Nascar racers enjoy palaces on wheels, writesJames Stanford in Alabama
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.