Theyre Trying To Kill Us

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NASCAR Winston Cup Series crew chiefs have a myriad of problems to deal with, but one of those problems is much bigger than they’d ever hope it to be.

As they begin preparations for the 2001 season, crew chiefs are already trying to figure out how they’re not going to burn out the crew members who are so vital to their success.

After all, 2001 marks the fourth time in five years that NASCAR has increased the number of races, and this time they’ve added two more events.

“The schedule next year is going to be a killer for everyone involved, so we’ve already had to take steps to make sure we’re taking care of our guys,” says Jimmy Makar, crew chief for Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte. “We’ve already had to hire more people for next year to give some of our guys some time off.”

Some folks in the garage area have expressed a fear that about halfway through next year, there will be a bunch of crew members who might want to get out of this hectic sport altogether in order to save their family lives.

"There’s no question this is a grueling task, so I’ve been working pretty hard since September getting ready for next year when we have 38 races in 41 weeks," says Robbie Reiser, crew chief for driver Matt Kenseth. "It’s tough all the way around for everybody involved."

Once again, the schedule grinds from mid-February - when the season kicks off with the Daytona 500 - until the final race of the season at Atlanta in November. In 2001, there are 36 championship points races, plus The Winston all-star race in May and The Budweiser Shootout the week before the Daytona 500.

“They’re trying to kill us with this many races,” says James Ince, the crew chief for Johnny Benson. “This schedule is so hard. It’s 36 races plus two non-points events. That means we have a 23-week stretch in 2001, so you have to keep your people fresh and in the right frame of mind.”

Ince says because of the schedule, he simply has no choice but to a make changes in order not to work the good people he has to death.

So what’s the grand plan?

“I have a plan laid out to where everybody in the shop is supposed to get two days off a week,” Ince says. “It just has to happen.

“We had to make a decision that we would either give some people some time off, or we could go out and hire a divorce attorney and put him on staff and save everyone a little bit of money. We chose the time off after we decided we liked the family atmosphere better.

“As a crew chief and manager of all these guys, I have to make sure they have time to get their grass cut at home and see that their wives are happy, as well as go to their kid’s play or football game. All that carries back into the shop. To have a race team where everybody is happy, our people have to have a healthy home life.

“We want to win championships and races. It’s my choice if I want to kill myself by working so much, but it isn’t best for the team if I overwork 40 other people and ruin their home life.”

The larger more well-funded teams have a slight advantage over others when it comes to burnout… they simply hire more staff. It’s the route Joe Gibbs Racing has taken.

“These crew guys get tired, and these guys have families,” says Makar. “Joe Gibbs Racing is one big family, and we want to make sure that all the family members are happy here. In order to give the guys the time off, we’ve hired more people. We’ve had to grow tremendously here in the past few years, and we’re fortunate to have been able to do that."

As are the folks at Roush Racing, where six people per team have been added just to soften the blow of the new grueling schedule.

“The thing about it is it’s not all about dollars and cents anymore," says Reiser, "it’s about finding a way to get some time off.”

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2000

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