Phoenix: Dodge spotlight - Arvis Zimbelmann No. 41 team

Arvis Rolls No. 41 Target Dodge Hauler, Chuck Wagon to Phoenix. After completing 34 of 36 events on the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule, the circuit heads cross country for the penultimate event of the season. It's also race No. 19 of 20...

Arvis Rolls No. 41 Target Dodge Hauler, Chuck Wagon to Phoenix.

After completing 34 of 36 events on the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule, the circuit heads cross country for the penultimate event of the season. It's also race No. 19 of 20 straight that began in July at Daytona. The grind has taken a toll on drivers, crews and just about everyone involved with the series, but the show must go on.

Arvis Zimbelmann, a 43-year-old former dirt track racer and cattle rancher from South Dakota, is one of the unsung heroes who keep things running smoothly for the No. 41 Target Dodge Intrepid R/T team. Zimbelmann won't be behind the wheel of Jimmy Spencer's Dodge Intrepid R/T for Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. However, he and co-driver Bob Hanigan, will make sure Spencer's Dodge arrives at the one-mile desert oval in time for time trials on Friday. Zimbelmann is the team cook, backup truck driver and all-around handyman. It's his second season with the Ganassi-Sabates team, and Zimbelmann has no plans to leave Winston Cup Racing because he worked too hard to get there. Here's how he arrived in Winston Cup country, how he'll get to Phoenix and what he'll do when he gets there.

"My wife (Tamara) pushed me to moving to North Carolina. My son, Aazie, drove my race cars. He was going to move down here and go on with his driving career. I was building cars and one day my wife walked into the shop and asked me if I had made the decision to move south. She said, 'I'll make it easy on you. Come July, I'm moving down with or without you.'

"I said, 'OK, that works for me.' It's kind of tough because we still have a house in Iowa. She had stepped aside for so many years for our racing. She doesn't want any part of racing now. She'd followed me to every dirt track in the world. She actually raised the two boys. My other son's name is Travis, and he's helping out a little bit up at the shop now. He's 6'2", 220 pounds and he's 15 years old. He wants to be a jackman. Aazie just finished up with his truck series deal, and he's looking to move on to something else. He's been racing since he was four. My wife hated it bad enough, and then I get both of my boys into it.

"I quit my job and came down and lived with Aazie a little bit while I was looking around. I had something lined up to come down, and when I got down here the shop closed. I started tuning some motors and doing a little stuff and rented a building down here. My wife was smart enough and she had saved about three months worth of wages. I got a portfolio over to (Team Manager) Andy Graves. He told me he knew I could do a lot of other things but the only opening he had was for a cook and backup truck driver. He told me it wasn't glamorous but the job was mine if I gave 100 percent. I told him I'd give him anything he wanted for the job. I've been with him ever since.

"I'm a welder by trade. I built this chuck wagon that we used to cook with at the track. I like to be the go-to guy. If someone needs something done, they usually come to me. I don't drive the hauler on the short trips, but on all the long runs, Bob and I go together. It's about 36 hours to Phoenix from our shop (in Mooresville, N.C.). I really don't know how many miles it is, but it's more than 2,000 one way. We'll pull out Tuesday morning and try to make some good time. We're hoping to leave around 6 o'clock. If you don't leave by 6, you might as well wait until about 9 because of the traffic. We'll stop somewhere and maybe get one meal. I like to drive early in the morning, so I'll start and Bob will rest. We usually don't stop until we need fuel. We carry about 300 gallons of fuel, and that's how you regulate your weight. You get about eight-nine miles per gallon. We'll swap out after four-six hours behind the wheel. My hardest time is about 4 o'clock in the morning. I couldn't stay awake if I got up five minutes before four.

"We'll get to Phoenix on Wednesday night. We don't go into the track until Friday morning, but we've got to buy all the groceries and water and drinks. We're going out with an empty truck because of the weight. The weight limit is 80,000 pounds. We've got two cars and all the motors and stuff. Once we were overweight, and I got out and walked around the scale so we could make the weight limit. Some places are real strict with it. The further west you go, the tougher it gets. Usually weigh stations are open when you cross into every state. We came back from Dover, and I was 320 pounds over weight and they wrote us a ticket. Most of the time they'll let that slide. You get up to 1,000 or 1,200 pounds and you're asking for us. If I had known we were that close, I could have gotten out or rolled a spare tire off or something. That spare wheel and tire is going to weigh 300 pounds.

