On race day Gills black...
On race day Gills black Taurus is an imposing site in the qualifying line.
Gill, a hands-on driver and...
Gill, a hands-on driver and team owner, adjusts the valves in his engine.
A crash at Southern National...
A crash at Southern National Speedway in Kenly, North Carolina, meant new sheetmetal for the teams primary car.
The secret to success, says...
The secret to success, says crew chief Steve Dluzniewski, is in doing the little things right.
Before heading out, Doug and...
Before heading out, Doug and Duze check stagger on tires theyll use at Peach State.
...Doug, and Bobby are focused...
...Doug, and Bobby are focused on race day.
A potential showdown between...
A potential showdown between Gill...
...and Northern Division hotshot...
...and Northern Division hotshot Brian Ross (top) never developed, as Steve Christian and a downpour ruled the night.
Bobby Gill has won three consecutive USAR Hooters ProCup championships, but hes never experienced a season like this one. Gill began the year by winning the first six USAR Southern Division races and nine of the first eleven. In July, Stock Car Racing Associate Editor Larry Cothren spent a week with Bobby Gill Racing in Mooresville, North Carolina. In the shadow of high-dollar Winston Cup shops, Gill and his small crew put in long hours getting the car ready to race at Peach State Speedway in Jefferson, Georgia.
This is Bobby Gill Racing, but the scene plays out week after week at race shops throughout the country. This is the skinned-knuckle, grease-stained world of racing, where simple passion makes all the hard work worthwhile.
7:55 a.m. Steve Dluzniewski, crew chief and general jack-of-all-trades for Bobby Gill Racing, arrives at the teams Mooresville, North Carolina, shop, located in one of several race-related industrial parks in the area. From the tiny office just inside the doorway to the shop, Dluzniewski, who is called Duze (pronounced Dooze) for short, begins his day by making a phone call to check on a part being repaired by an outside vendor. The part, which was delivered to the vendor on Thursday of the previous week, was supposed to be ready first thing today. Duze is told, however, that the part wont be ready until noon. Thats the thing about this industryyou have to deal with people like that around here, he says. A phone call to Bobby, who is en route from his Dalton, Georgia, home, keeps him apprised of the situation.
Duze is typical of many in the Charlotte, North Carolina, areaa Yankee who moved south to work in the racing industry. Duze is talkative and opinionated, but hes also personable and easy to be around.
Doug Strother, a volunteer mechanic, arrives 25 minutes after Duze, and soon hes headed out with the teams primary car loaded on Duzes roll back, flatbed hauler. Duze spent time the previous week repairing damage to the car suffered in a crash at Southern National Speedway in Kenly, North Carolina, in a race Bobby won. The car needed new sheetmetal from the drivers side front fender all the way around to the rear quarter-panel on the opposite side. A local fab shop hung the metal, and Doug is taking the car around the block to a paint shop. He soon returns, though, with the car still loaded. The paint booth was occupied and he was told to come back in 30 minutes.
Duze, meanwhile, has turned his attention to a spare car Gill Racing bought from a former USAR competitor. The car has run just one race, was purchased race-ready, complete with a Keith Dorton engine, same as Gill Racing runs, and the car appears in good shape. Still, theres work to be done. Bobby and Duze say the craftsmanship isnt up to their standards. They said it was race-ready, but its not race-ready the way we do it, Duze says.
The mornings work is steady, with Doug occasionally asking questions about how the team prefers to mount the radiatorwhat gauge sheetmetal to use on the box, how to break it up, etc. Bobby, known in racing circles as a stickler for details, hasnt arrived but his influence is apparent in Dluzniewskis answers. Try this and well see what he thinks. Doug came to the team after a stint as a crew chief for a Craftsman Truck Series team. He obviously knows how to build a race car, and needs no supervision once the details are ironed out. The challenge is in learning how to do things the Bobby Gill way.
Bobby arrives from Georgia just before 3 oclock and begins work on the spare car. Duze, frustrated with the part thats still not ready, goes and picks it up. Still sitting where I left it, he says when he arrives back at the shop. Its a pain in the ass, he continues. I dont have some kid to go pick up parts. Thats an hour and a half I spent picking up parts. Youve got guys like that who work on their own and dont have to answer to anybody. If they want to go drinking for a week, they go drinking. Then the guy reaches in his pocket and has no money and goes back to work.
