It's gray and rainy when we arrive at the Pomona dragway (aka Auto Club Raceway), where the NHRA Winternationals are supposed to be happening. It's not that the venue will change; cars can't run until the track is dry enough, and as of Friday morning, nothing is running at the first event of the season. A rare storm among talk of drought conditions and the threat of water rationing has temporarily silenced what is otherwise one of the loudest events on wheels--drag racing.
We walk through the pit area to where Team JEGS has its two rigs set up. The reason we came--nitro-burnin' action aside--is to learn about two fantastic custom big-rigs and see how they keep a champion race team on track. Rain or shine, one of the most important members of the team still has a job to do, and on this day, he's busily working away when we catch up with him. Nicky Morse is the chef for Team JEGS and as such is responsible for feeding the drivers, technicians, and assistants that make sure everything goes as planned.
Photo courtesy of Team JE...
Photo courtesy of Team JEGS
Nicky works in a fully customized kitchen located behind the cab of a 2008 Volvo Conversion. T&E Auto Haulers, based in Herscher, Illinois, was responsible for setting up this kitchen on wheels, and the result is nicer than the kitchens in many houses. Nicky and his brother, who has expertise in AutoCAD, designed the kitchen, Nicky selected the appliances, T&E made sure the trailer would still be capable of carrying race cars if necessary (the rig's job before it also served as a kitchen), and Myers Cabinets in Indianapolis built and installed the cabinets. Generators supply power, and there are gas lines for the burners. There's a refrigerator and freezer, six-burner industrial stove, sink, slide-out spice rack, pasta rack (yes, he does make pasta from scratch), cabinets above and below on three sides, a microwave--we don't know why; he doesn't seem to use it--granite countertops, and a Corian countertop. When this semi isn't being used as a cooking and eating area, it's a rolling storage area, and the segment of the counter that's topped with Corian is on wheels. This material saves 500 pounds of weight, making it much easier to move than granite. Most of the trailer is filled with tables and chairs, with enough room to comfortably seat 20 or so, and everything is modular and can break down to be stored in a surprisingly compact space.
Randy Bishop is the man in charge of this 37-foot-long, 57,000-pound rig. He clocks an amazing 60,000-65,000 miles behind the wheel each year, and is on the road from February to mid-November. He typically drives 700 miles a day, stopping to recheck straps, locks, and more about 100 miles after hitting the road following an event. He told us that the most miles he's put on a single tank of fuel is 1325--but that wasn't in one drive, of course. The cab has many of today's creature comforts, including nav, Bluetooth, and Sirius. When he isn't heading to (or at) the track, he's taking care of the truck. At the beginning of the year, before race season starts up, the tractor/trailer goes back to Delaware, Ohio (JEGS headquarters) for any necessary repairs and maintenance. There, Randy also reconfigures what'll be stored on board, learning the fastest way to set up and tear down, using the JEGS shop to fabricate whatever's needed to make things more efficient. Total setup time of the JEGS pit is six hours, teardown is a mere four--down from eight hours when he first started.
Chef Nicky and Randy Bish...
Chef Nicky and Randy Bishop
Randy owned an auto/boat/motorhome repair shop for 20 years, and has used his considerable expertise to keep this truck in tip-top shape. He's also made plenty of repairs when driving from one race to the next, and has learned to be extremely resourceful--seems like a vehicle never breaks down in the middle of a big city. Keith Graham--also known as Big Show--drives the second big-rig, which holds the team's weather station, racecar data computers, spare parts, tools, extra engines, and carries the cars. The data recorded and analyzed in these computers focuses on very small details. It helps define how the vehicle is set up and is essential to winning, as races like this can be won or lost in a ten-thousandth of a second.