A day in the life of a NASCAR road
Team Target driver Casey Mears's rear bumper is hanging perilously
from his car as he speeds around South Carolina's Darlington
Raceway. He has hit the wall more times here than his pit crew can
keep track of, so he's in no mood to dillydally at his next pit
stop. He speeds toward the pit at 180 mph, and his pit crew, a
laid-back cast of sunflower-seed-spitting cutups, perk up like
prairie dogs with wrenches. Crew chief Jimmy Elledge counts down to
arrival on the team radio.
Mears skids in, just skirting under the 55 mph speed limit (in
1990, NASCAR implemented the speed limit after a member of Bill
Elliott's crew was struck and killed). The team leaps "over the
wall" (the one-to-three-foot wall separating the pit box - where
the pit and road crews, team managers and sponsors, and special
guests hang out during the race - from the area where the cars
screech in for pit work) with the determination of prison escapees.
With a grunt and a thud, the rear bumper is ripped by hand off the
back of the car like a piece of flimsy Scotch tape. Meanwhile,
sizzling 65-pound tires are bouncing haphazardly away in all
directions, replaced by fresh, asphalt-hugging new ones. Mere
seconds go by before Mears guns the gas, causing his new tires to
spin uselessly until they meet the pavement in a plume of acrid
smoke and singed rubber.
When they do, a stray lug nut is propelled out from under the left
rear tire like a heat-seeking missile, and it hones in on a target
right between my eyes. Luckily, the speeding projectile collides
with a jack that is resting on the wall, deflecting it back onto
the track and away from my precious face. Welcome to the fastest,
most dangerous 14 seconds in sports.
Race Day 7:49 a.m.