Maybe some of you folks remember the three season space fantasy on one of the major television networks back in the days when we received on three television channels, or if you lived in a huge metropolis you may have received four or five. The show was “Lost in Space” and the words entitling this Legendtorial were often shouted from the nameless robot who accompanied a young Will Robinson on his adventures. The Robot would spot trouble and warn Will to beware. Those words, “danger, danger Will Robinson” were almost like some mantra used by folks trying to be funny back in those days, at least the folks I knew. Just for fun, I did a little pre-Legendtorial research into that show only to discover that the robot was actually nameless. He was, however, designated as a “Class M-3, Model B9” unit.
My reason for issuing the warning tonight, although Will Robinson is not around, is to notify all listeners of the potential “danger” of this Legendtorial. This week, having the week off except for the Nationwide race, I had plenty of time to think, and as Jeff always mentions, and Bobby backs him up, when I’m thinking, I’m dangerous! So, if you choose to hang around for my portion of the show, be forewarned. Somewhat like the health warnings of the cigarette packages. You HAVE been warned.
As I was watching the Nationwide race, a pretty good race by the way even though it was run on the “Chicagoland” track before a crowd of folks even less than those who would pay to hear me sing Elvis songs, it was mentioned that many of the crews pitting the cars Saturday night were substitute crews in one sense or another. It was an off weekend for the Cup teams but I guess some of the teams wanted to keep doing what they do week in and week out so they volunteered for Nationwide duty. That may or may not be true but at least it put some thoughts in my head I wanted to share tonight.
How many times have you folks heard the drivers thanking the “guys back at the shop”? That was once a common part of a post-race interview but I have noticed, of late, that fewer and fewer of the drivers are thanking those guys back at the shop. Most do remember to thank their pit crews and their crew chief when they have a good run although there are those drivers, and you all know to whom I refer, who blast their crews when things go bad. But my discussion tonight is going to be about those “guys (and girls) back at the shop.
We are in the middle of summer, a time mostly reserved for family vacations by the average family. Back when I was a working man (meaning for a paycheck, Jeff), I looked forward to my two, three or four weeks vacation each year. My boss for whom I had worked 27 years had just advised me that I would be able to have six weeks vacation a year starting in 2002. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with cancer a week after that conversation and was gone less than three months later. Regardless, I looked forward to holidays and vacation days to give me time away from work and time with my family. Not so much that I disliked my job, it’s just I really enjoy “rest and relaxation”. But, think about those guys and gals “back at the shop”.
I can only imagine how hard these folks work. I know what I read, and I have talked with some of these folks who tell me that 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day is not uncommon, although I would suppose the Hendrick, Roush and Gibbs teams are a little more flexible as they employ hundreds. I recall when I was racing way back in the distant past, that “my guys at the shop” worked unbelievable hours with NO pay, to keep the Plymouth on the track for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. My “crew chief/engine builder/chassis guy” and general jack of all trades with race cars started working on my cars when he was 17 and when I started driving for other teams, he worked for my brother Richard. When Richard quit, this young man, Will Hobgood, went on to drive in the NASCAR Goody’s Dash touring series where he won at Daytona AND won the national championship in that division. Not surprising. Will Hobgood worked harder than you could believe without actually seeing all that he accomplished for yourself. He was an incredible racer and if he had started at a younger age, I have no doubt he would have accomplished a great deal in the higher divisions of NASCAR.
My thoughts couldn’t help but wonder what would drive young folks of today to become one of the “guys back at the shop”. In a time when so many folks are ready to blast the younger generation as lazy and wanting everything handed to them, this is apparently not the situation with those young folks wanting to work for a race team in the top two tiers of NASCAR. Perhaps when I was younger, if I had not been so hung up on wanting to be a driver, I may have considered working on a crew. Being mindful of the fact that my mechanical talents are severely lacking, I guess that’s why I didn’t pursue that avenue of employment.
Coming to mind during my “thoughtful period” were encounters I’ve had the past three years with young folks attending the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville. I have been very impressed with many of those young folk, male and female, as they answer my questions about their chosen profession with so much enthusiasm. To a person, when asked why they are enrolled there, it is “because I want to work for a NASCAR team”. Oh, wait, one young man last year told me he wanted to work for a Mercedes dealership. I have explained to these youngsters, as I am sure their parents have done and many others, that they are seeking to enter a very competitive career with very long hours and very hard work. That never bothered a one of them. The answer is always “I want to work for a NASCAR team.”
