We have a winner for the second chicane of the season. Eric Burgoyne, driver for Champion Tire & Wheel, drove away with the $1,000 first prize more than a minute ahead of second place. I will have a full interview with Eric real soon.
It was a great day at the chicane event. A lot of the drivers were there. Many of them are old friends. I was able to sit down with Dale Lackey. Dale was working for the Penske #77 last year. But, with the loss of sponsorship, Dale found himself “searching for a ride” so to speak. Dale found that ride at Michael Waltrip Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing driving the #47 Transporter. It’s a small fraternity of drivers. If you are a team owner, you don’t simply trust millions of dollars in “rolling stock” to just anyone. You want the best. So, when MWR & JTG Daugherty Racing went looking for a new driver, they started looking for guys with NASCAR experience. They found Dale.
George Larrabee was there competing too. It hasn’t been that long since I talked to him. But, it’s always great to be able to talk to the guys in person. George wasn’t driving his big rig. And, he wasn’t on the HarleyBago today. Today, he was driving a rollback, flatbed. They were having to drop off the crash cart and pit box at the track. They had Champion drop the boxes off at their shop for routine maintenance. Now, they had to get them to the track. These boxes are normally carried from track to track by Champion. And sometimes, it may be months before the carts return to the shops. But, when they do, it throws all the routines off.
This competition means something to these guys. There is a $1,000 prize to win the days event. And, $50,000 to with the years series. But, these guys love to have their families get to see them compete too. Frankie Richardson brought his daughter, Chasie, to watch him.
Tomorrow . . . Pit Crew Challenge!!!
Friday . . . At the track for Cup Practice!!!
Saturday . . . All-Star Race!!!!
OK folks, this is not a stop on the “Race Shop Tour.” But, let me tell you, It should be!! This place is incredible. We spent several hours there talking to the guys and watching them work.
I’ve been telling you I was going to share more details about these guys. Well here you go.
After the race is over, these guys load all the tires and wheels used during the weekend back into the trucks and return to Huntersville to unload them and start the process of getting them ready for the next race. When we got to the shop the Tuesday after Dover, the tires and wheels were in stacks – the stacks were 7 high, and 16 rows deep, and 21 rows wide. And, they had been working on the pile for more than a day.
They take the tire & wheel to the dismount machine. These machines started out life as a typical heavy duty, air driven Hunter unit. But, these guys wear them out. So, they add some strengthening steel and an electric drive motor. The blue parts are custom “Champion Modifications” You cant see the new motor. But trust me, it’s there. These guys are fast.
The tires and inner-liner (when used) head down one processing line and the wheels head up and over to cleaning. The guys working to separate the tires and inner-liners have to put a lot of muscle into it. These things are not inner-tubes. They are “inner-tires”!! And, they don’t want to come out.
The wheels head “up and over” the shop floor to the cleaning room. They have a custom designed the system to ensure the wheels do not bang into each other on their journey through the system.
In the cleaning room, there is a little cleaner, soap, water, and LOTS of Elbow Grease!! Don’t apply for these jobs if you don’t like to work. This is hard work. The glue that’s used to hold the lug nuts on is, well, GLUE!! It’s not suppose to come off easy. These guys have tried it all. And, it always comes back to soap, water, and hard work as the best solution.
After a good cleaning, the wheels head back down to the inspection machine. The bolt holes are measured. They are checked to ensure they are still within tolerances. Sometimes, teams will ask about a particular wheel. Each wheel has a bar code tag to allow it to be tracked. All the data gathered over the life cycle of the wheel can be sent to the teams. In the picture below, you can the the computer image of a bolt hole out of tolerance. This wheel will be kicked out and taken out of service.
Now, the next wheel has a little more obvious flaw. Even a blind, cranio kid can see this one doesn’t quite measure up.
The folks at Champion have built a remarkable system for maintaining the tires and wheels for NASCAR’s top 3 series. Without the service these guys provide, I don’t think you would see the quality of racing each week that we see today.
