I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weekends with one of the NASCAR Nationwide Teams in Bristol, Tenn., and Richmond, Va. During the next couple of days, I am going to share my behind-the-scene experiences with you. If you are a fan of NASCAR, you will probably enjoy learning a little more about an exciting sport.
Jeremy Clements and his teammates run in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. They are hard-working, dedicated professionals who compete in a sport in which some teams have huge million-dollar budgets while others scrape together every dollar they have just to stay alive. Jeremy’s team is a lower-budget team that scrapes every dollar they can to stay competitive.
The first thing I noticed when I visited the #51 team in Bristol, Tenn, was Jeremy’s dad Tony under the hood with what I would call a torn down engine. I introduced myself to the team members and said that I would be observing them for a couple of races this year. Have you ever walked into a place where everyone knows each other and you are the outsider? Well, I felt this way when I went to meet the team. I had my fancy Canon gear, iPad, and laptop with me, and they probably would have completely ignored me, but none of us could hear anything over the sound of the engines being tuned. I stood around and started asking questions, and soon, they realized I was serious about learning more.
After Jeremy’s first practice in Richmond, the team came back to the hauler, and I started to talk with Reuben, who is Jeremy Clements’ teammate and who works as part of the crew.
Some teams have the ability to throw parts away or change engines after every race. Jeremy Clements Racing uses every part until it needs to be changed. They don’t have the fancy hauler, and sometimes, they don’t have a sponsor. While watching Car Chief Tommy completely tear down the front brakes, I overheard a discussion in the background. Jeremy, his father Tony, and Crew Chief Ricky were discussing what to do about the front rotors. Some teams can change rotors after every race, but Jeremy’s team has to use theirs for a number of races. It was time to replace their rotors, but at $900, they were careful as every dollar counts.
If you think money and sponsorships come easy in this sport, you are 100 percent wrong. Even the best teams are struggling to find sponsorships. I also perceived the drivers as making huge salaries and flying back and forth to the race tracks in their private jets. However, I couldn’t have been more off base. The big names do have these amenities, but most of the teams work on strict budgets and count every dollar. They stay in motels and work 80+ hours per week for an average salary. Friends and family pitch in to help by cooking for the team and doing PR. I would compare it to a new band paying the dues and traveling from gig to gig waiting for that big opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong. The people who participate in the this sport are a lucky few who get to do something most people would only dream of. In my opinion success should be hard to achieve.
As a fan of the sport, I am always interested in how things work. What does it take to have a winning team? Being in NASCAR, I can say, takes hard work and dedication. It also takes money. Jeremy’s team and many others use the same engine and other parts multiple times while some teams replace the engine after every race. As a curious individual, I finally asked Rueben, how can you compete against a large sponsored team? In my mind, the answer was pretty simple, but after spending time with the team, I quickly realized that the sport is not just about sponsorships and money. It’s about hard-working teammates like Rueben, Ricky, Tommy, Jeff and others.
My next article will take you through the inspection and qualifying processes. If you are interested in anything specific, please share your questions and comments. If I don’t know the answers, I will find them out.