Mason St. Hilaire doesn’t want to see it rain again in Daytona.
One of the smaller teams in the NASCAR Cup Series garage, Go Fas Racing is prepared for the tight turnaround to get its equipment headed west to Las Vegas. When rain postponed the Daytona 500 to late Monday, St. Hilaire sent his second hauler driver (Curtis Aldridge) back home to rest up; the primary hauler driver (Ronald Utter) will make sure the No. 32 Ford Mustang gets back to the shop.
Late on Tuesday, Aldridge will take the reins for the first leg of the trip across the country as Utter rests. At least, that’s the plan right now unless Florida weather again forces some scheduling changes. Thankfully, there is less than a five percent chance of rain during the rescheduled 4 p.m. ET Daytona 500.
“I don’t want to have to bring that car down here and swap out down here,” St. Hilaire told RACER.
The good news is that Corey LaJoie’s car for Las Vegas is just about ready to go. In addition to Aldridge being sent home, the interior mechanic was sent back to help button things up. But for the most part, when the small Team arrives back to Mooresville, North Carolina, it will be to make sure the nuts and bolts of the car are tightened.
“Our motor guy said he’s just going to have to fire it up to make sure everything is good, but everything was put in last week,” said St. Hilaire. “We’ll have everything rolling. … But you kind of have a plan for (this) ahead of time. Even on a small scale of things, it’s tight.”
Further up the garage Team Penske officials also spent Sunday night working on its logistics for the trip out west. This year, the NASCAR schedule takes teams from Daytona to Las Vegas, then Fontana and Phoenix. For the last five years, the second race of the year had been Atlanta.
“Monday is a really busy day for us after the (Daytona) 500,” Travis Geisler, competition director of Team Penske, told RACER. “The trucks have been gone for two weeks; you’re bringing everything back and kind of sorting everything in one day. The teams get their Vegas stuff ready and you usually ship stuff Monday night or maybe Tuesday, mid-morning at the latest is kind of what you try to shoot for every year.
“Everyone knows when they come home from here, it’s a full day Monday, sometimes into the night a little bit, and then get yourself loaded up Tuesday and go. And now we’re obviously all here.”
For Penske, the first agenda is the hauler drivers and making sure they are rested. Hauler drivers are legally allowed to log only a certain number of hours — 11 — at one time. And there must be a 30-minute break in the first eight hours.
Penske has two hauler drivers per team, and they, too, flew one home last night. A fresh driver arrived in Daytona to drive the haulers home after the Daytona 500; the remaining driver will fly back with the race team.
“That’s part of the fun, and then, you kind of go on from there,” said Geisler. “A lot of the shop guys, it’s President’s Day, some of them were off today, some of them weren’t, but they all come in and go through nut and bolt checks and go through some of the things that the race teams usually handle. Now it’s their job to take care of it for us.
“Everybody knows the deal, and everybody’s ready to do it, but you still have to enact the plan whenever it happens. Fortunately, we’re very well supported by that group, so they’ll get everything pretty close today, and then we’ll go back in tomorrow morning as soon as we can and work on the cars until noon or so and try to get everything loaded and shipped out.”
Geisler said the cutoff deadline to get the haulers on the road is midnight Tuesday, which would have seen them arrive a few hours before the hauler parade. However, Las Vegas has announced the parade, which was scheduled for 6 p.m. local time on Thursday, Feb. 20, has been canceled.
Even still, teams like to have some buffer wherever they arrive. The trucks will need to be washed after their cross-country journey, there is shopping to be done, and factor in whatever delays a driver might encounter on the road like traffic or mechanical issues.
With two hauler drivers making the trip within their legal log requirements, Geisler said the journey from North Carolina to Las Vegas is 36 hours and 2,200 miles.
Fortunately, the Penske cars are also all ready to go.
“Yeah, they’re pretty much ready,” said Geisler. “When someone in the shop finishes them and kind of hands them over to the race team, the way we operate, there is still kind of the final nut and bolt, final go-through, because it’s the chain of custody. Now your name is on the list as far as being responsible for it, so usually, we try to give those guys time to look at everything. Then anything that they’ve decided while they’ve been down here to adjust from a setup standpoint or new ideas, they try to spend a little time with those cars to get them up to date. But this early in the year, there’s not a ton of that. So we’re kind of taking what we have. It’s just final check stuff.
“Most of the cars are together, they’re built. … Most of the teams on this side (of the garage), it’s an adjustment but it’s not a complete upheaval.”