CONCORD, N.C. – Later this month, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson will swap rides with two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso.
The two will spend Monday, Nov. 26, on the racetrack at Bahrain International Circuit.
In the meantime, getting Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 overseas for the special one-day event has been a work in progress for quite a while.
Figuring out the best way to accomplish the feat began with Hendrick Motorsports director of operational support Michael Landis.
“I was here when NASCAR went to Japan,” Landis said. “Back then, I had to get a container here and we had to load it all up. I had a little bit of experience with Japan to lean on.”
So, once again, Landis worked to get a shipping container sent to the Hendrick Motorsports campus.
In advance of its arrival, the team made sure it was prepared.
“One of the first things that came to mind is, OK, it’s a 40-foot container,” Landis said. “So, we taped it out on the floor in the truck bay with masking tape. I measured a car nose-to-tail, exact measurement. Then I gave a few inches on either side so it’s not up against a wall. That told us what space we had left.”
Landis worked with many teammates, including longtime No. 48 team car chief Ron Malec, who began a new role this year in which he works with all four teams.
They put together a list of everything they would typically need in the track toolbox or in the hauler for a test session. No. 48 team crew chief Chad Knaus helped them determine how many sets of tires and the amount of fuel they might need.
“We definitely had to put a lot of thought into it,” Malec said. “We were brainstorming to see what we thought we needed to take, then we laid it out on the floor and basically mocked up what we would have inside the container. It actually helped a lot. It gave us an order of operation, what needed to go in first, what needed to go in second, and obviously we put in the car last. It definitely streamlined what we had for space and we definitely streamlined our list after we saw how little space we had.”
The key was to make sure they had backups for virtually every aspect of the car, including a backup engine and a variety of spare parts.
"You have to have everything you could possibly need, because you’re not going to the NAPA AUTO PARTS store when you get there."Michael Landis, director of operational support
The unique event provided a unique set of challenges.
“Your container is your shop,” Landis said. “It’s a one-day event. You have to have everything you could possibly need, because you’re not going to the NAPA AUTO PARTS store when you get there.”
Packing the container was far from the only logistical challenge. Timing the container’s arrival was also paramount.
So, Landis took the date of the event – Nov. 26 – and worked backward. He was told to estimate approximately 45 days for delivery from the United States to Bahrain utilizing a cargo ship.
He made sure to leave a little wiggle room, because late delivery is not an option.
“This is not my house full of furniture and if it gets there a week late, we can stay in a hotel,” he laughed. “If it doesn’t get there by the date, you might as well just send it home.”
The team spent about a week gathering all the necessary parts to pack, so when the shipping container arrived on the Hendrick Motorsports campus on a Wednesday, it was fully packed and ready to go by Friday.
The crew had to get creative while loading it, as well.
“It was up on a tractor-trailer,” Landis explained. “What we did is we pulled it into the building when the trucks were gone for the race weekend, then we backed up a test hauler and used the lift gate to raise things up and put them in.”
All packed up, the truck headed to Savannah, Georgia, where the container was loaded onto a cargo ship.
The ship is currently en route to its destination, thousands of nautical miles away. Landis and the team have been tracking its location online, and everything is on schedule for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The cargo ship is currently just outside of Dubai, where the shipping container will be placed on a truck and driven across the country to Abu Dhabi. There, it will board a cargo ship once again and complete its journey to Bahrain.
As the date of the car swap nears, everyone involved is getting more and more excited for what is to come, particularly after all the work required to ensure it goes off without a hitch.
“It’s going to be a unique adventure, for sure,” Malec smiled.