A little background of the NASCAR Technical Institute is that the student must first complete the UTI (Universal Technology Institute) program before they are eligible to join in 15 weeks of NASCAR specific training. During the NASCAR specific training, the student takes courses in the fundamentals of engines, chassis, fabrications, welding, and aerodynamics and pit crew training. The students with whom I have talked all say it is intense and difficult, but they love it. Oh, and as for my blunt curiosity, I asked one of the students what tuition was for the Institute and was told $46,000.00 per year. True or not, I don’t know, but if that is true, then these kids, and parents, believe in themselves and in a future with NASCAR.
Another thing you learn from talking with these students is that they are not so much interested in the publicity a driver or crew chief deals with every week, but these kids are dedicated to the possibility that they will have a part in building winning cars. I have never heard a one of those youngsters say anything about getting their name mentioned on television or in the newspapers. To me, that is impressive. The often maligned current generation appears to be different when it comes to NASCAR racing. I am not a paid spokesman for the NASCAR Institute and this Legendtorial is not an endorsement of the Institute but rather intended to be an endorsement of the young folks who are entering the NASCAR work force these days.
Now, going a step further here, I want to point this out. Almost every one of the kids I’ve spoken with over the past three trips to the Institute I have encountered as they come through the line at the “Stocks for Tots” event in December. These kids are coming through the line where the “pioneers and legends of the sport” are hanging out, NOT through the line where Dale, Jr. and other big stars of today are hanging out. These kids have respect for, and an interest in the roots and history of the sport. I had a long discussion with a second year student last December in which he was telling me all about the early days of NASCAR racing as if he had been there. I doubt he was even born when Jeff Gordon won his first race, but the kid, Josh, knew all about the Flock brothers, Buck Baker, Fireball Roberts, Lee Petty and on and on. One of the best conversations I had that night.
So, with that said, my thoughts turned to my soft spot which is the disappearing appreciation for the history of the sport, the “early days” if you will. I guess most of you were anticipating I would eventually get to this subject as I seem to find reasons each week to bring this up. This past week involved a conversation with a fan of Jamie McMurray who refused to believe that the Cup series ever raced on dirt tracks. The young man with whom I was talking was 23 and although I tried to convince him to check out RacersReunion our conversation ended with him telling me that I must have imagined that Cup cars ever ran on dirt.
I know this will never be taken seriously, but I would ask the NASCAR Institute to consider having all incoming NASCAR Tech Students take a two-week class on the background, history, and heritage of the sport. There are plenty of Legends around Mooresville I’m sure would be interested in participating and NASCAR has tons of video from the early days. That would generate a great deal of interest in the past of the sport and provide the students with a deeper understanding of why we older fans appreciate what they are going through on their career path. I will tell you this. Back in 1994 or 1995, I assisted a professor at The University of South Carolina set up a class on “Southern Heritage” and my part of the assistance was provided background on NASCAR. It was a summer semester course and surprisingly about 100 students signed up. The classes were three hours long and held in a large auditorium. The Professor thought it would be a good idea to have some of the older drivers come talk to the class. One afternoon, I, along with Joe Penland and a couple other local drivers, spoke to the class telling them of the early days of stock car racing. Our “presentation” was a total of about 45 minutes, leaving over two hours of class time remaining. The professor opened up the floor for questions and discussion. More than three hours after we entered the class, the four of us were sitting with at least 30 of the students remaining AFTER class dismissal, talking about racing. That was a class on Southern Heritage that included a one day venture into stock car racing. It was unbelievable to me that these students hung around after class on a summer day to hear more stories!
Just a couple of years ago, a young man and his friends from the University prepared a presentation on the history of Columbia Speedway which was featured here on RacersReunion. I don’t recall for what class that project was done, but it was a beautiful and wonderfully executed tribute to Columbia Speedway’s history. So the interest is there.
Ok, I’ll end my crusade here. But I really do hope more effort will be made by NASCAR to present an accurate record of the past. Buz McKim at the NASCAR Hall of Fame does an excellent job with that. Speaking of which, don’t forget our RacersReunion Hall of Fame trip of Saturday, August 16th. Check the Events Calendar on the home page for more information.
Yes, I still appreciate my NASCAR racing of today, although it is so much different from the days of yore. But remember, without the past, there would be no present and certainly no future.