After four hours of high-speed competition on the track, some drivers canâ€™t wait to leave the speedway. The dash from the race car to their private planes has been called by some â€œthe great escape.â€ In a rush for their planes at nearby...
After four hours of high-speed competition on the track, some drivers can’t wait to leave the speedway. The dash from the race car to their private planes has been called by some “the great escape.” In a rush for their planes at nearby airports, some drivers sprint from their race cars to getaway vehicles in order to beat the race traffic. A few crew chiefs consider the post-race sprint a problem, while others have come to grips with it. As the circuit enters its 15th of 34 races in the new millennium on Sunday at Pocono, Team Monte Carlo crew chiefs, owners and drivers discuss what some have labeled “The Best Race of the Day.” LARRY McREYNOLDS (Crew chief No. 31 Lowe’s Monte Carlo) “When the race is over, nobody wants to get home more than I do or I want to see these guys get home. I don’t think you can let it become a possession with you, and I’m seeing that with a lot of these guys. Their mission for the weekend is to make sure they’ve got the No. 1 plan in place to get out. I think it’s not fair to the press. I have bad days and I don’t want to talk to the press sometime, but it’s not because I won’t stop long enough to talk because I’m in a panic to get out of here. “I don’t think it’s fair to the race team. These guys don’t have a jet to get on. They don’t have a helicopter out there with the blades rotating to pick them up, and they don’t have their wife and family with them. Nobody wants or needs to get out of here any quicker than these guys. I just feel like it’s another area where the driver is separating himself from the race team. I’ve told Mike (driver Skinner) that we ain’t going to do it. The best way to handle it is not get started doing it. There’s going to be situations when there’s somewhere you’ve got to be, but that’s a different story. Just to be able to say I got home at, I’ve never seen such a possession in it. Somebody is going to get hurt. We’ve already had some close calls. I just think it’s become too much of a possession. “(The race out of the track could be the best race of the day) at some places, that’s for sure. If you monitor some drivers enough, with a few laps to go, you’ll hear them making their plans by way of their pilots and wives. That’s totally absurd, but if you never let it get started it’ll never get out of control. I’m not sure what it is. “At some of the places where we drive like Martinsville and Darlington and Rockingham, we’ll go out to the motor coach and have dinner and bathe and let the traffic die down and then ease home. What’s the difference in sitting in that motor coach in a relaxed atmosphere and sitting in a dead gridlock of traffic? It’s the damnedest deal I’ve ever seen in some cases. When I’ve heard drivers come over the radio before the race is over making their travel plans, well, maybe the reason they ain’t in the position to win is exactly what I just heard on the radio. They ain’t even close to focused. “A lot of these drivers used to be climbing up in the truck riding home with the team or the van with the team. The more elaborate the travel becomes and the quicker it becomes, it’s almost like it’s getting worse. You just have to put your foot down before it gets started. The helicopter deal is becoming a big, big deal. So many people are flooding the helicopters. I know of two race tracks -- Texas and New Hampshire -- where we beat most of them that flew in helicopters. There’s only so many helicopters that can land and take off. “We sat in line for two and a half hours in Texas for a helicopter and couldn’t get on one. Finally we borrowed a station wagon from a guy we didn’t even know and drove over to the airport. But the big deal is, I flew out on a helicopter. It’s a little bit of a peer pressure thing, I think. Some of these drivers will tell you how bad they’ve got it. Now let me get this straight. You run to your $750,000 motor coach to change clothes so you can run over to your helicopter so you can fly over to your Leer so you can fly home. Life is pretty bad here.”
