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Inside NASCAR: Hauler transportation requires clockwork precision

April 11, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Clockwork precision required for detailed NASCAR hauler transportation process

DENVER -- Wednesday, Feb. 29, 6:20 a.m.

How to describe a late February sunrise on a crystal clear morning along the Colorado Front Range? It is incredible. It is breathtaking. It is a sight to behold.

The sky directly above is the blackest blue, with progressively lighter shades of azure toward the open prairie to the east. And stretching the entire length of the horizon, there's a narrow band of pale yellow, like the shimmering reflection of a brilliant golden necklace hidden just out of sight.

"You have to do it in a timely manner, because the time frame that you have to deal with is tight."


Charlie Krauch doesn't have time to look at sunrises.

As the transportation director for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing -- the only full-time Cup team located west of the Mississippi -- Krauch is racing the clock. The transporter normally would arrive early Tuesday morning, but because the finish of the Daytona 500 was pushed back by weather delays -- and the jet dryer fire -- the hauler was more than 24 hours behind schedule on its 1,800-mile journey from Florida.

When the transporter finally shows up at the team's shop near the old Stapleton airport, everything on it -- from the cars and the carts to the spares and the signature cards -- has to come off, be cleaned or replaced, and everything off it then has to go back on. That's more than 10,000 items -- like packing and unpacking a four-bedroom house every week, 38 weeks a year: rain, shine or sometimes snow.

The hauler must be in line for parking inside the Cup garage at Phoenix International Raceway no later than 5:30 a.m. Friday. And that's a minimum 15-hour trip, under the best of conditions.

"This was such a different deal with Daytona being postponed as long as it was, it just compresses everything that you need to get done into a shorter time frame," Krauch said.

And the clock is ticking.

Krauch steals a few puffs on a cigarette against the brightening sky before the cell phone rings. It's the hauler driver, giving Krauch an update on his estimated time of arrival. It's one of the few smoke breaks Krauch will get this day.

Welcome to NASCAR's version of the traveling circus, where the transporter not only brings the show to town but acts as storage facility, repair shop, restaurant, meeting room and viewing platform -- all within the 80,000-pound weight limit mandated by federal transportation regulations.

"We try to utilize every bit of space that we have in that truck," Krauch said.

Once the hauler returns to Denver, remnants of Daytona must be removed, including several carts of equipment. Charlie Krauch (wearing hat) helps unload the spare engine from Daytona. While the unloading process is going on, fabrication of a new chassis for future races is taking place inside the shop. (Turner Sports New Media)

And because Denver is 1,600 miles west of the rest of the Cup race shops, if something important gets left behind, it's a pretty big problem.

9:05 a.m. -- The hauler finally arrives and backs into the loading bay of the shop -- a former waterbed mattress warehouse built in the shape of an upside down and backwards F.

The rear door of the transporter -- which doubles as a loading ramp -- is raised to access the primary car. The car was totaled in a late-race accident. It's missing most of its bodywork from the right-front corner of the valance to the passenger door. The roof is severely dented from where the hood flipped up at more than 150 mph, the thick hood tethers frayed where they were cut.

That car is rolled back to the archway of the fabrication shop and put up on jack stands.

9:10 a.m. -- The backup car, which wasn't needed at Daytona, is rolled back into the main shop area where it'll be put back into service at a future restrictor-plate track.

9:15 a.m. -- Now it's time to remove the carts that are stored in the aisle, including the utility cart, the consumables cart and the tool box. They are rolled off next to the hauler, in an open area behind the shop.

There's a specific order on where they go once everything else is loaded in the cabinets and bays.

"The way it gets loaded is the food cart, the generator, the utility cart and then the tool box," Krauch said. "That's nose to tail on the bottom."

9:18 a.m. -- The rear-end gear cart is removed from its cabinet and rolled off.

9:25 a.m. -- The spare Daytona engine and several other individual carts come off the hauler, along with the protective tent -- still soaked with rain from the weekend -- and all of the hauler's floor mats.

9:32 a.m. -- Driver Regan Smith, wearing a ball cap and a black backpack, steps into the garage while talking on his cell phone. He, general manager Joe Garone and director of competition Mark McArdle gather around the remnants of the Daytona 500 car and have a short conversation.

