Sunday brought a summer like afternoon to North Carolina. By the calendar we are technically still in springtime. But the bright sunshine accompanied mid-90 degree temperatures and provided a day that should not be spent inside. That meant sacrificing some laps of the Michigan 400.
I tuned the television inside to the race coverage while I spent time outside cleaning my truck and in the yard. Most of the Cup contest was followed through MRN’s broadcast on Sirius NASCAR Radio. I caught the TV highlights during my indoor air-conditioned breaks.
I listened intently during a garage-area based report of the Casey Mears driven car up on jackstands, a front wheel off, and the crew was repairing a suspension problem, possibly even a failure. I had no further information but I shared a sense of concern. From late 2006 through early 2008 I was employed at Red Bull Racing, and in the suspension department, no less. I am still friends with the mechanics there.
What must be understood is that most of the people that construct the cars and build the pieces that bolt on, do not go to the racetrack on a weekly basis. The road crew, which is seen on television each week, has committed so much of their time to travel with the circuit, that there is very little time remaining for them to fabricate and assemble cars each week. If they were relied on to do that, quite frankly it wouldn’t get done. An entirely different roster handles making the cars out of raw material and that includes building the suspension.
Those guys on each team were just like me. Around the Charlotte area enjoying their weekend while the fast, hand crafted machine of steel and aluminum was lapping several hundred miles away. They may or may not have been following the race at all.
I can speak from experience, when you hear of a possible problem in the department in which you work every day, a little lump forms in your throat.
Your thoughts race back to that particular chassis, and push the rewind button in your mind with the work you did. Then your brain pushes play and you recall, in slow motion, every turn of every wrench, every washer installed, and every piece you signed off on as being ready for competition.
A “suspension problem” could mean a host of possibilities and a myriad of people involved with one area. Was there a control arm problem? Did the issue involve a spindle? How were the brakes? What happened to the shock? Did a frame mount bend or break? Those five questions could have involved five different employees, or more.
It also could have been a situation outside of anybody’s control. Metal failure, a faulty part from a vendor, or contact with another car are just three of multiple scenarios.
There are groups of people that will be on the phone Sunday afternoon trying to find out what the issue was. To make a team stronger no fingers need to be pointed. Simply analyze the problem, and address it so it does not happen again.
There is a certain percentage that really just care about absolving blame from themselves and have no other concern. Unfortunate, but true.
As a former ‘boy back at the shop’ I watched the races with eagerness, pride, and some concern. I genuinely cared about how that car performed every weekend. Racing was never ‘just a job.’
But when the media reported a problem that I had some understanding or possible control over, it made my Sunday night sleep restless. Yet I was still eager to get to the shop Monday morning to discover exactly what happened.
Failures happen in racing. We needed to do everything to ensure it didn’t happen a second time.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR mechanic who hosts “Motorweek Live” Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen in at www.racersreunion.com )