CHARLOTTE _ The NHRA came to the heart of NASCAR country last weekend. Drag racing was the featured attraction at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s strip. The superspeedway across the street is famous for holding a 600-mile race each year but on this day cars were winning and losing after only 1,000 feet. Still, from the pit area the similarities in mechanic behavior was evident.
You can tell a lot about a race team’s immediate status by the motion and speed of the pit crew. When a NASCAR Cup car dives onto pit road and the over-the-wall members jump, land, and are ready to pounce, the problem is generally fixable in minimal time. When the guys slowly step onto pit road and stroll over to release the hood pins, often the problem is terminal and their race is likely over on the spot.
The NHRA drag racing gang gives off the same signals but under different circumstances. With drag racing’s elimination ladder system, one car advances and one car is finished after every run. The cars are towed back to the pit area from the braking area at the end of the run. The NHRA/NASCAR crossover is evident here.
Winning teams that need the engine rebuild for the next race are in full stride heading back to the hauler. Nomex gloves and long sleeves are put on to tackle the blazing hot car components. A mere 90 minutes tick by between class rounds. Time is of the essence to complete the work. Engine overhauls resemble the practiced, choreographed tire changes and refueling from top-level NASCAR crews.
That round’s defeated crew has the walk that reflects the situation. The car may be fine. But in drag racing of you lose you go home. Even if the first race began at Noon and it is only 12:04, the crew may be walking silently without smiles or energy. Their job is not to rebuild but to load up their equipment and head for home. The faces and mannerism mimic the NASCAR crew that just blew and engine.
Entire engines are rebuilt after a victorious run. The Don Schumacher Racing team that fielded a Nitro Funny Car for Jack Beckman went to work immediately when their car came to a rest in the pits after a first round win. Within 15 minutes the body was removed, the frame cleaned, the clutch discs were on a bench and the engine was nothing more than a block. The heads, valve train, pistons, crankshaft, and the entire top and bottom ends were stripped off.
The sweat and dirt were exactly alike. Anyone who believes in the myth of a race team mechanic as a job filled with glory need only to closely observe for five minutes to see how tough an occupation it really is. NASCAR or NHRA teams have different jobs by detailed description. The spirit is identical.
Whether a race is four seconds or four hours every possible amount of effort than can be put into making a car fast and reliable is done so. Turning left or going straight doesn’t matter. But the crew’s determination and sacrifice does.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
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