There is an old racing expression that states something about the 10-cent part taking the $100,000 racecar out of an event. It isn’t a cliché. It does happen. The way to prevent it is to check every part, even the 10-cent ones. And then check them again.
A car is almost ready to load into a team’s transporter for a race weekend after the final scaling and setup is complete. The crucial safety check remains.
This checking procedure is not a random free-for-all. Any mechanic cannot grab whatever tools they see and inspect items of their choosing, far from it.
Making sure a car is together and worthy of withstanding the grueling pace of all the practice and race laps is highly orchestrated.
The car is completely assembled for it to be setup. Upon rolling the chassis off the plate, it is put on jack stands and all four tires removed for complete access.
Well-prepared sheets are taken from a car chief’s file and taped to the side of the car. Each sheet lists a function or bolt to check making sure everything is secure and in good working order. Every item on the entire car is listed in some form or fashion. There is not a bolt or nut from front bumper to rear bumper that is not listed on the safety check sheets.
Even the lists are organized. Sections of the car are sorted by page. This way an individual team member is not moving back and forth around the car being inefficient.
Crews also focus on sections of the car. The same mechanic will be responsible for the front end. An underneath/rear end mechanic will specialize in that area. The same man will check driver comfort and all interior items. Each one handles the same section of the car from one week to the next. This group is typically the road crew that travels to the speedway every weekend.
They are responsible for getting the car through technical inspection and are the last line of defense before the driver hauls it off into turn one at full throttle.
The checklist sheets are not only to ensure all items are inspected, but allow guys to take responsibility. All items assigned to an individual need to be initialed or signed. The entire racecar is accounted for. There are no shortcuts or skimming over any part.
Safety checking has grown over the years. This process contributes to the quality of competition we see now compared to decades ago. There are simply fewer breakdowns and part failures during any race. More cars are running and finishing on the lead lap when the checked flag waves than ever before.
Racing mechanics deserve a little pat on the back for providing more cars available to fight it out on those late race restarts we all love so much.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR mechanic who co-hosts the One and Done auto racing radio talk show Tuesdays at 11am ET. Listen at www.wsicweb.com.)
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