As the summer continues on, I’ll keep introducing you to these unsung heroes that make the racing possible.
Tomorrow, is the Pilot / Flying J Truck Driver Challenge Chicane. It’s going to be a great day. Check back to see the highlights.
Hey there friends!!! I’m here in Charlotte. The family and I took a nice leisurely trip from Jackson to Charlotte. The only real issues we ran into was finding a hotel last night. Dad didn’t think about the NHRA event north of Atlanta eating all the rooms. But, we were able to get a room early this morning. We got a late start for the last 100 miles of the drive into Charlotte. But, it was no big deal. Today, was the last slow day for the week.
We got checked into the hotel here in Huntersville this afternoon and took in some sights from around NASCAR central. We are staying between two of my favorite shops. To our north it’s Michael Waltrip Racing. We will be there Monday afternoon.
To the south, it’s Robby Gordon Racing. We are there Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday morning is going to be a real treat. We are going to Champion Tire and Wheel to see their operation. These are some of the REAL unsung heroes of the sport. Every tire used each week is mounted and balanced at Champion. After each race the wheels are inspected, cleaned, and readied for the next race. The numbers are staggering. I’m looking forward to seeing them and sharing more with you as I learn more.
Wednesday is the Pilot / Flying J Truck Driver Challenge. I will be there talking to the transport drivers and getting some cool background on these friends.
Thursday is the Pit Crew Challenge. I have my press credentials for that event too. Talk about true athletes – these guys are the real deal!!! Like they say – “Anything else is just a game!!”
Friday, we are the Charlotte track for the All-Star practice. I love getting to spend the day with the crew guys in the pits & garage area.
Saturday is the race!!!! – “Checkers or Wreckers” / “Cash or Crash” This is real Saturday night racing. One race!! Winner takes all. There is nothing to loose and a million reasons to go all out for the win!!! Second place is “First Looser”. After the race, we are going to hang out with the Champions folks again and see what happens after the fans and teams leave the track. No traffic for these guys!!!
It’s a busy week!!!!
If you have questions you want me to get answers to, add them to the comments here on the BLOG. I’ll see what i can do.
I had a cool talk with Frankie Richardson a driver for Champion Tire and Wheel this morning. He is just coming off the Easter break and getting ready for the long summer stretch. So, what did Frankie do over Easter? He went hiking with his daughter – 8 year old Chasey. When I asked him what he did for fun. He said, “Hanging out with my family, hiking, and working out.” I guess it make since to spend Easter like he did.
For the last 7 1/2 years, Frankie has been driving for Champion. His start was a little unorthodox. Frankie was selling Champion the Peterbilt tractors they use each week to help make the NASCAR races possible. They got to talking. The next thing you know he’s driving for Champion. Right now, he is driving one of the four or five trucks hauling tires for the Cup series. With about 700 tires and wheels carried per truck each week, you can see why these guys are important. (2,800-3,500 tires a week!) On any given week, Champion has about 22 trucks at the tracks. I admire these guys. We got to talking about Bristol. He was telling me that the Champion team is able to start loading up from Bristol around 2AM. “When the show is over and everyone is gone, we’re still there. When we leave, there is no traffic. Everything we do is behind the scenes.” At the end of the day, they get to load up their trailers with all the tires, crash carts, pit boxes, golf carts, and other support stuff many of the teams can’t carry. For the guys hauling tire like Frankie, they make a run back to Charlotte to drop off the trailer and pick up another trailer that has been loaded with the next race’s tires. Then, it’s back on the road.
I asked Frankie about his favorite tracks. Like most race fans, he enjoys the short tracks. But, he also said, “I really like Sonoma too. I like that part of the country. It’s a road course. I enjoy that.” He’s always been a race fan.