As a crew member removes the tires from the damaged car, a large clump of drying Florida sod falls off the underside of the bumper and onto the floor of the shop. It'll get swept up and thrown away before the day is over.

9:40 a.m. -- The tent is set up to dry in the Colorado sunshine, while the floor mats are rolled up and stacked to the side. They'll be vacuumed and replaced.

It's taken less than an hour, and all of the large items have been taken off the transporter. The cart containing the Phoenix backup engine, plus three large plastic containers of lubricants, are now ready to be put in a storage cabinet near the front of the hauler.

10 a.m. -- Krauch and one of the truck drivers are searching through the crew cabinets, looking for missing radios.

"It's like an Easter egg hunt," Krauch said. "After the race is over, they just get thrown in everywhere. So we find them all over the place."

At the same time, Smith, crew chief Pete Rondeau, McArdle and Garone meet in the conference room to discuss what happened at Daytona, plus go over their game plan for Phoenix.

11 a.m. -- Krauch's son, Chad -- who doubles as the team's tire specialist -- begins the process of checking every drawer in each of the tool carts. He's looking to see what tools are missing or misplaced. In addition, he refills all of the chemical products -- cleaners and greases -- that the team may need for race day.

Each drawer may have hundreds of wrenches and sockets, but they're labeled and sorted by size and shape. In this case, one of the drawers has broken, so Chad will make sure it's repaired before the cart gets reloaded for Phoenix.

Getting the hauler from track to track, on time and in perfect working order, is paramount to the entire performance. And the show must go on, even if something goes terribly wrong.

It happened to the No. 78 hauler two years ago after the November race at Phoenix. The transporter was about 40 miles south of the race shop when it hit a patch of black ice and became involved in a chain-reaction crash that involved 34 vehicles.

Compounding the issue was that the team's motorhome -- following directly behind -- crashed headlong into the rear door of the transporter. So not only was the hauler heavily damaged and the motorhome totaled, the team couldn't get to its equipment.

"The problem is, when you're running the trucks up and down the highway, the unknown is the big thing because you still have to park the truck at a certain time. If you have a breakdown, you have to scramble."


"Thank goodness I didn't get that call because I'd probably have been on the floor with a heart attack," Krauch said. "It was a call that I believe either Mark McArdle or Joe Garone handled. We were expecting the truck to be here and it was behind schedule. Then the next thing we heard over the intercom was that we were having a meeting. And from that point on, it was 'all hands on deck.' "

Richard Childress offered the use of his test hauler and spare carts for Homestead, but there still was the matter of getting Furniture Row's cars to Florida. The team wound up transferring them to the RCR transporter in a truck stop somewhere in central Florida -- and they made it to the race.

NASCAR even helped out by using one of its tractors to help park the test hauler in the garage.

"It was probably one of the hardest ones we had to do," Krauch said. "The problem was that we couldn't get any of our stuff off our hauler, so we were using RCR's test hauler and all their stuff. Basically, we kind of had the cars almost ready to go and we had the consumable carts. The only thing was, we had to use different carts and then get the test hauler ready to go."

That situation -- and the fact that Furniture Row has more miles to cover than a typical Cup operation -- means Krauch would rather be safe than sorry.

He'll even spring for an extra night at an area hotel for the hauler drivers if they wind up at their final destination a day early, because that means the transporter is guaranteed to be in line when NASCAR opens the garage.

"With us doing what we're doing and traveling as much as we do, our goal is to get the trucks out of here as early as we can," Krauch said. "Because you never know whether you're going to have a flat tire or the truck breaks down.

"The problem is, when you're running the trucks up and down the highway, the unknown is the big thing because you still have to park the truck at a certain time. If you have a breakdown, you have to scramble to get another tractor or [figure out] how long it'll take to get it fixed."

Furniture Row does have an ace in the hole. Owner Barney Visser's furniture company has its own fleet of trucks, so if the team's race tractor breaks down, Krauch said there's a good chance he can get one of the company trucks to lend a hand.

Things are progressing well enough that the Krauches can break for lunch. Over a plate of Chinese food, Charlie Krauch talked a bit about how he got into the sport. His father was a mechanic and Charlie did brake jobs before he started high school. He helped friends with their drag racing cars -- and eventually wound up as a crewman for local racer Jerry Robertson.

When Robertson drove the team's Nationwide Series car in 2005 and '06, Krauch was hired on as the tire specialist. Now his son handles that role while he takes care of the team's logistics.

