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NASCAR and Logistics
The National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR), hailed by many fans as not only an interest but a lifestyle as well, can be a nightmare in the world of logistics. To the casual fan, the logistics of bringing a race car to the track is simple: the team loads the racecar, the truck driver heads to the racetrack, rinse and repeat. Sadly, this process is overlooked by the majority of fans. We know these haulers exist, as it is a monumental moment when they pass us on the highway. Every fan knows that inside that hauler, there is an 850-horsepower machine that is strictly built for speed and engineered to crush the competition of 40 other cars that share the same real estate on the racetrack. Unfortunately, getting these race cars from point A to point B can be an arduous and detail oriented process.
Anyone in a NASCAR garage will tell you without hesitation that driving the haulers is the most difficult task in the sport. Now, what exactly makes this job the hardest when you compare it to other occupations in NASCAR, like driving a race car over 200 mph or changing tires on the car at a 12-second pace? There are 38 weeks in a NASCAR season. This is one of the longest seasons in all major league sports. Most races are held Sunday, and haulers typically show up either Thursday night or Friday morning, depending on the track’s schedule.
Charlotte, North Carolina, is the NASCAR capital, and when you look at the NASCAR schedule, it makes sense that most teams reside here. There are 23 tracks on the NASCAR circuit, 4 on the West Coast, 4 in the Midwest, and 15 on the East Coast. Logistically, teams would want their race shop around most of the tracks on the schedule to save time and money. The more time teams can spend in the race shop, the more advantage they have for improvements like speed. Now, let’s say the haulers are leaving Pocono raceway in Pennsylvania Sunday and are heading to Charlotte, North Carolina, eight hours away. The hauler arrives sometime Monday morning, unloads the equipment from Pocono, re-loads the equipment for the next race, which is Watkins Glen and is on the road by Wednesday night or Thursday morning. That’s easy enough, right? The only problem with that is that Pocono and Watkins Glen are two different tracks, which require two different types of race cars. Those two days will go by fast because the teams need to break down the Pocono race car, analyze it, and use the data for future races there. After this is completed, the teams need to prepare the Watkins Glen racecar and load it onto the hauler. Traveling from one east coast track to another is considered an easy week. What about if NASCAR has two races out in the west?
Welcome to the West Coast swing of NASCAR. This is the most grueling three weeks for every NASCAR team when it comes to logistics. The West Coast swing starts in Phoenix, Arizona, heads to Las Vegas, Nevada, and ends in Fontana California. If every race team, except for one, has their race shop in the East Coast, how can you make this work Logistically? The simple answer is two haulers. There isn’t enough time to drive back to Charlotte to swap out the cars and bring them back out to the West Coast. So, most teams that can afford two haulers, will load up their cars and start the adventure out to the West Coast. Every hauler has two cars loaded on it. One is a primary car and the other is a backup car. The primary car is the car that the team feels will be the fastest on race day. The backup car is used if the primary car is wrecked during practice runs. All three tracks on the West Coast swing are very different, which means one backup or primary car is going to need a drastic setup change. Let’s say the driver wrecks two primary cars, one in Phoenix and one in Las Vegas during practice, and the backup cars need to come out for the main event. Now, you have two cars left for California. However, the driver gets caught up in a wreck at Las Vegas and wrecks the third car. The team now has one car left. If the driver wrecks this one, then there is no car for the main event, which means unhappy sponsors, fans, and a potential loss of millions. So, do you send out a third hauler? Do you send one hauler back to pick up a new car? Does the Third hauler meet halfway? What about when the car gets here, will there be enough time to get it race ready? These are situations that have happened before and it’s interesting to see how teams handle this type of pressure. A good example of what the teams endure during this time was captured by the cameras of fans when Kurt Busch’s pit crew had to set up the car for the next race in a Holiday Inn parking lot.
In conclusion, NASCAR and logistics are quite an interesting topic, and the different types of scenarios are endless. However, if a race is ever attended or you drive by a brightly colored hauler with numbers on the side of it, hopefully you think back to this article and send some good vibes for the driver of the hauler and teams who are involved in the grueling 38 week schedule to make the sport that I personally love, happen on a weekly basis.
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