Race car crew members don’t lead a glamorous life. There’s not a lot of money and certainly no fame. There are no autograph cards or T-shirts and when they’re in a photograph it’s usually in the background, scrapping mud or working on tires.
Instead, life on the road for a traveling sprint car team can be a struggle and as corny as it sounds, only the strong survive.
Dinner usually consists of hustling to the pit shack before the feature pushes off or a late-night visit to McDonald’s (or Taco Bell if they’re up for a gamble). Six hours of sleep is a good night of rest. The closest a team will get to a tourist destination is driving by the “Exit Now” billboard on the freeway.
Fellow team members become both family and friends, especially for the teams that tackle a touring series that is on the road for nine or 10 months each year.
“It’s worse than a marriage because you get no away time,” joked Wayne Priddy, who has been on the road as a crew member for 18 years.
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Priddy, who is currently the crew chief for Josh Baughman and has worked with drivers including Jason Johnson, Tony Bruce Jr. and Jack Dover to name a few, says the biggest change he’s noticed during nearly two decades on the road is the relationships among the teams.
“The one thing that has changed the most is the comradery between teams,” he said. “It’s not what it used to be. When I started, everyone, for the most part, was a family. Guys had their differences, but it was a family kind of deal. When the money goes up and the expenses go up … the respect between teams isn’t there. That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed. It’s probably the most disheartening thing I see.”
That’s one reason why Paul Sides, who spent approximately 15 years driving a sprint car and 10 years crewing on the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series tour for his brother, Jason, tries to bring everyone together when free time permits.
“When you’re in California at the beginning of the year, you’re out there,” he said. “You race two nights a week then sit in a parking lot. This one year I got everyone together and started some activities. I’d sign everyone up to do something one night a week. We all rented a van one time. There were 10 or 12 of us. We went to the Sequoia National Park. We were just tourists. Nobody knew us from Jimi Hendrix. You could see the mountains from the hotel and it was hot there. The higher you get the colder it gets. When we got to the top, there was a couple feet of snow and we’re in shorts and flip-flops. We built a snowman and took pictures.
“When you’re on the road in a rig you pass a lot of stuff and see a lot of stuff, but you don’t get to stop,” Sides continued. “That one year I made everyone go do something. Steve and Dana (Kinser) were with us one night and we went bowling. Steve and Dana are damn good bowlers. I tried to get them to go skating one time. They said: ‘We’ll end up getting hurt.’ You don’t get to do much when you’re out because nobody has a ride. You drive in the truck and once you get stopped, you’re just there. Wherever you land is where your home is.”
The Sides brothers and other World of Outlaws teams get together in a hotel parking lot and have a cookout when the opportunity presents itself. But most weeks are spent with the same monotonous routine.
Travel to the next event, race, head to the car wash, perform maintenance and repeat the process all over again.
“We’ve got a system,” Paul Sides said. “It depends on where you have to be the next day. When we take the checkered flag, Jason comes in. If it’s not bad and we have a four- or five-hour drive we won’t wash that night. We’ll dismount tires and remount them, wipe the car off and roll it in. If you have an off night, you’ll drive a couple of hours then stop at a car wash. There’s probably 10 nights through the year that we don’t wash because the race the next day is too far away. If you have to drive six hours overnight, you’re not going to stop and wash.”
Besides dismounting the tires, Sides says the team will tear all of the body panels off the car before putting away all the tools and pieces. An average night at the car wash is between one and two hours, depending on the mess.
“Then we get as close as you can by 3 or 4 in the morning,” he said. “Then you sleep until 10. Most of the time we stay in the trailer. The next morning you can work on a clean car, do all your maintenance, mount tires and put it all back together to get it race ready.”
Priddy, who notes that the team usually spends between $15 and $17 at the car wash, says his maintenance program takes between three and four hours.
“That’s getting tires mounted and ready to go, servicing the car and the engine,” he said. “Our goal is to start at 9 a.m. and have the door closed between noon and 1 p.m. When we stop we’re within 30 minutes of our next location.”
Everyone has scripted roles from the race track to the car wash to the hotel parking lot when maintenance is performed, explains Ryan Beechler, who quit his driving career five years ago to become a crew chief. He has worked with Aaron Reutzel, Sam Hafertepe Jr., Seth Bergman and is currently with Lucas Oil ASCS National Tour rookie-of-the-year contender Harli White.