The disruptions caused by current shutdowns reach into every corner of the racing industry. RACER.com is sharing stories of how different entities in the sport are tackling these unprecedented challenges in a special series called The Lockdown Diaries.
Richard Petty Motorsports general manager Philippe Lopez is an optimist. He believes NASCAR will return in early May, and his team will be ready.
Given that, Lopez is keeping his team home right now to stay safe and keep their families safe with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. When the situation appears to be improving, Lopez and RPM will start rotating team members through the shop to prepare for upcoming Cup Series races.
“When we came back from the airport [from] not going to Atlanta, we said ‘OK, well, obviously something big is getting ready to happen, so we probably need to work a couple of shifts with just a few guys’,” Lopez told RACER. “We did that Monday and Tuesday of last week, and then as the situation turned grave and I could tell we’re in this for the long haul, we went ahead and shut our shop down just like a lot of other shops did, and we were shut down again this week.
“We do have a tentative work schedule planned based on NASCAR saying ‘we’d like to get started again by Martinsville’. But as you’re well aware, we’ve all seen the numbers change every day, so it’s kind of hard right now to plan too far ahead. So, I’ve told my guys we’re going to go week to week. This week they’re off, and I will let them know by this Saturday what we’re going to do next week. We’ll go by the information we’re getting from the government and the CDC, and hopefully, in the end, what NASCAR says is, ‘Hey, we’re going to get ready to go racing and this what we’re going to do.'”
Although it’s a challenge for RPM not to be working on cars, its alliance partner Richard Childress Racing is. RCR provides both body and chassis for the Petty group, and Lopez said it is one of the teams that is still working in the shop, although with a smaller group.
“So, obviously, the Martinsville cars are in the queue right now getting done,” said Lopez. “Now, when we get them, we still have to put them all together and finish them and take them to the body stuff and all that stuff, but we feel there is still time to do that.”
Between the shop crew and the road crew, RPM is made up of 30 people. From a competitive standpoint, Lopez says that the most significant impact of the racing hiatus is that everything simply stops.
“If you were on a roll, that stopped, and if you were in the middle of some good R&D, that is now stopped,” said Lopez. “NASCAR put the ban on testing and wind tunneling, which is good, I’m glad they did, but also all of that is now stopped. Everything that we do as a career has stopped. We’re pretty sure we see the end date, so we got that going for us.”
From a business standpoint, selling races has also stopped. Darrell Wallace Jr. hasn’t hidden that his team is “balling on a budget” and the No. 43 Chevrolet is at a money disadvantage. Some of the bigger teams in the series have sold all their races for the season, but for smaller organizations like RPM, there are still races to fill out on the schedule.
“(Those teams) have an active sales force, so they’re home right now, and nothing is getting done on that, and even if you could bring them in, I don’t know what company right now is going to talk to you,” said Lopez. “With everything that is going on, there is just not a lot of sponsorship and advertising going on right now. So, it’s made that part very tough.
“For RPM, we have holes in our schedule that we need to fill, but it’s just not going to get done right now. Things are going to have to get dramatically better for us to even approach that subject again. That’s a little worrisome, but it is what it is. We’ll deal with it when the team comes to deal with it.”
Whether it’s race preparation or sponsorship, this hiatus has wide-ranging challenges for teams like RPM.
“Our whole life in racing is about planning, being very organized, knowing exactly what we’re doing at three o’clock next Wednesday, that’s how we live,” said Lopez. “Very structured and engineered-oriented that way, so to have everything up in the air, you’re right, we don’t know what to work on. We have three cars, three bullets, so to speak, sitting in the shop, which is the Atlanta car, the Homestead car, and a Texas car. But if we do go back racing, as NASCAR said, at Martinsville, I don’t have a short-track car right now. So that has to be built, and then once we get going, we will use those other three cars at whatever racetracks we can get to.
“The modern-day race team doesn’t build fleets anymore, we try to stay two weeks out, and then we make a car for that racetrack. That way, you’re bringing the latest, greatest to the racetrack, so that’s thrown a wrench in that plan, obviously.”