I'm always asked why... Why do I like racing? Why do I like cars going around in circles? I get These kinds of questions so often it’s almost as if it is a part of my daily routine. Throughout the school day I’m know as “The NASCAR Kid”. I’m so used to it that I tune them out. It is unfortunate that I am one of few race fans in my school. But I feel I hold something unique. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the core of the sport, seeing more than the average fan does. Through those experiences I am able to answer the questions I am constantly asked, and hopefully along the way of answering them, I can gain a new fan. Here are two key ideas that are often overlooked in the world of racing.
I get told a lot that NASCAR is just “moving billboards on a track”. But people don’t realize that that “Billboard” is the lifeblood of a team to compete. This past summer I was invited down to Leavine Family Racing’s race shop in Concord NC. I was asked to cover a Camp they were hosting for teens looking to pursue a career in NASCAR. For a little background, LFR is a single car team that on average finishes in the 20-30th place range each weekend. The first person I spoke to at the shop was Vice President, Jeremy Lange. His job was to organize sponsor deals and manage the money budget for the team.
Jeremy told the Campers that, “Speed costs dollars, but to get dollars you need speed.” This idea is something that many people don’t understand. The sponsor is where the team gets it’s main source of funding. Without a sponsor, you have no money, without money you can’t buy parts, without parts you can’t build a car, and without a car you obviously can’t earn money. It’s this constant cycle of money flow and good results that keeps a team functioning. Although sometimes it may be brutally obvious when a driver mentions his sponsor, that simple mention is the reason this driver is in the Cup series and isn’t racing on their local dirt track. Last year I interviewed up and coming racecar driver Jeffrey Earnhardt. I asked him, “What has been the hardest thing you’ve had to do to get here?” He told me that, “It wasn’t the competition, it was trying to get a sponsor that was the hardest part. If you want to make it in this business, you’re going to need people who are going to stand behind you. Without them, you have a small chance of making it.”
This is another concept that is often overlooked. As I mentioned before, Jeffrey Earnhardt had a sponsor, but that is only part of the equation of being successful. Something else that is needed is to be able to take risks. Before every race, cars are required to go through inspection, a long line of tests and checks to make sure the car is set up in accordance to the rule book. Should a car be .001 of an inch too high, NASCAR will instantly know and teams will be required to fix it. There are very few things you can get away with, and if caught, you could expect a hefty fine coming your way. So now the question comes, if all of the cars are exactly the same, then why are there certain cars that are always good and some that are always bad. The answer, NASCAR doesn’t inspect many areas under the car, which allows a lot of wiggle room. When I was at the race shop, they told me you can take pictures anywhere, except for under the car. The garage is full of secrets, and while money may relate to speed, information is also extremely valuable. It is very common to see team members go from one team to another during the offseason, and with that, they also carry the secrets from the team they were previously on. Teams will go to extreme lengths to make sure that their car is better than everyone else's. The best way to see who these teams are is to go to the garage at the end of the day and see who is still working on their car. They will continue to work on that car until they are physically forced to leave the garage.
Without these two concepts, the world of racing and NASCAR simply can’t function. Next time you see NASCAR on TV, know that this is much more than just racing in circles.