to pay everybody, the owner has to do one thing first: Secure a sponsor.
- A sponsor will fork out between $4 to $10 million for a season. Even though sponsors pay most of the bills, they don’t get to hang out at the race shop as much as they want or give advice to drivers on how to make their cars run faster. Their role on the race team is usually limited to paying the bills or marketing the race team.
- The team manager organizes the operation. He serves as the owner’s representative in the shop: someone who oversees everything, including ordering equipment, hiring personnel, and organizing test sessions. There are just too many details for the owner and crew chief to deal with, so the team manager position was created as a mix of both those positions.
- This person is usually someone with a lot of experience working on racecars — often someone who had been a long-time crew chief, but wanted to step back and take a more administrative role. After the team is assembled, the team manager’s job is to get the people to work together, to make sure each individual person is doing his individual job.
- The crew chief is a race team’s head honcho. Racing isn’t like other sports, where the equipment is the same across the board. But some days, drivers are presented with racecars that just aren’t fast enough to win. That’s where the crew chief comes in. Some of the better-known crew chiefs include Ray Evernham, Todd Parrott, and Robin Pemberton.
- He works from his own experience, knowing how cars have reacted in the past on certain tracks under certain conditions. The crew chief tells each of the workers under him the specifications for doing their jobs, both at the shop and at the racetrack. He determines how the bodies are built, how the springs and shocks are adjusted, what level of air pressure to run the tires at — everything.
- If you need something done, go to the car chief. The car chief is the person who works closely with the crew chief in figuring out setups for the car, but is the actual guy who makes sure it gets done. That allows the crew chief more time to work on a computer or look through notes to figure out better setups.
- The driver does more than drive the car. The crew chief has conversations with the driver about how the car should be set up, but for the most part, the team does all the work at the shop. But after everyone arrives at the track for a race, teams try to improve their cars during practice sessions (when drivers complete laps around the track, and then come into the garage to tell their crew chiefs what the car is doing).
- Drivers describe whether the car is reacting correctly to the track and where it needs to go faster — on the corners or in the straightaways. The crew chief then determines which adjustments to make.
- And the rest of the team . . . Other team members, dressed in matching uniforms, do much more than just strut around looking important. Even though they aren’t the primary decision-makers on a team, they’re important components to building a winning program.
- Keep in mind that not every team member goes to a race, only a set group goes. The others stay at the race shop and work on cars for future races. Here are some that go to the track:
Engine specialist or engine tuner: In charge of taking care of the engines after they get to the racetrack.
Tire specialist: Spends the entire day hanging around the team’s tires, changing the air pressure, checking the heat buildup, or measuring the wear of a tire after it has taken a few laps on the track.
Engineers: Calculate the exact setup for a car on a certain track, including precisely how each shock should be built, which springs should be used, and what tire pressures will be best.
General mechanics: All-around workers who can do just about anything.
Pit crew: Up to seven people are allowed to go over the pit wall and service a car during a pit stop.
Truck driver: Must be on time and be careful driving the rig with millions of dollars of equipment — the primary car, the backup car, extra parts for the suspension, the engines, and every other piece of the car.
In addition, dozens of team members wait back at the shop for the car to return from the race so they can fix it up and prepare it for the next race it will run, whether that’s the following week or a month or two. Dozens of team members also build engines, build car bodies, and test parts.
While these team members work behind the scenes, the fabricators, engine builders, engine assemblers, and parts specialists shouldn’t be overlooked.