NASCAR owners, drivers, crew chiefs, and over the wall guys get 99% of the media coverage on race weekends. I found a group of guys essential to the race team’s success who are rarely known by even the biggest fans. The mechanics and shop guys responsible for setting up the race cars are the unsung heroes on race weekend.
I had the honor of meeting the #2 Dodge Miller Lite crew. They took me under their collective wings to show me the ropes in the garage. Let me introduce you to them! Their fearless leader is crew chief, Pat Tryson who has only been with the team since June but is already very popular with the guys and clearly returned the team to its winning form.
To protect the rest of them from oodles of fan mail they will likely get as a result of this blog, I won’t reveal their last names…Second in command is the car chief, Corey T., who is responsible for everything on the car until it rolls off on race day. Specifically, he is in charge of the front-end suspension. Brian is the team engineer and “data” guy. Darin is in charge of tuning the engine. Luke is the shock specialist. Steve’s domain is the rear suspension. Bill looks after the interior, as he says laughing “I do windows” and also takes care of keeping Kurt’s helmet clean.
“Stretch”, aka Eric, tends to the fuel cell. Corey is the tire guy all race weekend and is helped by Ron. There were also one or two fabricator guys each weekend in charge of the body and has spare front ends, fenders, etc in case bad things happened on the track. Other notables include Cindy and ‘Stump’ who are in charge of the hauler and seem to play the role of “team parents” all weekend, Jesse the spotter, and Paul who drives Kurt’s motor coach.
These guys have a very hectic life. They travel to the races Thursdays through Sundays every race weekend and work in the shop during the week. On race weekend they don’t rest until the car is pushed out onto the starting grid and then they work in the pits! Their day starts early on Friday setting the car up for qualifying practice and getting the car through inspection. They usually practice about a half an hour in qualifying trim and then switch the car over to race trim which takes about 10 minutes to do.
There are three NASCAR inspection area’s (Fuel/Engine, Templates and Scales) the team must clear every time. The crew then pushes the car (they are ALWAYS pushing the car) out to their qualifying spot on pit road. If Kurt qualifies in the top three that day, they have to remain with the car as it goes through post qualifying inspection. After qualifying, they have until the garage closes to work on changing the car over to race set up for practice on Saturday.
Saturday, there are two practice sessions usually separated by at least an hour. They have the car set to go in race trim first thing in the morning and again have to pass through all the inspection areas. Most of the crew climbed high a top the hauler to watch Kurt’s laps and discuss on the team radio what changes needed to be made. Some of them stay out on pit lane to check tire wear. They would climb down and run across to the garage to make those changes and then head back up top the hauler
They have about an hour to adjust on the car before “Happy Hour” begins, which is the final practice before the race. During Happy Hour, the intensity is obvious. The crew works at a frantic pace as Kurt comes in and off the track to fine tune the adjustments. It takes them just minutes to make the changes and get Kurt back out on the track. When Happy Hour is just about to finish they had Kurt cut the engine and coast/be pushed into the Sunoco station which enabled them to check the spark plugs and establish their fuel mileage for the race.
When Happy Hour ends, the crew has about two and a half hours to tear down the car and build it back up again. They move swiftly and expertly as they tend to their specific areas of the car. Every crew member has a checklist of parts that they personally need to inspect before the garage closes.
Steve crawls under the car like a cat as he drains the oil and takes apart the rear axle and rear gear looking for wear. If there is any concern of wear on any of the parts, the crew will replace it with a new one. There was no visable wear on the axle so he repacked it.
All I see of Bill is his backside as he is bent over inside drivers window checking the dash and getting that interior clean! “Stretch” is inspecting the fuel cell and making sure the hoses are tied down well and all the air bubbles are out of the lines. Corey and Darin have their heads under the hood checking off the extensive engine checklist. Luke has removed the rear shocks and has to take them over to NASCAR who will hold them until Sunday morning when they pass through inspection. NASCAR does this so teams cannot tamper with the shocks.
The crew informs me they try to get as much done today before NASCAR closes the garage so they can be one of the first through inspection tomorrow, making their race day a lot less hectic. When NASCAR closes the garage, of course this team toasts themselves with an ice cold Miller Lite at the hauler.
As promised the Miller Lite crew was one of the first cars through inspection on race day. Luke assured me they had the rear shocks back in the car. After the car was cleared on the scales they pushed it immediately out to their starting spot for the race. We usually see the cars hooked up to equipment on pit road. The crew said that was to get the oil up to temperature before the race and they usually turned it on about one hour before race time. Finally, the crew has some down time. They hang out at the hauler eating lunch, prepared by Cindy and resting up for their duties on pit road. I took Luke and Brian up on their offer to demonstrate the shock dyno to me and show me their work space in the hauler. Their research and knowledge base is quite impressive, as is their organization. (I will post another blog about the hauler and its contents.)
Most of the over the wall guys are also around helping on Sunday. They are responsible for setting up the pit box and getting all of the equipment out onto pit road. As race time approaches, the crew changes into their pit road uniforms which are more protective and fire resistant. Cindy heads up to the grandstands to be the team’s official scorer. Corey T. heads out to watch over the car on the track along with Corey who is checking tire pressures. At this point, Corey T. hands off responsibility of the car to Pat Tryson and Kurt.
After the crews line up for the National anthem, they get to work organizing their pit box and warming up to help during the pit stops. Brian climbs up on the pit box and is ready to collect and analyze the data based on the information they obtain throughout the race. Steve dons fire protective gear and is ready to go over the wall as the catch can man. He makes a great team with his son, Chris, who is the gas man. Luke and Stretch will be catching tires. Bill’s job is to make fuel runs pulling a gas wagon that holds 3 gas cans to the Sunoco station.
Corey is in charge of making air pressure changes. He also uses a blow torch to melt away the rubber build up from the track so they can accurately assess the tire wear. Ron stacks the used tires and removes them from the pit box. Watching these guys in motion along with the over the wall guys is like watching a well oiled machine. They are under tremendous pressure during the stops but the great chemistry on this team keeps them smiling even under pressure.
If Kurt wins the race or finishes in the top three they will stay after and tear down the car under the close scrutiny of NASCAR. This adds another 2 hours to their night, but after a win, no one complains! Most of the pit box is empty by the closing laps of the race if Kurt is not in contention for the win. Back at the hauler, Cindy and Stump have most of the equipment packed and the hauler is now full to the gills.
If they are not picked to be inspected, the crew finishes up packing their equipment and the race car and heads to the airport as quickly as they possibly can to enjoy their only well earned day off.
I would like to personally thank each and every one of the Miller Lite Crew for taking time during their very busy work days to give me a rare glimpse into their world. NASCAR would be nothing without these guys!