Talladega: My Weekend As An ARCA Crew Member

Credit: Summer Dreyer
You see them every week but pay them no notice. You don’t know their names but they are the very backbone of your favorite driver. They are the first to arrive at the racetrack and the last ones to leave.

The crew members on a race team are some of the hardest-working people in all of motorsports, yet probably get the least bit of credit. Most of the time, you won’t hear about any of them unless they do something wrong. It’s not fair but it’s the name of the game.

This weekend, I got the chance to be a crew member in the ARCA Racing Series. Don’t worry - I didn’t touch the car or get my hands too dirty. I was more or less a tag-along for the weekend but found myself quite exhausted on many occasions.

I spent the weekend with the No. 14 IndustrialDepot.com Ford team at Andy Belmont Racing with Barry Fitzgerald behind the wheel.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook already saw quite a few pictures and comments from me, but I figured I’d share more of the details since I have more than 140 characters to work with!

Thursday, April 14th

After a long day of traveling on Wednesday, it was to the racetrack early on Thursday morning. We were about 45 minutes away from the racetrack - since there isn’t much around there anyway. We got to the track somewhere between 7-8 a.m. and I headed to the media center. I spent most of the morning in there writing a few stories and headed to the ARCA garage around 2 p.m.

There was quite a bit of downtime for the ARCA guys once practice finished at 1 p.m. (local time). The next on-track activity for ARCA was qualifying at 5 p.m., so I spent quite a bit of time shooting the breeze with a few crew members by the hauler.

Once it came time to qualify, they pushed the car out to pit road and waited for their turn. Thankfully, it didn’t take very long since they were lined up ninth. While waiting for Barry to head out to qualifying, I did some people watching and saw Larry McReynolds walking down pit road. His son Brandon was in the race so I saw him in the ARCA garage several times.

Barry Fitzgerald.
Credit: http://www.arcaracing.com/

I had a rather embarrassing moment while following the car along pit road. I was carrying a Gatorade with me to keep hydrated, had been tossing it up in the air and catching it. Well, when they were about two cars away from heading out onto the track, I tossed it into the air again and missed it. It bounced off of my foot and right under the car. I was on the left side of the car and it got stuck underneath the right rear tire. Thankfully, one of the crew members was nice enough to get it for me (but not without a fair amount of teasing!).

Barry qualified 32nd (on time, might I add) and it was time to leave the track.

Friday, April 15th
On Friday, the team didn’t need to be at the track until late morning since they decided to skip final practice. We arrived around 10 a.m. and I basically spent most of the day trying to keep dry from the rain. The team was in the inspection line for most of the day, so I didn’t see them until after NASCAR Sprint Cup Happy Hour. I was able to keep up with who was fast and who wasn’t (as if it matters at 'Dega) from the scoring pylon behind the hauler.

Credit: Summer Dreyer
The wind was really strong and I was sitting on a trailer hitched to a pickup beside the team hauler. I had had a hot dog for lunch and grabbed a Pepsi to wash it down. I was sitting with my mom on the trailer; the wind blew it over and spilled it everywhere. I tried to clean it up with some paper towels but the wind blew those away too. Apparently, I was having trouble with my drinks over the weekend!

The forecast had called for thunderstorms on Friday all weekend long so I kept my eye on the sky the entire day. Sure enough, around the time Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour was going on, the skies opened up and never stopped.

Credit: Summer Dreyer
We watched the rain fall for a long time and found shelter underneath the hauler. At one point, the rains stopped long enough for me to go on top of the hauler and watch the clouds roll in. I’ll admit it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, looking back, but up to that point there had been no lightning or thunder so I wanted to get some pictures.

Credit: Summer Dreyer
I looked like a drowned rat by the time they called the race, although everyone was pretty friendly and tolerant of the situation. I was less than thrilled to hear the race would be at 8 a.m. the next morning, especially since I am not a morning person.

With severe weather rolling in rather quickly, we headed out of the track and to our hotel. However, tornado warnings and watches were popping up all around our area and the rain was pouring down. We made it to the hotel safely and a big thanks goes out to all the people who were texting/tweeting/sending Facebook messages about the storms. It was rather helpful and at least gave me a better idea of what to look out for. Being from Kansas, I knew all the terminology (funnel clouds, straight line winds, etc.) but I didn’t really know the area very well. Thanks so much!