And he said he loves the travel. He enjoys getting to see the sights around the tracks. When they get set up, the Champion drivers get a rental car and head out. At Dallas a few weeks ago, they went to the “Grassy knoll” where Kennedy was shot. And for Frankie a big part of “seeing the sights” is hiking. He told me about some of the places he has gone hiking. His favorite hiking location is Camel Back Mountain in Scottsdale, AZ. When describing it, he said, “It’s a short hike. It’s only about a mile long. But, it’s a hard one. It’s my favorite. I’ve been able to hike in the mountains of New Hampshire when we go to Laudon. I’ve to hiked the big mountain that sits behind the Fontana race track. I’ve been to the top of that one. There are quite a few great hikes around Vegas.”
We got to talking about his work outs and working out at the tracks. Frankie finds places around the tracks where they can go exercise and keep fit. Some of the tracks have on-site fitness facilities now. But, if all else fails, it’s go for a run and get creative doing body-weight stuff.
I’m looking forward to visiting the Champion facilities in a few weeks.
This year the Pilot Flying J Truck Driver Challenge is excited to welcome the transport drivers from Champion Tire and Wheel to the competition. For those of you who are not familiar with Champion, don’t worry. Over the season, I will be introducing you their team of drivers and all they do for NASCAR to make the races each week possible.
This week, I want to introduce you to Bruce Bates. I was able to catch Bruce as he was getting his rig cleaned up and prepped to setup at Fontana. When the race teams packed up from Bristol and headed home, Bruce and the other Champion drivers headed west. They were at the track on Tuesday getting setup and ready for the race. Why so early? Why not make the short drive back home to Cornelius? Simple! The race teams depend on Champion to have the wheels inspected, cleaned, and tires mounted. So, the teams can show up and start practice. If you want to know more about this team you don’t hear much about? Stay tuned . . . It’s coming this season on Wiley’s World.
Bruce manages the Nationwide support for Champion. His commuter vehicle . . . one if the five Nationwide support transporters that haul the 19 pit boxes, 15 crash carts, and 800+ wheels. When all the stuff a team needs to take to the track weighs more than DOT allows, Champion is there to help ease the load. Many teams contract Champion to transport the crash carts and pit boxes so they can put more track specific components in the team transporters.
All the teams depend on Champion to service and maintain their wheels. After the race each week, all the wheels are taken back to the Champion shop. The tires are dismounted. The wheels are cleaned and inspected and readied for the next race.
When I asked Bruce about his favorite track, he said, “Bristol! It’s great racing.” It also is one of their more difficult tracks. He told me about the challenges the Champion drivers face at the short tracks like Bristol. He said, “At Bristol, we have a lot of down time. We have to be in first to unload. Then, we clear out to make room for the teams.” Bruce then checks on the teams. He is checking to see if they have everything they needed and if there are there ways Champion can better serve the teams. When the checkers fall, they wait for the Nationwide teams to load-up and head out. Then, they can move back into the track load up the wheels, crash carts, and pit boxes and head home. But, like I said, this week is a little different. Rather than head home, it’s off to Fontana.
Bruce is a family man. He has a son and 6 year old grandson he enjoys spending time with. He grandson has already seen a race at Chicago from the grandstands. Bruce is looking forward to taking him to the infield to experience a race. Unlike most transporter drivers, Bruce’s wife, Tammy, goes to the races with him each week. But, she is not a passenger. She is the co-driver. And, she helps with the loading and unloading. I look forward to talking to Tammy in the weeks to come.
Stay tuned to learn more about Champion Tire and Wheel and it team of drivers.
I am Wiley King - Christian, Race Fan, Winning Race Car Paint Scheme Designer, Brain Tumor Survivor, St. Jude Children’s Hospital Patient, Batson Children\'s Hospital Patient, Make-a-Wish kid, and Blogger for 3 Wide Life. I am interviewing the NASCAR transporter drivers that are participating in the Pilot/Flying J Truck Driver Challenge. Follow me each week as I introduce you to the guys that drive the long miles to bring you the races each week.