VIR Fans Have Never Heard of Him, But Baird Drives Race Cars for a Living
LEBANON, Ohio, Oct. 6 - Matteo Bobbi, Fabrizio Gollin, Didier Theys, Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Jan Magnussen, Bryan Herta, Roberto Moreno.
Great drivers have driven race cars for Doran Racing this year, but none has driven them more than Dub Baird.
Fans won't find Baird's name on the entry lists for this weekend's races at Virginia International Raceway, however, because he drives Doran Racing's race cars to the races, not at the races. For the last five years he's been the team's truck driver, although he prefers the title "transportation coordinator."
Baird is responsible for the safe transportation of Doran Racing's Crown Royal Special Reserve DORAN JE4 Ford No. 77 and sometimes the Doran Labonte Racing Daytona USA DORAN JE4 Pontiac No. 44 to and from Grand American Rolex Series events. He logs about 40,000 miles annually driving a 53-foot, 77,000-pound tractor trailer carrying the team's race cars and equipment to about 14 events across the United States, Canada and Mexico each year from the team's headquarters in Lebanon, Ohio, near Cincinnati.
The truck is powered by a 855 c.i. Volvo Cummins diesel engine that generates about 460 horsepower. It has an Eaton 10-speed transmission.
It's literally a garage on wheels. Inside the trailer are one or more race cars and almost enough parts and equipment to build another DORAN JE4 Daytona Prototype. Lista cabinets are filled with just about everything the team will need during the weekend. A refrigerator and a microwave are on board. There's a sleeping berth for Baird in the cab, and there's a small lounge in the trailer where the engineers and drivers go over data and have meetings.
Baird bears an uncanny resemblance to country star Kenny Rogers. Raised in Tennessee, he has been driving trucks ever since he got out of the Navy in 1965, where he was a diesel mechanic. He had no burning desire to become involved in endurance sports car racing, although he prepared and drag-raced a 1967 Chevelle for years.
What Baird likes best is being on the open road. "It's not the destination, it's the miles," he explained. "I don't know if I'm running to something or from something, but I like to be on the go."
Baird, who turned 62 on Tuesday, was an owner-operator of his own rig for 14 years before joining Doran Racing. "I ran from Cincinnati to California and back once a week for three years, and then I ran from Cincinnati to Florida for three years, and then I ran all over the Midwest for eight years," he explained. "The first six years I hauled fruit and vegetables, and then dry freight after that."
He joined Doran Racing right before the 2000 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Now his cargo is much more exciting.
He acknowledges that team owner Kevin Doran has entrusted him with a great deal of responsibility. "It's a lot of equipment, dollar-wise," he said. "There's also always the chance that you'll be involved in an accident, and I don't want to hurt anybody. Those are the big things."
Baird also recognizes the responsibility that comes with being part of a professional racing team and a representative of that team's sponsors.
"Image means everything in this business, which is why I try to keep everything as clean as possible," he said. "I joke around a lot so people don't realize how serious I take my job, but we're a professional team and we have good sponsors like Crown Royal and Lista that we are obligated to do the best job we can for."
Good manners on and off the road are important, and there is no room for even a little road rage.
"Sometimes people will cut you off or do something else on the road that isn't right, but you have to bite your tongue and try to be courteous all the time because if you don't, it reflects badly on your team and your sponsors," Baird explained.
Like a doctor, Baird is often "on call," because he has to be ready to leave for the races when the transporter is ready. "I never know exactly when I'm going to leave; sometimes I leave late because the race car or the truck just aren't ready any earlier," he added. "You can't keep a regular schedule. That's just part of racing.
"Like they'll say I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon, but I could get to the shop and they're still working on the cars, so I'll go home and sleep for awhile," he explained. "Then they'll call at 8 p.m. and say it's ready to go, and I'll be on my way." Once he's rolling, he doesn't worry about getting lost. "I have too much fuel for that," he explained with a grin. "I have maps, a cell phone and my CB [his handle is "Stingray"], and 300 gallons of diesel fuel. I normally do 70 to 75 miles per hour, and I get about six miles to the gallon.
"I like to eat at truck stops or at Subway, and I usually take fruit with me," he added. "I listen to a lot of books on tape; usually mysteries and some documentaries. I listened to a tape about the Battle of Bull Run and a mystery called 'Dead in the Water' to get me out to our race at Phoenix.
"And then there are always my Elvis tapes," he added. "I'm a big Elvis fan, and he's always with me. And I have some Kenny Rogers CDs too."
Each year there are always new tales of the open road.
"Coming back from Fontana, Calif. last year, it snowed in Amarillo, Texas and I got stuck on the road for 24 hours," he related. "It took me five hours to get off the interstate off-ramp because of the snow and the traffic."
Right after this year's Rolex 24 one of the team's transporters caught on fire on the trip home, although Baird was driving another vehicle at the time.
"They called me and told me they had a fire, and at first I thought they were joking," Baird said. "It was an electrical fire. It totaled the trailer, but we still have the same tractor. The race cars weren't hurt much, but a lot of things got really smoky."
An ex-Mark Martin Viagra trailer was pressed into service in the interim, but now the team's trailer proudly displays huge artwork of the gold Crown Royal Special Reserve car.
Baird said that although it's not that long, the trip from Cincinnati to VIR is not his easiest run due to the area's terrain. "When you get into West Virginia and Virginia, you're constantly on the gas or braking because it's so hilly," he pointed out.
Baird said the drivers of the transporters that are used in the Rolex series all get along, and they tease each other a lot.
"I run a lot with Ralph Lohr from Michael Shank Racing," Baird said. "They're located in Columbus and we're in Cincinnati, so we got to be friends."
All of the transporter drivers pride themselves on getting their rigs positioned perfectly in the paddock when they arrive at each track, parking them in neat rows with only about five feet between each rig. The teams that attend all the races and are part of Grand American's "Pacesetters" program get to park first, but one's position in line is important. Drivers of transporters lined up ready to park on race weekends have a lot in common with hunters vying for a great spot on opening day of buck season.
In case one thinks that Baird just sits in a hotel or up in the grandstands when the action starts at the track, that couldn't be further from the truth.
"Driving the truck is only about 20 percent of the job," Baird disclosed. "People think that's all you do, but I have to take care of the truck and trailer mechanically, and keep it showroom-clean at the races. I do a lot of grocery shopping for the team too, and I enjoy that. I run to pick up parts and people from the airport or the hotel; I run errands and just try to help out. With this job you get to meet a lot of people, and I like that too."
Spending time with his "racing family" keeps him away from his real family. Baird's wife, Roseanna, is a self-employed cosmetologist in the Cincinnati area, and their 27-year-old daughter, Brandi, just got out of college and is working at the Cardiology Center of Cincinnati.
"Sometimes my wife gets tired of me being away so much, but other times I think she's glad I'm not underfoot," Baird admitted. "She's very independent too, so it's a good match."
What would she say if he decided he wanted to drive race cars at the track instead of to the track?
"I think she'd have an issue with that," he said with a smile.