NASCAR Crews Beg For Mercy

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The decision to add two additional Winston Cup Series races to the 2001 NASCAR schedule is a good one… and a bad one. It’s all a matter of whom you ask.

It’s a great time for the sport of stock-car racing and NASCAR execs, but to the crews, it’s going to be a lot more work.

Heading into the last part of the Winston Cup season, many crew members are looking at next season’s schedule and wondering how in the world they’re going to make it next year – 38 races, 36 points races along with the two annual all-start events, the Bud Shootout and The Winston.

The 2001 schedule – with the addition of NASCAR’s top level at new Chicago and Kansas City tracks – has race teams on the road literally nonstop from early February until late November. There will be only three “off” weeks in that span – Easter, Mothers Day and Thanksgiving.

"It sucks," said Tony Shoemaker, a tire specialist on the No. 23 Ford piloted by Jimmy Spencer. "It gets real tiring, especially when you only get three weekends off. Man, when you go like we’ve been going for the past few weeks, there isn’t any time for time off. And adding two more races really makes it hard because then you’re in a situation where you don’t have any time to catch up. So that means you have to hire more people to help get things caught up at the shop."

And Shoemaker isn’t the only crew member who says the next racing season will be one of the most grueling in history.

"Way, way, way too many," Eric Wilson, jackman for the No. 36 car, said of next season’s events. "It’s stupid. It’s really ridiculous. We had what, five or six weekends off this year and now we’re down to three. Six wasn’t enough, and now to this. You’re just never home – never… Next year we race 20 weeks in a row, and I guarantee you there will be guys that work 20 weeks in a row without a day off. It’s just stupid as far as I’m concerned."

Even the drivers admit that they don’t see how some of these crew members can keep surviving at this rate.

"It’s impossible for these guys," Steve Park said. "And it’s not fair because (racing is) what they love to do and do for a living, for them not to be home and able to enjoy a normal family life ﷓﷓ to be able to see their kids grow up and go to school and stuff like that. Those guys are really committed to auto racing, but they should also be able to enjoy a family life at home. And the only way we’re going to be able to do that is hiring more people to give those guys some time off."

Even with the lucrative NASCAR television package for the 2001 season, many teams strapped for cash have already started, or are in the process of, dividing their teams into two entities – a shop team and a weekend road crew. Others, like veteran Dave Marcis, have decided that they’ve had all this stuff they can take, they’re either running limited schedules or not at all.

"I’m going to cut back on the number of races I run," Marcis said of his plans for next year. "I have to. I have no choice now."

The top teams are looking to see a big increase in the number of the new crew members they will have to add over the winter months.

"We’re looking at hiring a lot more people to help relieve a lot of our weekend help," Park said. "You just can’t run these guys 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all over the country. We’ve got to find a way to give those guys some time off because they have lives of their own away from the shop and the race tracks."

Shoemaker is one of the surviving members from team owner and NASCAR legend Junior Johnson’s old operations. And it was he that summed it up about as good as possible when he was asked whether he had one child or two.

"I haven’t had time to make another one," joked Shoemaker, the father of a young daughter.

Humor aside, Shoemaker says it’s tough to be away from his wife and child.

"It really hurts because I have a little girl that’s 4, and she’s to the point now when I call home every night, she’s like, 'Daddy when are you going to come home?'" Shoemaker said. "I try to keep her on Thursdays and spend all the time I can with her. But it’s tough when you call home on Thursday night – the same night I leave – and she wants to know when I’m coming back home. That’s what is bad about it.

"It’s going to come to the point where the guys that are on the road next year are going to need a couple of days off just to spend with their families. If not, there’s going to be a bunch of single people running around this garage area."

The addition of crew members is now a must, not an option.

"The crew members and the truck drivers, I tell you, if they don’t do something they’re going to have a lot of burned out people," said driver Mike Skinner. "And I hate that. It’s hard on the drivers, but it’s even harder on the crews… They’re going to have to have a shop and a road crew. And you have to be careful with that because there are only so many millions of dollars that sponsors can put into this sport. And unless we find a way to make that a lot larger number, it’s going to be hard on these team owners to hire a road and shop crew. It’s something that a lot of owners are going to have to look at doing, but it takes a lot more money to do that. I really don’t know what the answer is."

One of the biggest complaints by the drivers and crew members is the fact that NASCAR has now extended their stays at some of the tracks.

"What’s hard on them is the greed of taking away some of our Saturday shows," Skinner said in reference to the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, a traditional Saturday race in the past that will move to a Sunday date in 2001. "Taking away Indy was crazy. These guys, if they can get a Sunday off, for crying out loud then let them have it. We should race every Saturday. They should run the trucks and the Busch cars on Friday, run us on Saturday, and even let the fans have Sunday off so they can get back to work on Monday. I don’t understand it and I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is. I don’t make the rules, I just try to abide by them as best I can."

Wilson said he’s also baffled at the reasoning of that step.

"Yeah, they killed that weekend, or that Sunday at least," Wilson said. "Like at Richmond, you go in and do it all in two days. Now it makes for two long days, and you’re just worn out, but we can get it done in two days. Do one round of qualifying and practice on the first day, then race the second one. Why not? It saves money for the hotel bills, tires for practice, and I even think the competition would be closer with the less practice. A lot of times, like when it rains practice out, you always see a lot of guys who normally don’t run up front to run up front."

Wilson works at his Hickory fabrication shop early in the week and works the pit road and garage area Friday through Sunday. He’s had offers to go t

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