“I would give anything to be able to work on a race team.”
The above quote is a statement that I’ve heard recited hundreds of times. Sometimes it’s overheard at the race track, and other times it’s mentioned in passing at a get-together.
Either way, for as long as I’ve been going to races, I’ve taken note that a majority of people who love racing think that it would be a dream job. However, there’s another finite group of the racing fraternity, who have a totally different take on the situation.
This group of pessimists ironically consists primarily of folks who have lived life on the road. They are the ones who know just how tough of a career choice it truly is.
“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had, but at the same it’s the most exhausting job I’ve ever experienced,” former Jason Sides’ crewman Wade Oliver once commented. “It was tough when I was single, but now that I’m married with a son, there’s no way that I could imagine doing it again.”
Oliver continued, “Everybody thinks that when you work on a team, it’s just a matter of tuning a little on the car, and then watching the races and partying. The reality is that there’s so much to be done on the car, that about the only time you ever see what’s happening on the track is when it’s your car racing. As far as the partying, rarely do you have time to enjoy anything like that. It’s a tough gig.”
Oliver’s job as a crewman on a World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series team took him all over North America and even to Australia. Working for a team that raced more than 90 shows a year, didn’t leave much time at home.
“I slept in a bunk in the hauler far more times than I slept in my own bed, but my goal was to spend a few years out there learning as much as I could to apply to my own racing program,” Oliver said. “For me it was all worth it, and I’m glad that I got the opportunity, but it isn’t the charmed life that most people envision.”
At least once a week I get calls, texts, or e-mails from teams, who are seeking new crew help. In fact, it’s a bit ironic that as I work on this article I just received a text from Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer, Billy Moyer who inquired to see if I could recommend anyone who might be looking for a job.
When a Hall of Famer can’t even find crew help, you know that it must be a tough position to fill.
Moyer made the comment, “A lot of the older crew guys are getting out of the game, and it seems like a lot of the younger guys bail pretty fast once they learn just how tough of a job it can be.”
For me personally, working in the industry, I often times get to see just how tough it is to work on a pit crew. These guys and gals are out there working on the car in the sweltering heat of the afternoon. Daily duties like washing the car, checking all of the nuts and bolts, and making repairs from the night before can get pretty taxing.
And this is just the start of the day before the actual work for the evening’s program begins.
Once the show kicks into high gear, teams are left to thrash to get tires ready, change gears, adjust shocks, and more. Throw in the inevitable crash or parts failure, and the evening’s duties turn into a full-fledged fire drill.
At the end of the night – which many times is as much as 12 hours after you first unloaded – it’s finally time to pack things in the box. While the race night might finally be over, many times a crewman’s job is far from complete. It’s not unusual for these same guys to be required to drive the hauler four or five hours down the road to the next destination.
After a few hours of sleep it’s time to get up and do it all over again.
While, it’s a glaring challenge for national racers to find dependable crew help, the local competitors nowadays face the same problem.
Marshall Skinner has been racing Sprint Cars for more than 25 years. He’s lived life on the road as a driver and a crewman, but these days he mainly races within a four-to-five-hour radius of his West Memphis, Arkansas home.
When not racing, he works up to 80 hours a week as a heavy machinery mechanic. Oh, and by the way he’s married with four beautiful kids at home. This doesn’t leave many hours in the week for him to get his racecar ready for action, but the 43-year-old racer still finds a way.
“It seems like not that long ago there was no shortage of folks who wanted to help you in the shop or at the track, but these days I think most everybody has gotten wise to how damn tough working on a racecar is,” Skinner laughs.
“I ran my last race in October of last year, and it’s almost March now, and the car is still sitting in the box (the trailer) because I haven’t had time to get to work on it for this season. I definitely miss those days of limitless crew help, but those days are definitely gone.”
For Skinner, any help is welcome help.
“Anytime that I can get a spare hand or two to help at the shop or at the track, I’m extremely appreciative,” he says. “Racing is more competitive than ever before, and there’s less help than ever before, so any assistance can be the difference in winning and not even making the big show.”
As some of you fine folks read this article you might think that being a crew member just isn’t on your bucket list. However, for other individuals you might be hungrier than ever to find a job in racing.
As outlined by the insights from the drivers and crew members interviewed for this piece, there’s no shortage of racing jobs to be had. The big question you have to ask yourself is “How hard are you willing to work for not much money?”
If your aspirations are more about life experiences than they are about making big money, and you aren’t afraid of hard work, then I encourage you to pursue your dreams at all costs.
It’s truly as simple as contacting any-and-all teams in your area and asking them if they are looking for help. While experience is always preferred, these days most teams are willing to accept applications from any willing participants.
Last but not least, good luck to everyone who chases their dreams. Your hard work and determination could truly make the difference in dirt track racing for many years to come.