HDR/JGR Transporter driver's road trip

Home Depot Racing The Car is King, but it Must Get There First ATLANTA (June 28, 2004) - The car is king in NASCAR. Drivers drive the car. Mechanics work on the car. Writers write about the car. TV and radio personalities talk about the car.

Home Depot Racing
The Car is King, but it Must Get There First

ATLANTA (June 28, 2004) - The car is king in NASCAR. Drivers drive the car. Mechanics work on the car. Writers write about the car. TV and radio personalities talk about the car. But first, the car has to actually arrive at the race track, and heading up that cornerstone effort for the #20 Home Depot Racing Team is Scott Crowell.

Danny "Gumby" Heidtke and Scott "Scooter" Crowell are the transporter drivers for the #20 Home Depot Racing Team.
Photo by CIA Stock Photography.

Crowell, better known as "Scooter" amongst those in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series garage area, spends about 170 days on the road getting Tony Stewart's signature Home Depot Chevrolet from Joe Gibbs Racing's headquarters in Huntersville, N.C., to all points near and far on the 38-race Nextel Cup schedule.

It was the furthest point this past weekend, as the traveling circus that is NASCAR stopped in Sonoma, Calif., to race at the 1.99-mile road course 30 minutes outside San Francisco. It marked the toughest stretch of travel for transporter drivers like Crowell, who after racing in Brooklyn, Mich., on June 20, had to restock their rolling race shops in double time.

"We left Michigan at 6 o'clock Sunday night and had to be in Huntersville to get the truck turned around to come out to the West Cost," said Crowell, whose trip to Sonoma comprised just 5,700 of the roughly 65,000 miles he'll log this year. "We had guys at the shop waiting for us to get there, and we rolled in at 5:30 a.m. They got all the road course cars and parts and pieces loaded up and we left the shop at 11 o'clock Monday night to come out to Sonoma. We got there Wednesday at 6:30 in the morning."

If that itinerary sounds impossible for one man to accomplish, it's because it is. Danny "Gumby" Heidtke (pronounced Hide-key) is Crowell's co-pilot, and it's the only way such long journeys are completed in such short periods of time.

"It's the difference between me still doing this job and not doing this job," said Crowell about the unique arrangement Joe Gibbs Racing has by employing two full-time truck drivers for the #20 team. "It's more work than people can possibly conceive. I couldn't do it without him (Heidtke) and he knows that. And I don't think he'd even want to remotely try this by himself. It's a two person position, and a year-round, full-time one at that. There's no primary and backup at our place. We're equals.

"Most people in this profession will tell you that their deal is pretty good, but?^?¦, and more often than not the 'but' portion of it consists of, 'Man, I only got a half day off this week.' I couldn't do this without a second person."

"It's a good arrangement," added Heidtke. "I'm here to help. Scooter does most of the stuff at the track, where I'm more at the shop working to get the truck turned around so that he can get a couple of days off. And then when we have a tough stretch of races like we have right now, I'm available to help with the driving. You just can't run seven days a week anymore. The way the schedule is now, you need time off."

"This part of our schedule is, hands down, the worst," said Crowell. "And then to complicate matters we go from a road course to Daytona (Fla.). Everything that's on the trailer has to be taken off so that you can put all of your speedway stuff on.

"We anticipate getting back to the shop sometime early afternoon on Tuesday. And it's just the same deal all over again. We have to get the truck turned around quickly because we have to be in Daytona first thing Thursday morning."

Swapping out the parts and pieces within a 53-foot long transporter is far more involved than just replacing road course cars with cars designed for 200 mph speeds at Daytona.

"Going from a road course to a restrictor plate race, we have to change out everything," said Crowell. "Other than your radios and your firesuits, it's a total changeover. All that stuff that bolts onto the race car just doesn't translate from a road course car to a speedway car. We're talking about gears and transmissions, all your car parts - your spindles, truck arms - all the stuff from your road course package has to be changed out. It's a lot of work. It's something that'll take us a good 10-12 hours to have everything right.

"If we went from a mile oval and then had to go to another mile race track the next weekend, you'd cut your work in half because you would only have to offload a small portion of things. Your engines would stay the same, and a lot of your spindles and truck arm combinations would stay the same."

Crowell and Heidtke's experience is highly valued by crew chief Greg Zipadelli. He knows that without them, all the preparation and man hours that go into a race weekend could be lost if the truck carrying the cars and equipment doesn't arrive on time.

"The more we start making these West Coast trips the more important it is to have guys you can trust and rely on," said Zipadelli. "It's more important than just getting from point A to point B safely and representing Joe Gibbs Racing and Home Depot in a professional and safe manner when they're going down the road. They take ownership of what's on the truck. They oversee all that gets switched out and they make sure they have the right parts and pieces for the cars we have on the trailer.

"I like the guys I have. Having two truck drivers is what we need to do. It keeps them fresh and it gives them some time off. I don't want to use them up in a two- or three-year window when I can hopefully keep them for six, eight or 10 years."

Crowell likes that line of thinking.

"I always felt from the first day I started at Joe Gibbs Racing that my job was as equally important as the brake specialist's, or the tire specialist's or the crew chief's and everybody else," said Crowell. "I hadn't been anywhere else where I truly felt like that. Joe Gibbs Racing appreciates and knows how important our position is as much as any of the other key personnel."

-hdr/jgr-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing