Away from track, there's plenty of driving going on

Posted: Friday, June 23, 2000

ATLANTA -- By the time Dennis LaCroix pulled out of Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday morning, his eyes were bloodshot and stinging with fatigue.

He had just driven nine hours, helped unload and reload a tractor-trailer full of racing cars and equipment, and was back on the road for a 50-hour crosscountry trek to the Northern California vineyards.

''This is not easy work,'' the truck driver for Brett Bodine's race team said. ''And when something throws us off, it puts all of us in a bind.''

The monkey wrench for more than 40 truck drivers on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series this week was a delay Sunday at the Pocono 500. Rain and fog at the Pocono (Pa.) Raceway pushed the main event back to Monday, cutting every team's time to prepare and sleep by a day.

The convoy of massive transporters started leaving race shops from in and around North Carolina early Tuesday. They each had to be at Sonoma, Calif., by today, meaning stops along the way would be limited to refueling and restrooms.

''There's no room for error,'' said John Pounds, who hauls Bill Elliott's racing equipment from track to track. ''It's really not that difficult to drive to California, but it's hard when you're on such a tight schedule. There are some ways to cut time off the drive, but mostly it's 50 hours of non-stop motion.''

Pounds said racing caps are popular at weigh stations. A cap from a driver sometimes helps inspectors look the other way as the truck crosses the scales.

''It certainly helps when you drive for a popular driver,'' Pounds said. ''You get a lot of helpful information on the (citizen's band) radio. People seem to be your fan when you're on the road.

''When you drive for a controversial driver, it can be a lot tougher. Like Dale Earnhardt. A lot of people really like him, but some people can't stand him. His driver has to turn the radio off because he gets a lot of static from people who don't like Earnhardt. The guy who drives for Jeff Gordon has the same problem. You should hear some of the things people say on the radio.''

When Sunday's race was postponed by a day, it meant the convoy from Long Pond, Pa., back to the North Carolina was delayed by a day. By the time the trucks pulled out of the Pocono Raceway and finished their nine-hour trip, it was close to midnight. Each truck had to be unloaded and reloaded in 12 hours.

Pounds said each team starts the trip alone. But after a few trips through the weigh station scales and rest stops, several teams eventually hook up in a massive convoy of 10 or more trucks.

The Department of Transporta tion requires single-driver truckers to stop for an eight-hour rest after 10 hours of driving. Two-man tandems, however, can alternate to keep the wheels moving throughout the 2,450-mile trip.

Each driver then faces the same dilemma at the gas pumps: Do they spend the time eating a hot meal or taking a shower?

''That's always a hard question,'' Pounds said. ''When you're in a truck for 50 hours, there's nothing better than a shower, even if you have to pass up dinner. And when the trip's over, all you want is to get some sleep without motion. You might be lying down for five hours, but you don't ever sleep that well when the truck's in motion. Taking a shower and sleeping in a stationary position are the two greatest feelings for a truck driver after a long haul.''

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