Hauling the nameplate
NASCAR's moving tribute to stock-car racing
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There are not a lot of places, anywhere, where you can have a bowl of cereal, cook up something in the microwave, break down an engine, work on your shocks and then relax on a leather couch while checking out a video with a couple of your co-workers.
Welcome to a NASCAR hauler, a gargantuan workshop/office on wheels. It's a home -- and an office and a garage -- away from home for racing teams. It's the way cars get from one track to another.
It's 76 feet and 80,000 pounds of lean, mean NASCAR advertising machine.
Winston Cup driver John Andretti and his team allowed us to take a tour of his hauler while parked in the garage area of Daytona International Speedway for the Daytona 500.
There is a hard "awning" that juts out from the back of the trailer. The awning actually is a ramp that loads two race cars -- everyone needs a spare -- into the area above the main working/living space in the trailer. It closes over the back when the trailer is one the move.
The trailer has a pair of sliding glass doors at the back. Push them aside and you see a single, 4-foot wide hallway down the middle. The sides of the hallway are lined by closets with gleaming white Formica doors, all with recessed handles.
Come on in.
Stepping into the trailer from the rear, on the right side , the first thing you see is a workbench. This is where the engine is worked on. There's a vise there, and lots of tools and parts in sliding drawers all over the place.
RIVETS/RAZOR BLADES/HOOD HARDWARE reads one label. AEROQUIP FITTINGS reads another.
There's a stereo above the workbench, and a cabinet for first aid supplies. Stuck into one corner of the workbench is maybe the only thing out of place in the whole hauler. Seven boxes of Cheerios, Andretti's main sponsor.
Everything gleams. Gary Geissman, who drives the hauler some 60,000-65,000 miles a year, wants his rig clean.
"Look at this," says Geissman, a likeable 42-year-old the team calls "Bear." He points out a piece of tape on a workbench. It reads "Warning! Death May Result! If you don't clean up when done. Thanks, Bear."
He smiles at the "Thanks" part.
"Hey, I'm a nice guy," he says.
The rest of the right side is filled with parts and tools and cleaners and radio gear. About mid-trailer, on the bottom, behind a clean white cabinet door hinged at the bottom, is a complete race car engine.
Everyone needs a spare.
At the back again, on the left side heading toward the cab, is the kitchen area. There's a stainless steel counter, with a space-saving coffee maker and microwave above it. A refrigerator and freezer. And cabinets, filled with food. No sink, but just about everything else you'd need.
One of the drawers under the microwave is filled with candy. The fridge is filled, mainly, with healthy stuff, part of a season-starting campaign to get everyone on the team fit and trim.
As we move forward on the left side, more parts. The literal nuts and bolts. BOLTS/FENDER WASHERS reads one cabinet.
Farther up the left side, in its own room that juts out as the hallway turns right next to the door on the side of the hauler, is what the Andretti guys call "The Grubb Room," named for teammate Darian Grubb. It is the room where all the work is done on the shocks. There's a computer in there, hooked up to a satellite, and a workbench. At its widest, it's maybe 8 feet.
There's a space above the bench to access the upper level and the spare cars, when they're in there.
Go past the side door and up a couple steps and you reach the inner sanctum of the hauler, located over the hitch that connects trailer with cab. It is where Andretti changes into his race duds and where the crew has its spare clothes. Team meetings are held here.
There are two small built-in leather couches. A TV/VCR combination. A phone and a stereo, too. A long mirror with the likeness of Richard Petty (Andretti races for Petty Enterprises) is hung over one of the couches.
Almost as important as the work done there is the trailer itself, which serves as a huge rolling billboard. Andretti's likeness, his car and the Cheerios logo -- among other sponsors -- are painted on the side.
"Fans in Pennsylvania and in New York are bigger than anywhere in the U.S.," Geissman says. "You get up there, for 200-300 miles outside the racetracks [Pocono and Watkins Glen], people are lined up, waving as you go by."
On the road, Geissman, who often travels alone, is a NASCAR star.
"If you leave the CB on, which I don't anymore, someone wants to know something every two miles," he says. "The one that kills me is, going along 70 mph at night and all the sudden you see this flash going off from a camera.
"When I get out to get something to eat, I don't get two steps out of the truck before somebody's asking you something. 'How'd you get this job?' is a big one."
There are dozens of these haulers, each costing maybe $1 million, loaded down with equipment and cars, in Daytona this week.
In many ways, they are the most tangible part of NASCAR that many fans ever will see up close.