Day in and day out, I putter in my Prius like geezer, trying to break the 70 miles per gallon barrier. Every now and then, though, a man needs to be near some real horsepower.
Thanks to my friend David Daly, I recently spent a day at the races, seeing NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series “Texas Roadhouse 200” from inside the pits at Martinsville Speedway.
Daly is a rarity in NASCAR: after more than a decade working through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a local leader and then director of a national baseball program, he is now corporate chaplain for GMS Racing, which competes with three Chevy trucks in the Camping World Series (#21 Johnny Sauter, #24 Justin Haley, and #33 Kaz Grala) and one car in the Xfinity series, driven by Spencer Gallagher. GMS also builds and supports Stuart Friesen’s #52 truck.
GMS Racing occupies a string of large shops adjacent to the Statesville airport. There each truck is built from the ground up, from the chassis and suspension to the sheet metal fabricated to demanding specifications. Engines are provided under contract with Hendrick Motorsports, which sends an engine tuner for each truck on race day.
Daly, who is also pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Hickory, often arrives at the shop by 6:30 a.m., having coffee and building relationships with the company’s 106 employees. He participates in staff meetings and offers voluntary Bible study sessions, but spends most of his time getting to know team members and providing the same kind of pastoral care that he does to church members. He visits family members in the hospital, attends funerals, and offers a caring ear to employees facing various levels of stress or difficulty in their personal lives.
Truck races are held at tracks across the country, and Daly travels to many of them, usually joining the traveling crew on the team plane, or driving to closer tracks like Charlotte and Martinsville. Night races can mean a late arrival at home on Friday or Saturday nights: it’s not unusual for Daly to get home at 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. — with a 7:30 a.m. staff meeting ahead, and a Sunday morning sermon to deliver.
Race days begin before dawn, as crew chiefs, truck chiefs, engineers, and mechanics ready trucks for the race and roll them through a rigorous inspection. Teams typically push the limits in search of an aerodynamic advantage: when NASCAR’s inspectors deem a side skirt too close to the ground, a team member brings out heavy snips and trims it to specs.
Daly is there with the crew, moving from pit to pit in the early light, bantering with team members, asking about their families, offering constant encouragement, and sometimes lending a hand as the truck is pushed through the various inspection stations and ultimately onto pit road. Team members show obvious appreciation for Daly’s presence and his care.
Drivers arrive in time to take the cars through qualifying, shimmying out of their jeans and into protective fire suits behind tall tool boxes in the pits. Teams work out of assigned pit stalls as they prepare the trucks for the three rounds of qualifying that determine the starting order. After that, crew chiefs choose which pit they want for the race, with the top qualifiers getting first pick. The most attractive pits are near the end of the row, or have an open space ahead or behind, making entry and exit easier.
Once the pit stalls are chosen, the pit crews who service the trucks during the race arrive. They are a breed unto themselves: professional athletes who train constantly for the job, capable of changing four tires and adding two cans of gas in 15 seconds or less. GMS contracts with pit crews who work mainly for Ganassi Racing’s top tier “Monster Energy Cup” cars. Daly makes a point to touching base with each of them, too.
Pit crew responsibilities include setting up the huge pit box, complete with two levels of seating on top, and banks of computer monitors both above and below. Computers allow crew chiefs and engineers to monitor each truck’s performance and compare lap times with all of the other trucks.
After qualifying, trucks are lined up on pit road in their starting order, but can’t have any more work done other than adjusting air pressure in the tires. Teams “hurry up and wait” while other activities take the stage, such as practice for the Monster Cup cars and pre-race ceremonies in front of the grandstands.
Once drivers are introduced — from the back of the field to the front — Daly hops across the pit wall and onto pit road, where he greets each GMS driver, prays with them, and offers words of encouragement before they climb into their cars, put on their helmets, and buckle up in seats custom fitted for their frame. Daly tells each driver he plans to see him in Victory Lane.
During the race, Daly moves from pit to pit among the GMS teams, a cheerful and inspiring presence. It’s difficult to see much of the race from the pits, so Daly joins pit crew members in watching a huge digital scoreboard that displays the telecast.
Tracks like Martinsville feature lots of bumping and banging, with drivers sometimes spinning others out. Tempers can flare. If a GMS driver is involved in a wreck, NASCAR mandates a trip to the infield care center, and Daly meets him there. After the race, drivers and crews can be joyful or sad, satisfied or extremely frustrated, and Daly hangs around to offer solace or congratulations.
At the end of the day, Daly says, his favorite part of the job is “Being able to encourage and serve some of the finest men and women in NASCAR, knowing that God has me right where I am needed.” The good folks at GMS Racing wouldn’t argue with that.
For the record, GMS trucks finished third, sixth, seventh, and eleventh at Martinsville, an impressive showing. Top driver Johnny Sauter led much of the race and appeared on track to winning until a slow pit stop pushed him back to seventh. He managed to work his way back up to third, and only three points out of first place as the series leader. The surprise winner was 19-year-old Noah Gragson, who garnered his first victory on the circuit and celebrated by turning a series of smoky spinouts, then getting out of the truck to climb the tall safety fence and hang from it, doing pull-ups for the crowd. Ah, youth …
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