Speed mer­chants

Nascar rac­ers en­joy palaces on wheels, writesJames Stan­ford in Alabama

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Big Wheels -

THE Nascar field pow­ers past at 320km/ h only me­tres away. I’m stand­ing on the Team Penske trans­porter on the in­field at Tal­ladega Speedway, Alabama, with the thun­der­ous 500-mile race in full swing.

The way the cars run around here three wide, of­ten push­ing the car in front, is eye-open­ing, but the 43 trans­porters lined up next to the pit lane are also im­pres­sive.

They are re­mark­able pieces of en­gi­neer­ing that not only re­flect the size of the Nascar se­ries but also the money in­volved.

Team Penske has a trans­porter for ev­ery car it en­ters. It runs three cars in the Nascar Sprint Cup se­ries, two in the Nascar Na­tion­wide Se­ries and three in IndyCar, in­clud­ing two for Aus­tralians Ryan Briscoe and Will Power.

There are also coaches decked out for the out­fit’s owner, Roger Penske, one that runs with the Nascar field and an­other that fol­lows the IndyCar se­ries.

Penske also runs sev­eral trucks for the team mer­chan­dise as well as some for hos­pi­tal­ity op­er­a­tions.

All up, Penske has 65 trucks and trail­ers and buses in its rac­ing pro­gram. That’s right, 65.

They work flat-out too, with the Nascar se­ries alone con­sist­ing of 36 rounds in the US and Canada.

The se­ries of­ten has a race on each week, which means the trucks are on the road a lot of the time. You can fol­low the trans­porters at www.team­p­enske.com thanks to GPS track­ing technology.

Team Penske says its trucks have done a com­bined 1.6 mil­lion kilo­me­tres this year us­ing 1.9 mil­lion litres of diesel each sea­son.

Roger Penske is no stranger to large num­bers. His con­glom­er­ate, which owned Detroit Diesel be­fore Daim­ler bought it, in­cludes about 250 car deal­er­ships, race en­gine man­u­fac­turer Il­mor, a 50 per cent stake in diesel en­gine spe­cial­ist VM Mo­tori and Penske Truck Leas­ing, which rents out 250,000 trucks around the world.

Team Penske is spon­sored by Freight­liner, which pro­vides 12 Coron­ado trucks with sleeper cabs for its Nascar and IndyCar op­er­a­tions.

The team’s Nascar lo­gis­tics chief Chris Yoder is show­ing me around the trans­porter for the No.2 Miller Nascar Sprint Cup Dodge driven by Kurt Busch. The truck and trailer mea­sure 23m. The trailer was cus­tom made and would prob­a­bly cost $550,000.

The rear door moves up and out of the way, re­veal­ing two slid­ing glass doors with a long list of spon­sors on each side. Open­ing the doors I’m con­fronted by a long cor­ri­dor with cupboards ei­ther side. It is pris­tine, with white plas­tic and stain­less steel ev­ery­where. There is a small bench with a mi­crowave, a sink and two screens show­ing cru­cial teleme­try and the Nascar TV feed so team mem­bers can see what’s hap­pen­ing even when get­ting a cof­fee.

The trans­porter’s au­dio sys­tem is broad­cast­ing the team’s ra­dio chat­ter, which I can just hear over the roar of the pass­ing Nascars.

There are lock­ers for the crew, spare parts, fas­ten­ings, ex­haust sys­tems and other spare parts.

Chris opens a cup­board to re­veal a ready-to-race Penske Rac­ing Dodge V8.

To­wards the front of the trans­porter is a sus­pen­sion tester. The crew fits a shock ab­sorber and this ma­chine ap­plies enough pres­sure to test the damper set­tings.

This takes a lot of en­ergy, which is part of the rea­son the trans­porter has a mas­sive 50kW generator that runs dur­ing the day for the whole race week­end.

Not all the items the race team needs to go rac­ing fit in the trans­porter. Sev­eral boxes of spares, wheels and tyres and a range of other equip­ment are trans­ported by a fleet of trucks op­er­ated by Nascar. Even if you could fit all the stuff in, the truck would be too heavy.

We step through a door­way to a small of­fice that has work benches, more TV screens and a sofa. Here the lead en­gi­neers and driver will de­brief af­ter each ses­sion, go­ing through all the im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion away from pry­ing eyes.

On the up­per deck a spot­less Dodge Nascar is tied down at the front. It’s the spare car which can be used if Busch has prob­lems in prac­tice or qual­i­fy­ing.

The race is over but the team works through to sun­set pack­ing the trans­porter be­fore it rolls out of the track head­ing for the team’s head­quar­ters in North Carolina be­fore set­ting off to the next round in Texas the fol­low­ing week­end.

They don’t do the same speeds, but the Team Penske truck driv­ers are just as busy as the rac­ers.

Dou­ble-decker heaven: one of the mas­sive Penske trans­porters, (be­low) a Dodge Nascar ready to roll out and race, and some of the 43 trans­porters lined up next to the pit lane.

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