Jeff Jefferson's Monte Carlo, brand-new during a test session earlier this year, hits the
It is 3:00 in the afternoon and the uneaten pizza and undrunk Pepsi are nearing the same temperature. And, still, the team doesn't stop. Shocks. Springs. Sway bars. A nip here and a tuck there to achieve clearance on the bodywork.
Testing is where the real work of racing gets done, where a crewchief's notebook is filled with the minutia that makes winners.
Jeff Jefferson won the 2003 NASCAR Elite Division Northwest Series championship because his crew unloaded at every racetrack ready to do business.
So they were in West Richland, Washington, last April at this dust-covered, high-banked oval in the high desert of eastern Washington to get a jump-start on the season. This day the test is something special. It is the first time Jefferson will turn laps in the first new car he's ever raced.
"All last year, all we had was one car and one engine," he says. It is the type of situation that makes a driver think twice about where to stick his nose and when to press the issue of who can successfully lay claim to a piece of track. This year he has a second round chambered, sitting in the attic of the transporter.
Work on the new Monte Carlo began two months earlier when the Port City chassis arrived at the shop. Since that time, there have been two men working on it every day, often seven days a week.
Make sure you have all the right parts and pieces assembled, but be careful of the changes
"It's been more work than I imagined," says Jefferson, looking as much like a proud parent as a race car driver as the ebony Chevrolet slowly rode the tractor trailer's lift gate to track level two hours earlier. "You basically begin with this 350-pound steel cage and build everything else that goes on it. And once you get it all together, it all comes apart for powdercoating and final finishing."
Newness filled the air with the scent of fresh paint curing in the sun. This was a race car in its rawest form. No numbers. No decals. No stickers. Just unmarked body panels fresh from being hung only two days earlier.
In the level of car preparation, the Northwest Series lies about midway between a Late Model and a Busch car. Front-running cars cost about $75,000. They are built on a tube chassis and clip, but the bodies are mostly easily-repaired fiberglass. Good thing. Full fields mean lots of competition with the inevitable beating and banging as the laps wind down.
"It should be a twin to the one we ran last year," says Chuck Carruthers, Jefferson's crewchief. But every driver will tell you that even "identical" cars that come out of highly-controlled fabrication shops such as Roush, Evernham, or Penske are all different.
"It's like dating twins," explains Randy Goss, former crewchief for Greg Biffle. "The better you get to know them, the more you realize they are different."
But the question is, how different?
The four-hour session was to begin at noon, and the clock was already ticking when the team opened the trailer.
Jefferson climbs into the car and settles into the driver seat as Carruthers continues fussing. Satisfied, the crewchief twirls his finger, Jefferson fingers the start button, and the engine bursts to life in a mechanical din. One crewmember crosses his fingers as the car rolls onto the track.
Jefferson does three slow laps to bring up the temperatures. The desert sand boils out from under the car in a rolling dust storm. On the fourth lap, the engine note changes as Jefferson charges through the corners and down the front straight-and then rolls back into the pits.