Car builders share in joy of winning

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2001

EAST FLAT ROCK, N.C. -- The announcement over the intercom system wasn't much louder than the stereo blasting Beach Boys music inside one of Andy Petree Racing's shops.

''Remember, there's free Gatorade until 5 o'clock.''

Marc Parks, the shop foreman for Petree's No. 33 Chevrolet Monte Carlo and driver Joe Nemechek, stopped cutting on a piece of sheet metal long enough to laugh.

''Ah, the perks of being one of the guys in the shop,'' Parks said.

For the most part, the crew members at the shop are nameless and faceless.

They hammer, cut, beat, bang and weld for eight hours a day, five or six days a week, to keep a race team at full speed. They don't travel; they don't have fan clubs; and they're never interviewed on television.

''We aren't here for the glory,'' Parks said. ''We're here to build race cars and win races. There's enough satisfaction in hearing them thank all the boys back at the shop after we've won a race. When he says that, that's as good as it gets.''

For every person working center stage on Sunday, there are 10 back at the shop doing the grunt work.

At Andy Petree Racing, race cars start as a stack of metal pipes and flat sheets of metal. It takes one month and hundreds of man-hours to handcraft a car into a four-wheeled rocket that can run 190 mph.

''The guys who work in the shop are like linemen in football,'' general manager Steve Barkdoll said. ''You never hear about them until they do something wrong.

''They're the foundation to this race team. You can't win on this circuit unless you have a bunch of dedicated, talented guys in the shop.''

There are 87 employees at Andy Petree Racing. They prepare cars for both Nemechek and Bobby Hamilton, who drives the No. 55 Chevrolet.

While some workers especially in the chassis, engine and body shops work on both cars, Petree is careful to keep some of the duties separate.

Nemechek's cars are constructed at one end of the massive facility 20 miles from downtown Asheville, N.C., while Hamilton's cars are built on the other end. Other than the cars themselves Nemechek drives a white car sponsored by Oakwood Homes, Hamilton drives a blue car sponsored by Square D the only noticeable difference between the two shops is the music.

Nemechek's bunch favors rock 'n' roll; Hamilton's crew likes country.

Petree's shop is unique because it's one of the few that constructs each car from scratch. A web-like chassis takes about 10 people two weeks to complete, and that's one reason why most teams buy them already assembled.

There are 12 cars for Nemechek, 12 cars for Hamilton and two spares that either can use in an emergency. Each car costs about $75,000. Each engine costs about $30,000.

For most, the fleet of race cars is much like an artist's work. They're extensions of everyone's personality and talent.

''I packed my toolbox last November, left California and drove 2,370 miles to do this,'' said Steve Moulton, one of the fabricators. ''Racing, not notoriety, has to be more important to you if you want to work in this business."

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