NASCAR: Drivers deal with the demands for time in and out of the race car
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A freight train rumbled through the downtown area Tuesday morning, easily within view of CSX’s corporate offices. Stock car driver David Ragan paused from taking pictures and signing autographs long enough to watch it cross over the St. Johns River.
Ragan was in town to promote the train company’s “Play it Safe” program to keep pedestrians and cars from being struck. The two-mile long train served as a fitting backdrop to a driver whose career is dependent on such appearances and promotions.
For drivers like Ragan, time behind the wheel of a race car is a small fraction of their time. Basically, for every hour they spend racing, they spend four hours meeting with sponsors.
“Basically Wednesday is our day off,” Ragan said. “That’s when you get a half-day, sometimes a whole day off. Right now I’m young and I don’t mind this schedule. I don’t have kids so I don’t have those kinds of demands.”
Race teams generally arrive to the track on Thursday to prepare for the next race. They leave late Sunday. Monday’s are spent at the shop with meetings to review the just-completed race and to talk strategy for the next trip.
Tuesdays and some Wednesdays are spent testing and making appearances. By Thursday, the cycle starts all over again.
“Testing has been a lot more than any other year I have ever raced,” Danica Patrick said last week during a two-day tire test at the Daytona International Speedway. “There’s a lot on the schedule. I still have a lot of stuff to do outside the car. I’m finding myself much more busy this year than any other year due to being at the track an extra day (compared to her Nationwide Series schedule last year) and testing on top of that and just full Cup obligations that need to be done. I definitely find myself being more busy overall.”
Patrick is one of the most-popular drivers in NASCAR, and that means she can attract more sponsors. At the same time, that means she has more commitments to them.
Not only does she make appearances and commercials for primary sponsor Go Daddy – including a Super Bowl record 12 commercials – she has sponsor commitments to Nationwide Insurance, PEAK and Academy Sports.
There also are responsibilities to the race team and NASCAR.
Besides testing at Daytona, Patrick also has tested at non-NASCAR tracks at Little Rock, Ark., and Nashville.
Like Ragan, Patrick doesn’t mind the demands. Older veterans are more leery of the busy schedule. That’s why drivers like Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch sometimes use other drivers to fill in for them during testing.
“It’s fine for me,” Patrick said. “Any more I spend a couple of days at home, I get bored. Going home is about getting your hair cut and getting my facials and seeing my normal people. You’ve got to go to the same person (for your hair). I went to someone different to get my hair done years ago and I looked like Neapolitan ice cream.”
Ragan got married in the off-season, so his schedule is a little less-hectic since he gets help washing clothes and running errands. But unlike most in the sport, he doesn’t own his own airplane.
“I have a lot of frequent flier miles,” he said. “I’m also friends with a lot of guys who do have planes.”
Adding to the schedule are races outside the Sprint Cup Series umbrella. Stewart and Kasey Kahne often race open-wheel Sprint cars, while Ragan, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Stewart and David Reutimann all race at local short tracks in their spare time, while Kurt Busch has dabbled in drag racing and a V8 Supercar.
And several drivers also double-dip in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series, which includes appearances for those sponsors.
Ragan doesn’t have a primary sponsor, so he has to make several trips to sponsors like CSX that provide selected sponsorships. He’s also been sponsored by Detail Doctor, Riviera Hotel and Casino, Dockside Logistics and Love’s Travel Stops this year.
CSX will be on his No. 34 Ford for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at the Richmond International Raceway. CSX and Front Row Motorsports will ask fans to sign a pledge to be aware and careful around trains. If they sign the pledge, their name will be put on Ragan’s car for the race.
Clint Bowyer arrived to the Kansas Speedway a day earlier than everyone else so he could spend time in his hometown, Emporia, Kan. He opened a dealership there and spent a day meeting old friends and family.
“It’s just once or twice a year that I get to see those people and spend time with them,” he said. “It is a lot of work, but it’s important to you. It’s my opportunity to see all those guys and you just don’t have those guys every week. It’s a good weekend and it’s a fun weekend, but you’re worn out by the time it’s done.”
With no time to rest before starting it all over again.