Auto racing is like horse racing and boxing. Youve got that element of seedy characters, people just passing through.
Again, the work is steady in the shop. Bobby builds the brakes to be mounted on the spare car, and talks racing in general. Several teams are located nearbytruck teams, another Hooters ProCup team, etc. Talk turns to teams entering the sport, paying high wages, then folding. Its like anywhere in racing, says Bobby. Theres only about a dozen good teams in any series. Nearby, a bucket of used lug nuts soak in lacquer thinner. It gets the glue off, says Bobby. We cant afford to buy new ones every race. Later, with a dip of smokeless tobacco in his lip, Bobby turns hubs on a lathe in the shop. He works quietly, steadily, like a man on an assembly line.
Duze and Doug focus on the spare car. Its one of three cars owned by Gill Racing, along with the teams primary car now at the paint shop and another, unfinished car that sits under a tarp in the shop. That car is basically a new Hess chassis with new sheetmetal, minus an engine, transmission, and other components.
As Doug prepares to mount shocks on the front of the spare car theyre working on, theres some discussion between the three of them on whether welding the bolts in place for the top shock mounts was a good idea. Carrera shocks require bolts of a different length than Penske shocks, but Doug shows that the shocks can easily be taken out with the bolts welded in place.
Again, an occasional visitor wanders in and out of the shop. One leaves a LaJoie seat to have a bracket welded into place. Another, Chuck Gafrarar, stops by to chat. Chuck fabricates race car bodies for Gill and other racers and is himself a racer. He asks Bobby for advice on Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina, where Chuck will run a NASCAR Goodys Dash Series race during the upcoming weekend. Whats that place like at night? he asks Bobby. The answer is brief, to the point. Tight in, loose off. Put about 2½ inches of stagger in it.
Where Duzes personality sizzles like a firecracker, Bobbys burns low like a pilot light. Although Bobby stays at Duzes house in Concord, North Carolina, during race season, the two of them are opposites in nearly every way. Bobby the low-key country boy who says only what he means, and Duze the outgoing Yankee who says . . . well, nearly anything that comes to mind. The common ground between the two of them is racing. In attention to detail and the desire to do things right, they are one.
Bobby puts Doug to work mounting the steering box in the spare car. A few minutes later Bobby walks by, wipes an index finger across the steering box, and tells Doug he should have cleaned it off before mounting it.
Ill wipe it off, Doug says.
But its easier to do before you put it on, Bobby replies.
During lunch at a local restaurant, Bobby is more animated, talking about past racing adventures, wins, and near wins. The subject of traction control comes up and Bobby, Duze, and Doug all have at least one traction control story to tell, from Winston Cup on down. No team in NASCAR or Hooters ProCup has been caught with the device, however. Still, rumors are rampant that traction control is being used at all levels. Theyve taken two (ignition) boxes from us this year, says Duze.
Back at the shop, attention in the afternoon is fully on the primary car, which Duze brought in from the paint shop at 10:45 a.m. Duze sits under a fenderwell working on brakes, Bobby fabricates a radiator duct, and Doug puts a rear gear in the car.
In the afternoon a deliveryman drops off three small boxes of nuts and asks Bobby if hell need anything else. Bobby orders 25 ¾-inch, fine-thread nylon lock nuts. Make that 26, even it out, he decides.
Duze is in rare form in the afternoon when the subject of aero pushthe latest buzzword in Winston Cupis brought up. We had a helluvan aero push at Ace Speedway, Duze says in a mocking voice, then continues: But what really got us was the fat lady who sat down right in front of the laser beam that runs our traction control from up in the stands. I kept waving at her to move. Traction control and liquid mercury (which supposedly allows weight to be shifted in a race car), are the latest items in the rumor mill regarding Bobby Gills hot streak.