We arrived at our hotel safely but it was quite a while before the weather stopped. The rooms to our hotel led to the outside, and we had a balcony outside our room since we were on the second floor. Myself and several other crew members (some from other teams) hung around outside the balcony to keep an eye on the storm (more for entertainment than informational purposes). The TV was on in my room and at one point a live shot came on from the racetrack (we were about 30-45 minutes from the track) and I went in to look. The RCR ARCA crew members were staying at the same hotel as me - Ty Dillon and a couple of his friends walked into my hotel room to take a look at the radar. It was a rather interesting and a chaotic exchange since everyone wanted to know what was going on.

I don’t remember when, but at one point the sirens started going off. We were told to go into the bathroom for shelter if a tornado was coming and so that’s where I went … for about a second. Everyone else was still hanging around on the balcony and now they wanted to see the tornado (wherever it was). We never saw anything more interesting than rain (and a little bit of flooding) but it was fun cutting it up with everyone else.

Once the rain stopped, we went to go grab some dinner and then head to bed for what would be an early day. Ugh.

Saturday, April 16

I.  Hate. Mornings.

I don’t even remember what time I got up that morning. Maybe around 5 a.m., but whenever it was I knew that I was terribly groggy. Yesterday’s excitement had completely worn me out, so getting out of a nice, warm bed on a cold, wet morning was not my idea of fun — even if it did mean going to a racetrack.

Whenever it was, I know that I was at the racetrack by 6 a.m. and it was VERY cold. The sun was just starting to come up, and it would have been very pretty had I not been too cold and tired to care.

I walked to the hauler and just stuck around there watching the garage activities go on. It was like a zoo in there! Everyone was scrambling around trying to get ready for the race, and I was just doing my best to stay out of the way.

One of the crew members standing near me was trying to fold up some wet tarps to get ready for the trip home once the race was over. I and one other crew member helped him out, and I got splashed on several times in the process. I laughed in spite of myself, since I knew the day could only get better.

I was feeling a bit hungry by now, and food was kind of scarce since it was so early in the morning. I went into the hauler and grabbed a bag of M&M’s cookies. They were SO good!

I found the car lined up to head out onto pit road, and conversed with a few of the crew members and Barry’s brother. I learned a lot about their history and it was great to see their passion for racing. At one point I asked if they ever got burned out on racing (because I’ve heard some families members do) and he was shocked that I even asked that! Hey, I’m always shocked to hear that too, but it’s something I’ve always been curious about. I’m sure for some family members it can get tiring, but not for these guys.

Eventually, the race rolled around. Pre-race ceremonies were pretty much non-existent. I never heard any driver intros, there were no stages, and no national anthem. The drivers just got in their cars and started the engines up.

I couldn’t see the start/finish line from the pit stall, and the scoring pylon was blocked from my view so I could only go off of the few seconds of racing I saw each lap and the announcer over the PA system. It was very windy and cold, but the sun was out and that was the most important part.

Our car wasn’t really all that competitive, usually hanging around the tail end of the field and staying out of trouble. Their goal was to keep the car clean and finish, and they were able to do that.

Most of the wrecks were on the backstretch, but we did see a little bit of action. At one point, I was sitting on the pit wall facing inward and had been trying to keep an eye on the cars when they came around. Pit road is rather large, though, and I really couldn’t see the entrance unless I leaned way out. With the race under green, that obviously wasn’t something I was going to do. All of a sudden, a car comes speeding down pit road at 180 mph and goes right behind me. It took me by surprise because it happened so fast, and I got up expecting there to be a caution. ARCA didn’t throw the yellow for several seconds, and I’m still not sure what exactly happened at right then. However, having a car go down pit road at those speeds just feet in front of me will be a moment I will never forget.

The team finished 22nd and was happy to have finished. I for one was happy to get off of pit road so that I could find some shelter for the wind! I couldn’t feel my fingers, which made it hard to send Twitter updates!

I hated to see the team go, but I had work to be done and the media center and press box were calling my name.

Anyway, the experience was an absolute blast and I really appreciated the team being so accommodating to a newbie like me. I hope those of you that read this or followed along on Facebook or Twitter were able to get some enjoyment out of it.

Thanks for following along!
Talladega: My Weekend As An ARCA Crew Member Talladega: My Weekend As An ARCA Crew Member Reviewed by Summer Dreyer on Friday, April 22, 2011 Rating: 5