ROBBIE LOOMIS (Crew chief No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo) “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with several drivers and for the most part, they’ve been pretty good. Throughout the years, I’ve definitely seen the time when they’ve got something they’ve got to do, but a lot of times it’s legitimate. Jeff (driver Gordon) is great after a race. He’ll do whatever you need. If you wanted to stay here all night, I think he’d stay with you. At the same time, usually after a race, it’s better if you talk on Monday anyway. When I was with Richard Petty, I came up with what I called the car owner rule. The car owner shouldn’t talk to the driver after the race until Monday or Tuesday. You get out there and the driver is in the heat of the battle, and he’s trying to do all he can. A lot of times he thinks he needs this or that with the car. The owner is sitting up there watching and he thinks the driver should have done this or that. It’s just better if they sit and talk on Monday or Tuesday because the driver will listen to the owner and the owner will listen to the driver.”
JOE NEMECHEK (No. 33 Oakwood Homes Chevrolet Monte Carlo) “Everybody is in a hurry after a race. You want to get out of the track fast so you don’t get stuck in traffic and then so you don’t get stuck at the airport waiting to take off. The same teams fly into most of the airports, but at places like Atlanta and Talladega, so many fans fly private planes into the airport. It creates a real traffic jam. We’re getting more and more private planes. They’re small planes, but it takes the same amount of time to take off. “Dale Earnhardt is the master of the quick getaway. It’s important for not only the owner and driver, but it’s important the teams get back home at a reasonable hour on Sunday night. They’ve got to work the next day. It’s not like they’ve got two days off and then they go again. “If you win and run good, you know you’re going to be at the track awhile after the race. The top three finishers go to the media center for interviews, and that’s just part of it. Usually after a race, you go to the hauler and change clothes and talk to the crew chief and car chief and engineer. You discuss highlights and lowlights of what happened during the race. My team is based in Asheville, so I’ll usually call Wally Rogers (car chief) again on Monday morning and we’ll make more notes about the race so we can keep them on file. “Sometimes a driver is frustrated after a race, and they’ll let off steam and say something they really don’t mean. I know it’s important to talk to the media, but sometimes it’s hard. You’re frustrated and want to talk, but you’ve got to be careful what you say.”
FELIX SABATES (Car owner SABCO Motorsports Monte Carlos) “The crew gets home late, and the drivers want to get the hell out of here early. I’ve got no complaints. It’s been OK. Sometimes the crew chiefs want to talk to the drivers right after the race when their minds are fresh about what happened, and the drivers are gone. They get out quick. They want to beat the traffic. A lot of car owners fly helicopters. We don’t have those problems, but the drivers usually have to drive. I drove the second race at Richmond last year because I didn’t want to fly back to the airport in a helicopter at night. It took me two hours and 15 minutes to get to the airport. That’s ridiculous. You spend all day at the track, and then it takes you that long to get to the airport after the race. “Most of the owners have jets. I can get home from New Hampshire in an hour and 45 minutes. It takes the crew four and a half hours in a propeller plane. They’ve got to be at work at 8 o’clock the next morning, but there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no solution. The best solution is to run all the races on Saturday instead of Sunday. “I like the 11 o’clock starts, too. You can do that in California because an 11 o’clock start is 2 p.m. eastern. A lot of NASCAR fans go to church and if you start races at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, you start messing around with The Lord. You don’t do that. Now an 11 o’clock start on Saturday morning, that might be the ticket. You’ve got Saturday night to get home and all day Sunday to do what you want.”
KEVIN HAMLIN (Crew chief No. 3 GM Goodwrench Monte Carlo) “It’s no big deal to me. Dale talks about the race as soon as it’s over. We’ll catch up with each other and if we can do anything we’ll do it. If we can’t, we don’t. He likes to blast out and miss the traffic, but that’s no big deal to me. They say he can vaporize quicker than anybody, but that’s just the way he is. Most of the time Dale will talk to me during the race and we won’t need to talk a lot after it’s over. Our weekend crew puts the car in the truck and then loads up the truck. Richard (car owner Childress) leaves quick, too. We know all the quick exits out of the track, but more and more people find those exits and more and more people come to the races and it keeps getting worse. It’s something to deal with. Some guys take helicopters to the airport and that helps. It’s nice when the track has a NASCAR exit. That really helps, and that’s all we can really ask for. It makes a big difference.”