Drivers' crews would suffer most

Posted: Monday, July 24, 2000

One of the wiser veterans of the NASCAR garage looked around the compound at Daytona a couple of weeks ago.

''You know,'' he said, ''if we outlawed motor coaches, we'd have the schedule down to 25 races in no time.''

Think about it. The drivers and car owners ride in on private jets and helicopters to the track, where for each a $1 million Newell or Overland motor home awaits in a guarded lot, driven to the site by an employee.

The drivers do their racing chores, then retreat to the coach lot with their families to enjoy most of the amenities of home. On Sunday nights, they take their helicopters back to their jets and are home in an hour or two.

Nothing against the racers. In most cases, they've earned what they have, and their schedules are hectic, some traveling as much as 270 days each year.

But NASCAR's 36-event schedule including the Bud Shootout and The Winston is built on the backs of the support personnel.

NASCAR intends to increase its calendar to 38 events in 2001 38 of the 52 weekends in the year, not including test dates. To many in the trenches, already at the limit, that's two two many.

''I think you're going to see guys quit next year,'' says Peter Jellen, truck driver for Bobby Labonte's No. 18 team. '' You've got no life. This is your life.''

Really, the weekly Winston Cup show comes right down to fellows like Jellen, who criss-cross the nation hauling a million dollars in cargo on what sometimes are impossible deadlines.

Yet, every Friday when the garage opens at 6 a.m., the hauler of every competing team is waiting at the fence, ready to roll inside, park, unload, and let the men get to work.

The drivers get there sometimes on two hours' sleep, having endured breakdowns, traffic, and the tension of the road. Upon arrival, most hauler drivers pitch in with the crew for the weekend.

It's not just the truck drivers (most teams employ two for longer trips). The mechanics and car specialists usually fly commercial planes, rent cars, fight traffic in and out of the track, with just enough time left in the day for dinner.

At Daytona in February, for example, teams are expected at the track at 6 a.m., which means a 4:30 wakeup call. Work continues until 5 or 6 p.m. Crewmen then fight traffic back to the hotels, arriving by 7:30 or 8 at night. A quick meal, and it's bedtime.

Does this kind of life look interesting to you?

They do it because they love it, most of them. With top teams, the money is good, with the scale starting at $50,000 for a capable hand. But for the near-volunteers who work for Dave Marcis or Junie Donlavey, love's about the only thing that keeps them going.

Still, nothing tests love like stress, and NASCAR continues to pile it on. At some point, more likely sooner than later, links will start to snap and the chain will fail.

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