Kodak transport truck driver set to tackle hectic schedule Bobby Hamilton will drive the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet 500 miles Sunday in the California 500 Presented by NAPA NASCAR Winston Cup race at California Speedway. Randall Helbert...
Kodak transport truck driver set to tackle hectic schedule
Bobby Hamilton will drive the No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet 500 miles Sunday in the California 500 Presented by NAPA NASCAR Winston Cup race at California Speedway.
Randall Helbert will drive the No. 4 Kodak transport truck more than 3,000 miles hauling Hamilton's cars to the track from Abingdon, Va.
West coast trips provide plenty of challenges for NASCAR Winston Cup truck drivers. There's not much down time on Helbert's upcoming schedule, but the 42-year-old Abingdon, Va., resident has all the bases covered.
He left Talladega last Sunday night and drove back to the team's shop in Abingdon, Va. After unloading and reloading the transport truck, relief driver Henry Benfield and Helbert, also known as Cowboy and Lil Pup in the garage area, left for Fontana, Calif.
"I'll drive about five hours and then let Henry drive five," Helbert said. "It'll take us about 45 hours. About all you can figure on averaging is about 55 mph. That's for everything. That's fueling, eating, showers, everything.
"The truck will hold 300 gallons of fuel. It gets about 6.8 miles per gallon, so we'll just refuel once. We'll get there late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. I'll spend Wednesday sleeping and then go back to the track Thursday and park the truck."
Helbert won't face too many road blocks along the way, but truck weigh stations put the brakes on the cross-country trip.
"Most of the time, you've got two or three weigh stations in each state, one when you go in and one when you go out," Helbert said. "We're going Interstate 40 all the way. We're testing at Charlotte next Wednesday, so I'll take a different route back because I don't have time to go back to the shop."
The Kodak MAX Film team will test next week at Charlotte on Wednesday and Thursday. Helbert will drive back to Abingdon Thursday night and get two full days off the road before leaving for a three-day test session at Greenville-Pickens, S.C., Speedway on Sunday night. He'll leave the South Carolina track on Wednesday night and then head for Richmond the next day.
It's a hectic schedule to say the least, especially when the West Coast trips are involved, but Helbert doesn't miss a beat and hasn't for a long time.
"I'll be in this 10 years come the Fourth of July," Helbert said. "The hardest trip is probably New Hampshire. It's because of the roads. It seems like you're never going to get there. It's 1,400 miles from Daytona (race prior to New Hampshire), but it seems like it takes you nearly as long to get there as it does to California."
Helbert sees the most interesting fans at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
"People camp out at Watkins Glen all day in a mall parking lot," he said. "As many fans are there as at the race track. They've got their grills set up just like they're at the race track. I blow the horn at 'em, and that tickles 'em to death. Most of them are pretty nice people."
Nice people make anyone's job easier, like a successful day on the track makes Helbert's job more pleasant.
"If you run good, it makes it easier to drive home," Helbert said. "It's really a long ride back from California if you don't run good."
Race traffic can be a problem, too, but Helbert has developed a system that makes it a little easier.
"You can pack up after a race in 35 or 40 minutes, but then it's another story getting out," he said. "Most of the time I just hang out awhile. I don't try to get out in all of that traffic. You can hang around an hour or so, and it's pretty much thinned out by then.
"If everything goes good and you can get loaded and get out, it's not so bad. If you're running late, there's a little pressure."
But the tall, thin Helbert, easily spotted wearing his cowboy hat and huge belt buckle, takes it all in stride. A former used car salesman, Helbert is one man who's found his calling.
"He's a real particular guy, and he likes to do his job," car owner Larry McClure said. "He really doesn't like a lot of help. He does a great job. I don't put any other responsibilities on him other than the transportation of the race cars.
"It takes a different kind of guy to do that. He's neat and clean. He gets some help loading the truck, but he keeps it neat and clean and makes sure it's stocked with parts. He gets the car to the race track and after we leave, we can forget about it until the next day.
"The morning after a race he's usually home unless it's a West Coast trip. He does a good job, and I've got a lot of confidence in him. It takes a lot off of you when you do have confidence in your people. I never have worried about the car being there on time."
And Helbert doesn't worry about too much, either.
"I don't worry about taking a day off. If I need a day off, I take it," Helbert said. "Larry and I have a pretty good deal. I've been doing this for 10 years, and I missed four or five races in a row one time because of a death in the family."
Lil Pup is Helbert's CB handle, but Cowboy doesn't care much for convoys.
"You get to running with too many of you together, you're so flashy, you draw too much attention." Helbert said. "The first thing you know, you're running fast."
The Kodak team would rather run fast on the track Sunday at California Speedway.
"We're going to California with a little something different because we haven't been that good out there," McClure said. "We thought we were good a couple of times in the last Happy Hour practice, and then it turned out we didn't race that good.
"We're going to take the same car Bobby ran at Darlington, and it's a track that Bobby should run good on. It's a lot like Michigan. You've got to have a lot of confidence when you get in the corners because you're going so fast down the straightaways. That car has been real stable for him. He likes it. He likes the characteristics of it, and everywhere we've run it, we've run real good. We've never had a bad outing with it. We'll probably run it until we can duplicate it."
McClure realizes that running on the West Coast takes a bit more planning than a race closer to home. Mere logistics make it somewhat more difficult on all race teams based on the East Coast.
Thanks to men like Helbert, it eases the strain.
"It's not a strain getting there, but it's a strain getting back," McClure said. "Your body gets used to the time change and then you come home and lose three hours. It's tough on people, but it's part of the business and it looks like it's going to be a bigger part of it."
Helbert says he'll deal with additional trips when the time comes.
"I'm sure we're going to be going to different tracks soon, and that's fine with me," Helbert said. "If it's on the schedule, we'll be there."