"We'll get out there and get a rental car and relax and then go buy the groceries. I'll spend $1,000 to $1,200 easy on the food for the weekend. I've got it pretty much down to a science. On a normal weekend it's about $500 and for the number of guys I feed it's not that bad. You have to buy water and sodas. If it's warm out there in Phoenix like I'm thinking, for both of our teams, we'll need 20 cases of water. That's one thing you don't run out of because then you start hurting somebody.

"It's more like a family thing. The last two nights at Rockingham, we went to a grocery store and cooked out supper and all of us watched a movie together. I usually just fix breakfast and lunch. I usually vary the menu, but I've got some stuff stashed away in case we have a rainout. I try to do chicken and roast beef and Sunday is kind of a noodle surprise.

"We'll leave Phoenix as soon as we load the trucks on Sunday night. We'll probably drive for eight hours or until we can get to a truck stop where we both can shower. We'll get breakfast and put the hammer down. We'll get back to the shop early Tuesday morning, turn it around and probably leave for Homestead on Wednesday night. That's about a 14-16-hour trip. I might sneak off and do a little fishing down there. We don't get to do it very often, but we're talking about getting a fishing trip together.

"We'll head back on Sunday night from Homestead. Most of the time we get back Monday morning or Monday afternoon and work. We'll usually pull out Wednesday night, so we only get to sleep in our own bed two days. You just try to get some time off for the family. You're more dedicated here. It's not about the money. It's in your blood, the competition for racing. We compete at everything, I don't care if it's cooking, driving a truck, whatever. Like they say, I didn't come here to run second.

"I really didn't have any cooking experience before I started this job. I'd cooked on a few hunting trips and when I was a kid we were on a cattle drive and I dislocated both of my shoulders. I hit a tree and the horse at the same time. I had to stay back and cook. Being a bachelor for a few years, I cooked for myself. It's just a matter of how bad you want to do this deal. Do you want to compete or just say you can't? I don't care what it is I want to figure out how to make it happen.

"The guys don't really complain about the food. They tease me a little bit on Sunday with the noodle surprise. I just try to get something good for them going over the wall. Al (team trainer Shuford) and I have done some experiments, and it's important what I cook them on Sunday. I can slow 'em down half a second with what I feed 'em. I'll usually feed 'em pasta, fish, fix some cream sauce and mix it with hamburger and probably some garlic toast. If I really got serious and cooked stuff like chicken and potatoes, you know something like mom's good meal, I'd bog 'em. I've seen it happen. They would fill their bellies and go lay in the sun like a bunch of dogs. We've logged a lot of this, and we'll go with the weather, too.

"You're looking for that day when you're going to finish 1-2. There's nothing greater than winning. I don't care what it is. It's all about being No. 1. That's why I wanted to go racing. I've got a radio on during the race, and I'm packing and getting the truck ready to go. If something breaks or if there's a crash, I'll try to get stuff ready. I've got an idea of what they'll need. I just try to have the pieces there and when they get to the garage I get out of the way.

"I'll do whatever the team needs me to do. This is a long-term deal. I'd like to spend a little more time with my boys in the summer and on weekends, but I don't want to leave Ganassi. They gave me a shot. There's so much to this sport that's not loyal. I feel like being loyal means a lot for a lot of things.

"I called my dad in South Dakota and told him about Sterling when he had to get out of the car for the rest of the season. I told him everybody was kind of bummed out about it, and he told me he didn't understand that. He said, 'you didn't lose the championship, you just delayed it for a year.' That's pretty good for a Cowboy. He's a philosopher. He said it could be worse. He said, 'you're not putting him in a box are you?' He said that younger people don't understand that if nobody's bleeding there isn't a problem. Dad's probably in his late 70s. He still thinks he's John Wayne. I talked to him last week and they had 10 inches of snow. He was out moving snow so they could feed the cattle.

"I wouldn't say my wife's happy with things the way they are. She's happy that I'm doing what I want to do. My goal now is to get money put together and get her sent to school. She wants to study to be a paralegal. I tell her why stop there. Why not try to be a lawyer? That's the direction we're going to go. She's raised the kids for the past 20 years. I'd take her savings when we'd blow a motor in the race car, so it's time to pay her back."

-dodge motorsports-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmy Spencer