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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Preparing for the Daytona 500 - An In Depth Look

When I heard about the SPEED Channel’s documentary series that chronicles the Joe Gibbs Racing team’s preparation for the Daytona 500, I was excited.  Discovering the inside story of an event or learning about how people came to be where they are today fascinates me.  Two episodes have aired so far, and I am amazed at all of the preparation that takes place for not just the Daytona 500, but for all the races during the season. I’ve been to races before, but never gave much thought about what had to happen to get ready for race day.

It Begins with Travel Plans…
Travel plans begin to take shape about a month before each race. Because not everyone arrives at the race track at the same time, it takes a lot of coordination to get everyone where they need to be, when they need to be there.  Joe Gibbs Racing has its own aviation department and its own planes which help with this effort. The team also has a group of team members that makes sure everyone on the team has their NASCAR license and appropriate paperwork filed for the season.  There are so many little details that need taken care of before each race!

Car Preparation is Ongoing and Intensive
The cars are customized for each driver on the team, and preparing the cars for the race is an ongoing project. The cars are built, assembled and painted in the race shop.  The work on each car is all done in house and Joe Gibbs Racing manufactures about 95% of its own parts.  In 2009 alone, they designed over 3,000 parts and manufactured over 90,000. Adjustments are continually made throughout the season to even the tiniest of parts – nothing goes overlooked. 

Once the car is finished, it’s painted and the decals are hand-applied. Interestingly, much of the color you see around the decals is a type of decal that is actually a wrap, not paint – it gives the car a smoother looking finish. Very cool!

Setting the car for a race takes about 2 days.  The team has a template it sets each car in for inspection to make sure it will pass inspection on race day.  It’s the same one used at the tracks, which makes the job a little easier. Each car is also placed on a simulator that is able to mimic a typical lap at any of the tracks at which the team will be racing. This step is important because it helps the team see how the car will handle at each track (shocks, brakes, etc).  Using what they’ve learned in the simulation, they can make any necessary adjustments before the race. 

Once the car has gone through the in house inspection and simulation process, it goes from the race shop to the truck bay where it’s loaded onto a hauler to be taken to the race.  The haulers themselves are amazing – they contain everything the team would need to rebuild a car if necessary while they’re away from the shop – amazing!

A Good Pit Crew vs. A Great Pit Crew
So far, probably the most interesting part of the documentary for me, and the part I knew the least about, was how the pit crew prepares for each race.  The amount of athletic training the pit crew goes through is incredible!  From cardio to strength training to weights – they do it all.  And for good reason – this 7 member crew can be pivotal to the race outcome – the pit crew can set the team apart in ways the car can’t. A second can make all the difference in the world during a pit stop, and a truly harmonious pit crew can have a real impact on the outcome of a race. The team is often so in sync that it seems as if they can read each other’s minds and anticipate each other’s next move.  This is what makes a good pit crew great.

The pit crew not only has to be physically tough, but mentally tough as well.  They have to be very focused and not let a bad pit stop or other race setback throw them off their game. Their primary focus has to be how to make each pit stop the best one it can be.

It All Comes Down to Teamwork
As I watched each episode, one message was very clear – teamwork is at the heart of the Joe Gibbs organization.  Everyone works together for the common goal of having a winning team and really understands the value each team member adds. From the drivers to the engineers and mechanics in the shop to the people who work in the office to make sure all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed, everyone plays a pivotal role in getting the team ready for race day. 

Can’t wait for the next episode!

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