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Hendrick transporters 'swap-out,' make long haul to Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. (Nov. 12, 2009) – It’s more than 2,000 miles from Hendrick Motorsports’ headquarters in Concord, N.C., to Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., but the organization’s transporter drivers cut that distance in half by leaving directly from Texas Motor Speedway earlier this week.

Instead of backtracking 1,200 miles home from Texas, Hendrick’s transporter drivers and a handful of crew members stayed after last Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event to reload the trucks for this weekend’s action at PIR. They call it a “swap out,” and those involved spent all day Monday working through checklists as they traded the used Texas items for the Phoenix cars, equipment and tools.
It marks the third time this season the hauler drivers have completed a swap out, a method Hendrick Motorsports only employs when the Cup schedule spends consecutive weekends in the central or western part of the country. In an effort to save time and money, Hendrick sent the transporters normally used for testing to meet the race haulers with the necessary items for Phoenix. Once the swap is completed, the race haulers head west, and the test trucks head home to Concord.

“It’s not really as hard as it used to be since we’ve got NASCAR’s new car now,” said Dean Mozingo, primary driver of the No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST transporter. “It’s a lot of work, don’t get me wrong, but it goes really smooth because Hendrick is so organized.”

Everything is labeled and checklists are completed so nothing is missing on the transporter, which carries 90 percent of the tools and equipment the teams will need each weekend. The remaining 10 percent—the pit box, tires—is carried by Champion Tire & Wheel.

The race transporter is the team’s shop on wheels, and everything has its own place. Two Cup cars—a primary and a backup Chevrolet Impala SS—are stored on top, while the area below holds everything from a spare engine to a shock dyno to team uniforms to food for the weekend. Inside the hauler, there also is a lounge that seats six people with flat screen televisions and lockers. In the cab, there’s a queen-sized bed for the long trips like this weekend’s return trip home from Avondale.

It’s a lot for one truck to bear—80,000 pounds to be exact—and the drivers constantly pay attention to their weight load. They might drive a colorful truck for a team in NASCAR’s elite series, but that doesn’t faze the Department of Transportation.

“We’re just another truck and trailer to the DOT,” said Kirk George, primary driver of the No. 24 DuPont transporter. “They don’t care if you’re hauling cantaloupes or race cars.”

And manipulating 80,000 pounds isn’t easy, either. On the rare occasion when a wreck or construction diverts highway traffic, that sometimes means embarking on an alternate, foreign route.

“These trucks aren’t as maneuverable as other trucks so that can get hairy when you’re going down a country road at 2 a.m.,” said Ken Gober, primary driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s transporter.

The drivers keep the CB radio on while their favorite Sirius Satellite radio station is playing in the background, and the radio chatter sometimes makes the drivers smile or shake their heads. Many passers-by simply don’t believe the transporter is the actual race hauler.

“We hear on the CB radio all the time,” George said. “They say, ‘That’s not the truck that carries the race cars. They haul the tires, or they haul this or that. That’s not really the truck that goes to the racetrack.’”

“Nobody believes we only have one truck, but we do,” Gober added.

The trucks are attention-getters whenever it’s time to refuel, too. Each one holds 300 gallons of diesel fuel, which will get the transporter roughly 1,000 miles. But when it’s time to stop and fill up, Dave Radney, driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard transporter, makes sure he’s wearing a plain white shirt. Otherwise he gets these customary remarks, ‘Hey. Can I get a hat?’ or ‘Hey, will you tell Dale Jr. good luck this weekend?’

Radney, who is in his ninth year as a transporter driver for Hendrick Motorsports, just smiles.

“I could have given out two million hats by now if I had given one to everybody that asked,” he said. 

But when the door slams and the engine revs, it’s peaceful. It’s just the driver, the road and whatever he’s got playing on the radio.

“I don’t mind working with people, but when you’re driving, it’s kind of like your alone time,” George said. “You’re kind of like your own boss as long as you stay within the lines of the law and get where you’re headed. There’s some freedom to it.”

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