NASCAR’s engineers, crew chiefs and top wrenches typically maximize the pushing of limits, whether it’s in discovering efficiencies in their work week or trying to find a competitive edge on the speed chart. These days, innovation has taken another form in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak as teams follow new guidelines to prepare for racing to resume.
Adhering to those safeguards has required NASCAR organizations to retool the way they do business with only limited personnel permitted at race shops. Guidance has come from state and local government officials but also from the teams themselves, which have been proactive in creating their own protocols for working safely.
It’s all made teams think differently about their approach ahead of NASCAR’s return to action in Sunday’s The Real Heroes 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Darlington Raceway.
“We have come to expect from the teams a creativity and an innovation with any obstacles,” said John Bobo, NASCAR vice president of racing operations. “I think one of my favorite stories out of this is one of the teams was concerned about passing off their race car from the race shop team to the road team and making sure no one is exposed to any virus. They are putting the car in the paint bay and setting the temperature to 160 degrees for 60 minutes and they are baking and killing any virus that may be on the car before they bring it. That‘s the kind of really cool creativity that we just love to see out of our teams, and it’s been fun to see.”
That resourceful, ingenious nature is stretched even further by a slate of events scheduled in the coming weeks with little to no on-track time before the green flag.
“It’s been a huge challenge, and I really have to throw a lot of thank-yous and a lot of accolades to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports because it’s not been an easy process to get back in there in a very, very short period of time and get race cars ready to go to a very unique venue,” said Chad Knaus, crew chief of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet of William Byron. “Darlington is quite a lot different than any other race track that we go to, obviously. But we’ve got staggered work hours. We’ve got blocks of people that work. We’re not really alternating days. We’re going in blocks of days to try to keep the exposure down to a minimum.”
The rotation of staff is one of several measures that Hendrick Motorsports has put in place. That’s meant keeping road crew members separate from the designated staff who primarily work in the shop, forcing them to get creative with communication among the groups.
North Carolina governor Roy Cooper said April 23 that race teams — most of which are based in the state — were allowed to operate as essential businesses under the state’s stay-at-home order to combat the health crisis. That ordinance loosened May 8 as North Carolina entered the first phase of reopening. By then, most teams were already back at work and trying to determine their own best practices with a smaller in-house workforce.
Hendrick Motorsports is one of many teams that have placed new cleaning protocols in place, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces each day and requiring protective equipment and on-site screening. With fewer people in the building at a given point, streamlining of the usual preparation work has become a necessity.
As usual with NASCAR teams, their tendency toward ingenuity helps carry a portion of that weight.
“There’s so much of that that we’re trying to put in place and make part of the new routine,” said Cliff Daniels, crew chief for Hendrick’s No. 48 Chevy and seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson. “Then of course, we really have to take a look and evaluate our processes that we had in place before and how we went about preparing our cars and turning them around from one race to another, just the whole system and procedure for doing that and trim the fat to make it effective, because we do have limited workforce in rotation at the company. … We’re just adapting the best we can. Time’s really going to tell what that’s going to look like for us.”