Now I know most people come to a NASCAR race, well… for the racing. But anyone who knows me will understand that I was far more excited to get inside the NASCAR garages than to view the race itself.
As soon as I made it through the gates, my first stop was the long row of garages where the teams would be prepping their stock cars for the Daytona 500 the next day.
Hundreds of fans stood above the garages, watching the cars come and go and hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite driver.
Me on the other hand? I just wanted inside. Fortunately I had a hot pass, which granted me access.
The first thing I noticed was that all the teams shared a common space, with one bay dedicated to each car. This came as a shock considering the level of competition, and the racing tricks they must keep up their sleeves. They all had their own gear, ranging from a large main toolbox, to jacks, fluids and alignment equipment. These guys had it dialed.
I was also surprised to find quite a few people milling about, ranging from the obvious – mechanics and drivers – to fans with VIP access and corporate big-wigs checking in on their sponsored rides.
To tell the truth, I wasn’t really concerned with spotting a celebrity or rubbing elbows with anyone. It’s just that I have an insatiable appetite for cars, wrenching, and the spaces in which the work gets done.
If I had my way, I would have jumped in and helped. I think that might’ve been frowned upon though, so instead I clung to the walls and tried my best not to interfere with the work at hand.Let’s See Some Wrenching
The first real job I noticed was this third member being swapped out. I chatted with the mechanic for a second, who said that no – nothing had broken. Rather, he was changing gear ratios, which they’re allowed to do one time after practice and qualifying.
He wasn’t the only guy changing gears; it was actually happening all around me. With the cars topping out a shade over 200mph on the 2.5-mile-long oval, you can imagine how critical the rear end gearing must be.
Some cars had their wheels removed, so I was able to spot some of the stock car guts. I was warned that the teams can be secretive, so I was as respectful as possible, always asking before I shot.
The formula is fairly basic, but you can bet these cars are as refined as possible.
It also struck me that nothing was too difficult for these mechanics.
There isn’t a part on the car that they can’t service, and the cars are engineered to be worked on.
The mechanics climbed in, on, under, and through the cars to access any part that needed to be looked at.
I saw this guy with a piece of plastic in his hand and a grinder in the other. I stood back and observed to try to and figure out what he was making.
Turns out it was a side skirt. A later chat with another mechanic revealed that these are fine tuned once they get some track time.
Just like the rear diff swaps I had witnessed earlier, all of a sudden it seemed everyone was modifying and installing side skirts. This guy carefully caulked the seam, then spread it smooth with his finger and removed the tape for a flush installation.
This guy had filled the screw heads with epoxy, which he then sanded down to a smooth finish.
And this mechanic carefully sealed every crack and seam in the carbon fiber air box. Every last bit counts.
As the evening crept in, and all the adjustments and tweaks had been made to he cars, the finishing touch was to make sure everything was shiny and clean.
Yes, that really is a feather duster for the dash.
Each car was then carefully covered, and the garages were closed up for the night.
I even heard one guy say, “Well girl, we did what we could. Let’s see what you can do tomorrow.” I had to look around to make sure I wasn’t on a movie set.Passing Tech
As I arrived the next morning for the big race I saw a scrutineering tent, so I popped in for a quick look.
Check out the roof template suspended overhead. This was lowered onto the car’s roof to check that the shape met regulations.
Since there are three bodies in the series – Chevy, Ford and Toyota – there had to be three sets of templates to check the cars.
The nose template was especially interesting, with the ability to check several dimensions as soon as it was rolled past the front bumper.
I had actually noticed one of these the day before in the garages too.
Notice how each machined plate is carefully marked with location and make.
After the nose was checked, a guide was laid across the hood. They say the best racers read between the lines of a rule book, which makes me wonder what goes on between the lines of these templates too.
Although, it seems any form of bending the rules would be exceedingly difficult these days, since the body panels are provided by approved manufacturers and feature serial numbers.
From the tent, the cars made their way to another building where it appeared they were checking weight, alignment specs, and as shown here, dimensions such as wing height. The gauge in the official’s hand was interesting. The rod had green, yellow and red tape to give a quick visual indication of the aero being within spec.
Having made my way through tech, I next stumbled upon hundreds, maybe even thousands of tires.
Much like the body panels, the tires were very carefully accounted for.
As the teams delivered four tires at a time via hand truck, each one was scanned and stacked in a row.
Not far away sat an equal number of bare wheels, just waiting to have tires mounted for another spin.
By now the cars were making their way to pit road for pre-race festivities.
As I walked past the garages there was an eerie silence compared to the day before.
I noticed some markings on the floor; probably alignment settings if I had to guess.
During the quiet few minutes this guy managed to get a massage, which come to think of it, was a darn good idea.
With the prep work done, the mechanics could finally take a breather too. It was truly the calm before the storm that is the Daytona 500, because in mere hours we would be witnessing the roar of 40 stock cars thundering down the front straight of Daytona.