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Hauler drivers are the Highway Heroes for RCR this week

By: Tim Packman

LAS VEGAS – Each week during the NASCAR season, a driver straps into his ride and tries to race 500 miles ending up right where he started four hours earlier. If it’s done right, he gets a trip to Victory Lane and a trophy for doing it faster and better than anyone else.

That isn’t the case for Richard Childress Racing’s hauler drivers each week; especially this one.

They log approximately 70,000 miles during a NASCAR season for their respective teams. When it comes to the back-to-back races at Phoenix International Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, they are called upon to go above and beyond sharing driver duties from Welcome, N.C. to Phoenix International Raceway one week, then from there to Las Vegas Motor Speedway the next.

And, when the race is over Sunday, two drivers will climb into their respective Freightliner tractor and bring home the Featherlite trailer carrying race cars and equipment from here back to Welcome, N.C.

That’s why this week, the hauler drivers of RCR are truly the Highway Heroes.

It all started during Daytona

Royce McGee is the Cup Shop Foreman for RCR and is tasked with overseeing and planning the logistics of how our race cars get to the track each week.

“We actually started getting all the parts and components needed for the Phoenix cars together right after the Budweiser Duels in Daytona,” he said. “We placed them all in the empty truck bays and waited for the haulers to get home from the Daytona 500.

“They got back Sunday night and we sent the primary drivers home. The rest of us did what’s called ‘turned the truck around’ by taking off the Daytona items, and loading the Phoenix ones with motors, transmissions, gears, etc.

“We had that all taken care of by 6 p.m. Monday night.”

From there, the primary hauler drivers showed up and were headed out the door with their co-drivers at 10 p.m. to start the 2,130-mile trip from the RCR shops to PIR.

Taking turns driving their allotted time, as determined by the Department of Transportation, the only stops they made were for fuel, food and restroom. Each of the Freightliner tractors holds 300 gallons of diesel fuel and can go approximately 1,200 miles. 

Once RCR’s three Sprint Cup teams safely arrived at PIR, the co-drivers were flown back home. They went to the shop, loaded up two car haulers and started sharing driving duties back to Phoenix.

One car hauler held four of our NASCAR Sprint Cup Chevrolet SS race cars, the other held two. The No. 27 Menards team had two cars for Vegas being shipped out, as did the No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet and No. 31 CAT Chevrolet teams.

Phoenix to Vegas, the “easy” part

When the race ended at PIR on Sunday, the road crews covered up the cars in the garage area and went back to the hotel. On Monday morning, they reconvened at the race track and started prepping the primary and back-up cars for the Vegas race.

Because PIR is a one-mile track and LVMS is 1.5 miles in length, the teams needed new brake rotors, springs, shocks, transmissions, etc. on the haulers. And, because there is a test session Thursday, spare Earnhardt Childress Racing motors for each team were taken along, as well. Teams will take out the engines they use Thursday and put in new ones when the normal race weekend schedule begins Friday.

While the road crews headed to Vegas after the swap out was completed, the hauler drivers stayed in Phoenix for an extra day.

Jeff Craven is the senior member of the RCR hauler drivers, with just more than 25 years of experience on the highway.

“After the teams finished what they needed in the garage on Monday, we secured everything in our No. 31 CAT trailer,” Craven said. “We took all the uniforms to the dry cleaners, went shopping for Vegas groceries and then started our haul up to Vegas on Tuesday morning.

“We kind of laugh because we say it’s an easy 300-mile trip, especially when compared to the haul out to Phoenix from the shop. Once we arrived there, we parked out just outside the track and had each of the haulers washed.

“We park in the track garage on Wednesday, then get ready for the fun to start on Thursday.”

While all this was going on, the co-drivers took the six Cup cars from Phoenix, loaded them on the four and two-car haulers and headed back to RCR.

“They arrived at about midnight on Tuesday,” McGee said. “We’re going to send them home for a few days, then put them on a plane out to Las Vegas with the road crews on Friday morning.

“After the race on Sunday, they’ll join the primary drivers and help bring the Vegas cars back to Welcome. That trip is just a bit longer and comes out to 2,225 miles from there to here.”

When it’s all added up, it comes out to 4,642 miles traveled by our hauler drivers in a two-week period. Craven is quick to add what makes the trip more pleasant and easier on them than others.

“The way we do things at RCR is top notch,” he said, while loading up items Monday morning in the PIR garage. “While you could go back to N.C. and then come back in time for the Vegas race, it makes it much easier when the cars are brought to us out here.

“Another aspect is how great the Freightliner tractors are for driving. They’re spacious and comfortable on the inside, and powerful and reliable on the outside. The trailers from Featherlite give us enough room to load what we need and be legal on our weight for the road, as well.”

So, while fans are watching their in-car heroes take to the track this Sunday and drive their hardest for 400 miles, think of the hauler drivers who have the longest drive ahead of them.

Craven, his co-driver James Nunn on the No. 31 team; Jeff Icenhour and Rocky Boggs on the No. 27 and Dennis Gammons and co-driver Mark Williams on the No. 29 are RCR’s Highway Heroes.

“I do not envy them one bit for these two races,” McGee said. “But, they are great at what they do; reliable, trusted and professional in how they do their jobs each week.

“It just happens to be a little more so this week.”


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