CHAMPCAR/CART: A Day in the Life of Billy Kamphausen

A Day in the Life of Being Crazy - by Anne Proffit, HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The FedEx Championship Series is all about logistics. CART and its teams, suppliers and support personnel plan their testing, production of spares, itineraries...

A Day in the Life of Being Crazy - by Anne Proffit,

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The FedEx Championship Series is all about logistics. CART and its teams, suppliers and support personnel plan their testing, production of spares, itineraries for road and shop crews all to achieve balance between time on the road and time at base camp.

Long before the sun comes up and well after it sets, Billy Kamphausen, CART's assistant vice president of logistics and assistant technical director, is working. He opens the gates at every CART event and shuts them behind him well after race crews, hospitality personnel, media and CART officials have gone.

Kamphausen was admitted to the cardiac unit at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac, Mich., Thursday, after experiencing dizziness and a burning in his chest. Doctors relieved blockage to his coronary arteries and expect him to mend soon. Upon his recovery, the earthbound tornado will be back on the pit road.

What makes Billy K. run? Why would a man in his mid-50s continue to work 16 to 18 hour days, travel hundreds of thousands of miles every year and -- quite literally -- run through 20 race pits and paddocks to enforce rules and ensure safety throughout CART's season?

"I've got motor oil in my veins," laughs Kamphausen. "I've always had this love for cars and racing." Born and raised in central New Jersey, Kamphausen began his race career as a USAC and NASCAR volunteer, moving from local tracks to palaces of speed. He worked as a service advisor at Malcolm Conner Chevrolet, the storied Corvette dealership in Paramus, N.J. In fact, "80 percent of the original tech staff at CART came out of that particular Chevy dealership," says Kamphausen. He and co-worker Bill Luchow eventually left the dealership and took to the road full-time.

"We would drive all night long to work qualifying [at the Indianapolis 500], work all weekend and go back to the shop Monday mornings. We drove through rain and snow storms, and we never stopped ... We just kept going."

That energy propelled Kamphausen to the top of his trade. He was one of CART's first hires, along with Kirk Russell, Dr. Steve Olvey and fellow pit road warrior Luchow.

These days, Kamphausen's responsibilities as first officer to the vice president of logistics, Dennis Swan, are to make sure the traveling circus arrives ready to put on its show and packs up for the next date.

The numbers are incredible. CART alone brings seven tractor-trailers to each North American date. The rolling city is comprised of three transporters for its rolling equipment, a chief steward's trailer, an administrative trailer for CEO Andrew Craig, a coach for event judges and the CART medical facility, a hospital on wheels.

Among Kamphausen's responsibilities is choreographing each CART trailer in the paddock into its assigned position, with power and phone lines ready. The chorus line is made up of team transporters, hospitality coaches, manufacturer transporters and their accommodations, trucks for all of CART's suppliers and space for the personal coaches many drivers now consider their seasonal homes.

Each paddock has its own challenges, says Kamphausen. Long Beach, Calif., a street circuit, and the oval at Gateway, Ill., just outside of St. Louis, present some of the most difficulties.

"The tracks provide us with blueprints of their facilities. We have to take light poles, all kinds of things, into account when we plan our paddocks," states Kamphausen. "We just have to use those blueprints and figure out where all the trucks fit in relation to their pit and paddock area."

Meetings occupy Kamphausen and Swan for at least three days leading up to each race. The men identify obstacles around a track, such as parking (always a problem) driver ideas to facilitate safety, personal needs and media difficulties (especially photo locations).

At the first race of this 20-event season, held at Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex on 21 March 1999, Kamphausen is everywhere, meeting the needs of his flock with regard to rules, regulations and competition.

"I try to be a little compassionate about the first race of the season," he says. "I want to make sure everyone gets what they need to make the event run smoothly." So, he's there for drivers' meetings, mechanics' meetings, promoters' meetings, photographers' meeting -- you name it.

At the same time, Kamphausen outlines plans for the troupe's trip to Japan in April. "We talked with the teams on Friday about Motegi. We built up a load schedule for the teams. We'll start loading Wednesday through Friday, so they all know when to have their equipment ready. They all know how many copies of their manifest are needed, and we've already handled departure customs requirements. We're working on the return leg now."

"A day in the life of being crazy" is how Kamphausen attacks race day. Up before dawn to allow track access for the early risers, he speaks at the mandatory photo meeting prior to the Dayton Indy Lights final practice and CART's Champ Car warm-up session. Then he'll work the Indy Lights race and the main event.

"We have two new flags this year. A green flag with a lightning bolt will tell the teams to start their engines, and we allow them to warm them up for a specified time before the first of four reconnaissance laps. We also have a new winners' circle checkered flag with a big '#1' at the center. We're concentrating on the race winner in victory circle this year, and the driver will follow my directions to get the interview for TV accomplished as seamlessly as possible."

Keeping up with Kamphausen requires running shoes. As he makes his way to the top of the grid at Homestead, Kamphausen is accompanied by a horde of Mexican visitors, looking for their own date in the FedEx Series soon. He introduces them to major players like Chip Ganassi and Carl Haas and permits them access on the island that divides the race track from the pit road, normally no man's land.

After he gives the command to start engines and the field is on the 1.5-mile oval track, Kamphausen escorts his guests safely to the pit road and watches the pace laps carefully, checking the cars to make sure they are ready for competition.

At the green flag, he's back at the start-finish line, where an immediate halt to action has been called, due to an accident between rookie Naoki Hattori and veteran Al Unser Jr. The pits are closed for the first yellow lap, then opened for service. All this time, Kamphausen prowls the long length of Homestead's extended pit road, checking out the condition of drivers, cars and teams.

When the action finally gets under way, he resumes his spot at pit central, in constant contact with Russell, CART's vice president of competition, and Wally Dallenbach, the chief steward. He also finds two lawn chairs for a radar crew stuck at pit to monitor speed limits; their view is restricted, making it easier for them to perform their jobs while seated.

Kamphausen monitors all pit stops, together with Luchow and protigi Colin Burgess. Together they reprimand a film crew who crossed several times between the island and the pits without prior permission.

At the end of the race, Kamphausen waves his #1 flag and escorts winner Greg Moore to pit road after lap No. 150, to a waiting ABC-TV crew and his happy Forsythe team. The bedlam on Victory Lane ensues, while Kamphausen and cohorts find the second- and third-place cars and park them adjacent to the island.

After the race is over, the winner anointed and runners-up placated, Kamphausen has plenty of work left to do. He meets with the judges, who determine any flaws to the competition, with Russell and Dallenbach to allow or deny posting of a box score. Then it's clean-up time.

While it's never easy to off-load the CART trailers of all their tech supplies, replacing each item in its designated spot requires both man and brainpower. The volunteer crew assists and the trucks are loaded, awaiting the long trip back to Detroit before shipment to Japan. Then there are red-eyes to catch and paperwork to be shuffled. Kamphausen will be in the CART offices by 7 a.m. the following morning, ready for work.

"There's a certain feeling of gratitude for me," he says. "I love the challenges of my position, dealing with people I enjoy each day. I think I have a sense of understanding, an appreciation of what people's needs are. The officials who come along with us -- they have their jobs and their everyday life -- and this is their tennis and this is their golf. My job is to smooth the rough edges and make it easier for everyone in the CART community to accomplish their goals."

Source: CART Online

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Wally Dallenbach Sr. , Al Unser Jr. , Carl Haas , Chip Ganassi , Greg Moore