And despite the negatives that come with having to come to work at 6 a.m. -- in order to be on Eastern Time -- and waiting on weekly deliveries of parts and equipment from North Carolina, Krauch sees a number of advantages.

"We don't get caught up in all the stuff that's going around from race shop to race shop, the rumors," Krauch said. "That helps us stay more focused on what we need to be doing.

"The other thing is, it has a little bit more job security out here than it does in North Carolina. You don't have people coming in, lobbying for your job. The people who are here are dedicated to Furniture Row Racing."

Now it's back to business.

Preparations for Phoenix include a replacement of the shocks, dozens of springs and an inspection of the tool cart to check for missing or damaged equipment. (Turner Sports New Media)

2 p.m. -- While one of the tractor drivers is using an air hose to blow dust and dirt out of the transporter, Krauch is cleaning the rolling drink cart.

"I use a solution of warm water and bleach because the carts don't drain all the way," Krauch said.

He even wipes down the leftover bottles of water and cans of soda before putting them back in the cart, then begins the process of filling the cart with cases of soft drinks from a storage outbuilding. No worry about keeping the drinks cold when it's 40 degrees in the shade -- although many of the Furniture Row crew are wearing shorts, although Krauch prefers long pants and a jacket.

Of course, any day when it's not snowing might be a shorts day in Colorado. And for late February, this is abnormally warm, even though there's still a good-sized mound of snow next to the removable plow in the middle of the parking lot.

2:15 p.m. -- The shock cart is ready to go on. It sits in a cabinet in the front of the hauler, under the lounge area. There's another large cart filled with springs for Phoenix. In a separate cabinet are shock and spring dynamometers.

Shock specialist Nick Kerlin brings an average of 60 shocks to each race, and is sitting on the floor of the hauler, sorting through the shocks from Daytona and replacing the ones he won't need with ones he's built especially for Phoenix.

He winds up crawling into the storage cabinet to make sure everything he'll need at the track will fit in the compartment.

2:20 p.m. -- The cart with spare rear ends and transmission parts is loaded on the hauler and locked into place.

Things are moving along at a good pace, and Krauch is pleased. His "drop-dead time" to get the hauler on the road is noon Thursday -- but he's shooting for 8 a.m.

2:30 p.m. -- The tent is dry, so it's folded back up and put in its storage sack.

At the same time, the two Phoenix cars are going through their final inspection inside the shop -- getting one last trip through the NASCAR body template machine referred to as "the claw."

2:45 p.m. -- Krauch gets a stack of "hero cards" and plastic credential holders from a box in his office to add to the cabinets in the lounge.

3:15 p.m. -- With all of the cabinets refilled and the four large aisle carts ready for loading, Krauch and his team are done for the day. Well, except that he's got to stop by the local dry cleaner and pick up the team's uniforms.

Because of the tight turnaround between Daytona and Phoenix, Krauch had a backup plan in place.

"We put the uniforms on the airplane and the traveling crew brought those back with them," Krauch said. "That gives me an extra day to get them over to the dry cleaners."

Thursday, March 1, 6 a.m. -- The aisle carts are put in place and the two cars are the last pieces of equipment loaded onto the transporter.

9 a.m. -- The transporter's door is closed and leaves the shop for the 850-mile journey to Phoenix.

Friday, March 2, 12:30 a.m. -- The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing transporter arrives safe and sound at the front gate of Phoenix International Raceway, with five hours to spare.

For Krauch, it's all about being prepared for any eventuality.

"You want to cover your bases as much as you can," Krauch said. "And you have to do it in a timely manner, because the time frame that you have to deal with is tight. And our time frame is usually a lot tighter than everybody else's.

"I try to get the hauler out of here as quickly as I can. I'd rather have the hauler out of here early and get there early -- and let them chill out for a day -- than to get there at the last minute or even miss the roll call to get into the race track.

"That's a bad scenario."

In a few hours, the sun will set over the Rockies and the twinkling of street lights will compete with starlight in the skies above the Colorado Front Range. It is incredible. It is breathtaking. It is a sight to behold.

The hauler's arrival at the team's shop is just the beginning for transportation director Charlie Krauch. (Turner Sports New Media)

And four sunrises from now, Charlie Krauch and his crew will do it all over again.