Here we go again. Last year, I worked as a member of the pit road safety crew at an ARCA RE/MAX Series race in Salem, Indiana, and wrote about it for SCR. This time we went to a big track, the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway for the inaugural Frank Kimmel Enduro Nationals, and again it was courtesy of G.B. Abbott and his safety team. I guess that I kept quiet and followed orders well enough at Salem to be invited back for this story.
My weekend started on a Thursday afternoon in Palmyra, Indiana, where I met up with G.B., and he explained what my job was going to be. This time, I worked on the safety tech team and our job was to ensure that all of the cars met the safety regulations for this race.
I learned that my job, starting the next morning at the track, included the following tasks:
1. Inspect the gas tanks. Make sure that they are mounted properly and have foam in them.
2. Make sure that there is a bumper reinforcement or some type of bar behind the bumper to protect the fuel cell area.
3. Check the lead weight to make sure that it is painted white and has the car number on it.
4. Go through the drivers' personal safety gear, making sure that each one has at least a single-layer Nomex suit, proper racing gloves, and a helmet that is within the required date.
Part of Hamilton's responsibility was to check helmets for compliance.
5. Take a quick look at the shocks to be sure that they are legal.
6. Make sure that the battery is enclosed in a box with a lid on it.
7. Go to the right side of the car, check the rollcage, and look for any holes in the floor where fire could come through.
8. Sign off on the inspection sheet that accompanies the car through the tech line.
The next morning, we got up early and headed to the track for a meeting with the rest of the tech crew before the haulers were allowed to come in. At the meeting, we decided to break out into two tech inspection areas, with G.B. and me taking one and Dee Abbott and Barry Smedley the other.
The garage opened at noon and the tech lines at 1 p.m., so I had a little time to meet the other guys in tech, who were handling the mechanical side of things.
The cars soon started rolling into the tech line, and we were ready to swarm all over them as they came. The teams had instructions for how to present their cars to inspection. They were to take the hoods off, unbolt one valve cover, and raise the decklid. The driver was to bring his uniform and helmet and tape the tech list to the windshield of the car. Unfortunately, most of the guys did not read the instructions, so we had to wait for them to take off the valve covers and send someone back to the garage for the driver's equipment.
At first, things progressed slowly. I would go to the rear of the car and check the fuel cell. If the cell itself wasn't a modern closed system, I would have to open the cap and look for the foam. If it wasn't easily seen, I'd break out one of those high-tech devices called a yardstick and probe for it.
After ensuring the foam was in place, I'd take a quick glance at the battery and its container, check the shocks, look for bracing behind the fuel cell, and look for lead weights. Then I'd go under the car to look at the fuel cell bracing and, again, check for weights. Next, it was on to the right side to check the rollcage there and look over the floor and firewall for holes that needed to be patched.
Then it was time to check each driver's equipment. The uniforms and gloves were pretty simple. They had to have at least a single layer of Nomex, and if you have ever felt Nomex, you know exactly what it feels like. The helmets were more difficult to examine because the safety stickers were located all over the place and I had to search for them. I had to look them over closely to make sure there were no cracks or other signs of a major impact. The main thing was that they had to be dated 1995 or later. There were a few shortcuts, though. It's clear that Impact Racing helmets are within the required date because Impact hasn't been around that long, and Simpson helmets always have their information tags in the same place, making it easier to find them.
While I was finishing up and G.B. was doing the same on the left side of the car, the rest of the team members were going about their jobs, measuring the height of the car, checking the clearances of the body, making sure the wicker bill was mounted correctly and in the right place, checking the valves and the carburetor numbers, and making sure there was no aluminum on the motor.
As the inspection process was nearing the end, Larry Meadows, who headed up the mechanical part, and I went over the inspection list and signed off on each item. The items that were OK were initialed in green ink, and any corrections that were needed were checked in red with a note about what needed to be done. If everything was marked in green, an inspection sticker was placed on the car and it was ready to race after the driver picked up the scoring transponder and drew a starting number.
On the other hand, if there were any red items, Larry would explain to the driver or car owner what needed to be done to correct mechanical problems and I would explain safety issues. The car was then pushed back to the garage so that corrections could be made before the inspection sticker went on.
As the day progressed, we gained more confidence. The teams that were in the tech line saw what the guys in front of them had to do, so they got things ready for us before they reached the head of the line, and things started moving faster. By the end of the first day, we had approved 16 cars and had a few that would be coming back on Saturday to get their sticker.
Saturday started early, as we arrived at the track a little after 7 a.m. and found cars already lined up at the tech shed. Everybody jumped right in and the process rolled on just as it had ended the day before. Tech inspection was scheduled to close at 4:30, but with cars arriving at the track all afternoon, we were still putting stickers on cars even after practice had ended at 6:30.