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The Crew Chiefs Notes: The Daytona 24 hours

The Crew Chiefs Notes: The Daytona 24 hours
By Tony Callas and Tom Prine

The history of sports car racing at Daytona International Speedway started in 1962 with the Daytona Continental, a 3 hour sprint race and was first won by Dan Gurney in a Lotus 19. This race expanded to a 2,000 Kilometer event in 1964 and then two years later in 1966, Daytona hosted the second 24 hour race in the USA; there will be a little trivia at the end of the article.

The 24 Hours of Daytona is the first race of the season. Preparation for the race must start months before the event, even if you’ve purchased a brand new racecar from Porsche Motorsport in Weissach, Germany. Hotel rooms must be booked 3 to 5 months in advance, it is always better to have all crew members of the team staying at the same place, both to keep track of everyone and the ease of shuttling members to and from the hotel and track.

The number of crew members is dependent mainly on the budget but also on how many cars the team will be running. Ideally you will have 10 people assigned to a racecar for a 24 hour race. It is best that everyone is in good physical and mental shape, because once the race starts you’re awake for at least another 30 hours, there will be little time, if any, in the way of sleep or even rest. Since the unexpected can take place at any time, it is important that each team member be alert and able to focus 100% clearly to the task at hand during the race.

As soon as the team first arrives at the track, the crew chief and his assistant must set up accounts for parts and services that will be needed during the event. This will include food for the team members and sponsors/guests if they are attending, nitrogen, fuel, tires and at the Porsche Motorsports North America trailer for spare parts and assistance. It is best to be as friendly as possible and schmooze these vendors because their help and attention to your needs can be critical to the team during the event.

The next important item is to find out the team’s garage and pit box locations plus when the tech inspection for the car(s) will take place. Every car must pass the tech inspection before it is allowed to run in the race. The pit box must be set up and the fueling rig must be assembled. The fueling rig operation inspected and signed off by an official prior to running the car. The driver’s meeting is a must attend for the crew chief and all team drivers. Safety issues will be discussed but also other critical information is provided such as safety car rules, pit rules, etc. The people attending the driver’s meeting can be the Who’s Who in auto racing, in the past I have seen driving legends such as Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.

During the prelim setup and practice days, this particular track closes at night (10PM) so you cannot work all night at the track if there is an issue with the car. Working on the car to sort out any issues is critical, but sometimes in professional racing, there is just not enough time to get everything done. Over the years, this has made for some interesting procedures being performed back at the hotel. I remember rebuilding a gearbox in the bathtub in the hotel room because there was not enough time to get it done during the day with everything else during track operating hours. That was a mess with thick pink Redline Shockproof gearbox oil smeared throughout the tub, ha-ha; we ruined a few towels to say the least.

When it is dry at Daytona, there is sand silt everywhere and as the wind blows, the sand silt gets into everything. This makes for a rather difficult situation to just keep the sand out of critical areas. As the weather goes, it can rain a lot and very hard at Daytona. Even though it’s Florida, the temperatures can reach freezing and usually do in the overnight hours. Fog is always a possibility on the back side of the track.

The early morning hours can be hazardous to the health of a turbocharged engine because as the temperature drops and the air becomes heavy with dew. This moisture brings the engine’s intake charge temperature down significantly which will generate more horsepower. For a street engine this means noticeably more performance, however for a race engine that is already stressed to the max, this additional horsepower can push it over a very small safety threshold, we have see a number of engine’s blow-up under these conditions.

While the Daytona 24 is running, the noise is tremendous, constant and is everywhere. Daytona is of course a closed circuit race track with seating all around making it like an enclosed bowl and the noise is reflected throughout the bowl, it sounds amazing but it does not stop until the race is over.

Daytona can get very crowded. Depending on how many teams are running in the race, officials can require different teams to share pit boxes. This can create a dangerous situation as cars tend to pit at the same time. When an accident or full course yellow condition is present, everyone heads for the pits. If the pit boxes are shared, the cars must be placed at angled positions to allow access to both cars without placing pit workers into precarious situations. The paddock can also get crowed and you will usually see some of the famous faces of racing, like a Mario Andretti, Danny Sullivan or Derek Bell just walking about.

The Daytona officials want the teams packed, out of the garages and off the premises ASAP following the race conclusion. This usually means that the team starts packing and loading the transporter even before the race is completed. Once the race is over, it is all hands on deck and preparing for the departure. Win or lose, following the race many teams can be seen relaxing and discussing their race at one of the many interesting nightlife spots like the Shark Lounge, Molly Brown’s, the Bank and Blues and Frank’s Front Row, just to name a few.

Some trivia: the first 24 hour race was held in Columbus, Ohio U.S.A. The race started at 2PM on Monday, July 3 and concluded on Tuesday July 4, 1905. There were 4 entrants; a Frayer-Miller, a Pope-Toledo, a Peerless and a White Steamer. The Pope Toledo won the event and covered a distance of 828.5 miles, that calculates out to a blazing 34.52 average MPH. The race was billed as a competition for the “World’s Long Distance Championship”, the winner received a $500.00 silver trophy provided by Hoster Columbus Brewing; imagine what the silver in that trophy would be worth today.
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