I was fortunate enough to take part in Pennzoil’s “Best Seat in the House” this past weekend at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. As a guest with the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet I was given a view from the track that I have never had before.
More to come on that later….
Beginning on Thursday, the team haulers start entering the track. The first hauler spot is always reserved for the reigning champion, which is Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the team haulers are placed in order by the series standings as they enter each race. The haulers are staged before entering the track in an orderly fashion. The No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil enters Martinsville first in the series standings, placing the hauler with driver Kevin Harvick in the second position next to Johnson’s.
The team hauler holds two race cars, a primary car and a backup car along with all of the parts necessary to repair or fix a race car during the race weekend. This also includes three engines (one spare engine along with the engine that is in the backup car). The team hauler is basically a RCR rolling shop.
There is a company that hauls the pit box, better known as the “war wagon”, the “crash cart” and the tire rims to each race. Different “crash carts” are used for each race and are changed out back at the shop prior to heading to the next race.
What about all of these parts? Do they just use parts as needed? No way! Every single part has a serial number, Micro chip and is inventoried. They know exactly when a part went on a car, where it ran, how many laps it ran and what happened during that race. When a part is taken off, it will be put back into inventory unless it has used up its life expectancy. In that case, it will be taken to “used parts heaven”. Some unneeded reusable parts will be sold.
I know a lot of you like your tire rims. How about forty of them? That’s right, the team brings forty of them to each race (enough for ten 4 – tire stops).
Forty tires too? No, all tires are leased from Goodyear. The only tires the team has are the eight tires that are on the two cars when entering the track. All tires are Micro-chipped and inventoried by Goodyear. Goodyear knows exactly where each tire goes and when it comes back. The team cannot leave the track until all of the tires are accounted for.
The No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil crew chief, Gil Martin has two radios at his disposal in case of communication problems. A new rule for 2010 only allows each car one radio in the car. If problems arise, then they will have to exchange driver radio on pit road. Communication is also a requirement to remain on the track.
The car must also pass NASCAR inspection. There are over 30 templates that must match and clear inspection before the car can practice, qualify or race.
Holy tight quarters! The team hauler is long and narrow but contains more than you would expect. Each crew member has their own spot for their personal items. Some of the space is used to house communication equipment but most of the remaining space houses parts, a lot of them. Everything is organized in certain locations and each member knows where to locate what might be needed during a race weekend. The team’s organization is the key to keeping the team going at the pace needed during the race weekend.
The No. 29 team members are also athletes. I am unsure if everyone abides by the “special diet” program provided by their nutritionist or dietitian, but the food looked good. The team has more than one “happy” person in the hauler. With a proper diet each crew member remains happy and healthy in order to crank out the 13 second pit stops that are needed during the race.
Now back to why I have been given this opportunity. I had participated in some promotions that Pennzoil was offering to fans and agreed to learn a little more about the new Pennzoil Ultra formula and its super cleaning powers. By doing this, I was given one of the 43 other best seats in the house, atop the “War wagon” of the No. 29.
Due to a rain postponed race on Sunday, the race was held on Monday. The day began soggy and damp. But a few hours before race time, the clouds parted and sunny skies meaning that it’s race day!
I arrived at the No. 29 pit stall a few minutes before the pace laps began. I saw all of the last minute preparations that take place before the green flag. The team gathered in a circle on pit road. I am unsure what they were saying due all the noise, but I am sure it was something to do with kicking butt.
I was given a team radio that would allow me to hear the conversations between the crew chief Martin, Harvick and the rest of the No. 29 team. The first thing I noticed was that is also contained a microphone. I was thinking, ‘I hope I don’t have to make any calls’.
After climbing atop the “war wagon”, I was greeted by Ford Martin, which is Gil and Rhonda Martin’s son, who is apparently well known around the garage. I was still fumbling around with the headset at this time. I hated to, I really didn’t want to, but I had to ask the teenager how the heck I get this headset on my head correctly. Ford quickly adjusted the headset and I was set to see and hear the action from the best seat in the house.
With Harvick’s wife, Delana already in her place right next to Martin, the team was ready to rumble. Qualifying was rained out on Friday and Harvick was on the pole since the field was set by the series points.
The green flag flew and we were off racing. As the cars made it around to turn-2 where the pit stall was and I immediately realized this is the best seat. Though it’s impossible to see all the way around this short flat track, you still have a better seat than most. I guess the ones in the press box might beg to differ, but they are just seeing the action. Atop the box, you get to see, hear and feel the action.
The new Pennzoil Ultra oil seemed to be doing its job. By lap 23, Harvick was already putting cars a lap down. An early caution flag came out on lap 41. The crew made its first pit stop of the day. It was four tires and an air pressure adjustment. The crew made a blazing stop and Harvick remained in the lead when the race was restarted on lap 49.
I am not one to listen to any of race chatter by the teams during the race. So to my surprise the radio communications contain a lot of silence. I guess I have been listening to the TV broadcast too much and expected them to never shut up on the team radio.
Jeff Gordon passed Harvick for the lead on lap 59, but that was the least of Harvick’s worries. After the first pit stop Harvick noticed something different in the brakes. Around lap 103 his brake pedal was all the way to the floor and he had to pit.
He went directly to the garage on lap 105 with something amiss with his brakes. The right rear just was not working correctly. After a brief fire and lots of smoke in the garage, all hopes were lost to salvage any kind of good finish today.
The crew was able to get back on track after a few more changes and adjustments. Harvick finished in 35th place, 100 laps down. It was just not their day. I hope I was not the jinx.