CHARLOTTE _ I ran into a friend of mine at the supermarket the other day. We used to work together at one of the NASCAR teams that dot my resume. He still toils in the field.
“How are you? How’s it going?” I asked.
He lets out an exaggerated exhale, smirked one side of his lips and shook his head. “I don’t know,” was his response.
But I knew exactly what he was talking about.
He went on to tell me how he was enjoying a weekend off for the first time in “I don’t know how long.”
This particular racing team has various efforts in Cup, Nationwide, Trucks, ARCA and Pro Series competition. They are staffed at a minimum number of people to get by and shuffle personnel from city to city to handle whatever weekend race efforts are underway. The schedule timed out to where he could be home and take care of some basic neglected necessities that come from working on a race team. Like buying food.
“So what’s going on down there?” I said, meaning the race team.
“Man I don’t know,” he said. “They won’t tell us where we stand with Cup sponsorship. We don’t know if there will even be a Nationwide team next year. If I were one of the Nationwide (only) guys I’d be scared. (The driver) is not sure if he is bringing back his money. And if he does it might be less.” That means a pay reduction or job losses somewhere in that equation.
He said “I feel confident in my job but I’m looking (anyway).” From my experience with him he should be confident. He is a good worker who produces quality pieces in the shop and does a detailed job at the racetrack. He is also a nice guy.
All that means nothing in the world of professional NASCAR racing. I know plenty of people who fit this exact description. And are unemployed.
“(The team) said they are not sure what they are doing next year,” he said. We both had a chuckle with that one. They, meaning team management, know darn well what they are doing next year. They just won’t tell anyone. They don’t want anyone off looking for another job while there are still races left in this season. Because they have work they need you to do and don’t mind laying off after cars are built through Homestead even if it is at the expense of valuable job searching time. Your mortgage and children’s meals are not as important to them as a fast machine for Phoenix.
My friend said he was looking. That means he is putting the word out to his close friends on other teams that he can trust. If there were an opening with another crew chief he would like to be considered. This is done weekly in the infield garage area. Nicknamed in the industry as the "job fair."
Talented crewmembers on these teams have a gut feeling about the business prospect in their shop. In between practice runs, while pushing cars through the tech line, and during early morning and late afternoon hours, there is a lot of networking going on. Pit crews with different uniforms are always talking. They are trying to secure employment without their crew chief seeing. They have to look out for themselves. No one else will.
In the second half of 2008 the NASCAR industry was rocked with downsizing and job losses. Currently there are still championship-caliber racers who have not returned to making a living with Charlotte NASCAR teams.
Today there are more that are hoping and praying they don’t join that club.
(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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