Its nearing 5:30 p.m. and Duze talks about his decision to move south. He says he dabbled in racing for several years around his hometown of Chicopee, Massachusetts, near Springfield, while working at his fathers service station. In the winter of 1993, the year he turned 31, Duze threw his clothes into a car and headed to North Carolina with $600 in his pocket. Even drove through an ice storm to get here. He since has worked for several area teams, mostly at the Busch Series and Winston Cup level.
Racing was a hobby before heading south. It was never a full-time, making-a-living-thing, but I wasnt one of those who watched it twice on TV and here I am, Duze says.
Doug works on the rearend for the primary car, while Duze works on the finer points, like tightening up bolts, wiping the car down, etc. Bobby is back working on the radiator duct for the primary car, a task that consumed much of his time yesterday.
Just before lunch Doug cleans off the engine to be used at Peach State and takes the spark plugs out so Bobby can adjust the valves later. Duze mounts the rear window in the primary car, while Bobby still works on the radiator duct.
In the afternoon, Bobby, after returning from lunch, immediately begins adjusting the valves on the race engine, a job that takes less than 15 minutes. At 1:32 p.m. they begin placing the engine in the car, and 30 minutes later, Bobby, Doug, and Duze have the engine dropped in. Doug puts the carburetor in place.
Much of the afternoon is spent on final engine hook-up, such as putting the exhaust in place, finishing the radiator duct, and hooking up lines and hoses. Tony Mitchell, whose primary occupation is business manager for an aspiring Truck Series driver, arrives soon after lunch and puts windshield tear-offs on, then puts a plastic layer over the nose of the car.
While Duze polishes the car, pouring wax from a water bottle, Bobby and Doug adjust the cars brakes. Later, as Duze continues polishing, the others work putting plastic across the bottom of the valance. Theres a sense the car is nearing completion. The routine is obvious. This is the secret right here: working and getting it done, Duze says. Ninety percent of the field is moaning or talking about it. They dont want to do this part.
As the clock nears 6:30, Bobby, Duze, Doug, and Tony tell racing stories. Bobby is relaxed and begins to open up. He talks of his start in racing and tells about a Thanksgiving weekend race around 85 or 86 in Mobile, Alabama, that paid $8,000 to win. Bobby was living in his native Sarasota, Florida, at the time. Heck, I had never been out of Florida, he says. He and a buddy worked all week, including all day on Thanksgiving, to prepare a car. They loaded up, drove to Alabama, and found that 100 cars had entered the event. Bobby says he won a heat race, qualified 13th for the main event, and won the race. He then found out the actual cash purse was $7,000 and the rest was in jackets, T-shirts, and stuff. Nonetheless, the bug had bitten him.
After that, that was it, he says. I had four race cars the next year.
Much of the morning is spent cleaning the shop, mounting the cars shocks and springs, and detailing the car, with Duze still polishing and Bobby and Doug underneath doing final hook-up.
Duze and Doug later check tire stagger. They measure the circumference of a group of tires in the shop, add air, recheck measurements, and discuss what theyre finding. Its the only head-scratching session the team has had all week. But the problem, albeit a minor one, is worked out, the right combination is found, and the tires are mounted. Bobby Gill Racing is a step closer to hitting the road to Jefferson, Georgia.
Freddie Query, former NASCAR All Pro Series champion, stops by to ask Bobbys advice on what setup to use Saturday night while running a Late Model at Kenly, North Carolina, the previous stop for the Hooters ProCup Series. Freddie and Bobby chat for 30 minutes, then its back to work for Bobby.
John Bland, the teams gasman, arrives and helps around the shop. After lunch they scale the car, load the pit wagon, push it into the hauler, and place other racing necessities on the hauler. Duze breaks down tires in the back of the shop. Theyve missed Duzes predicted departure time of 2 oclock, but theres no urgency in the air.
A visitor drops by at 2:30, steps into the shop, and says, Duze, thought yall would have been gone by now. Duze fires back, Well you thought wrong. Race aint till tomorrow at 7. The visitor soon leaves.
The car is loaded at 3:15, and the hauler pulls out of the parking lot at 3:36. Three hours and 49 minutes later, including one 30-minute stop, Bobby Gill Racing arrives at Peach State Speedway.
Its 7:30 a.m. when Bobby, Duze, Doug, and John Bland roll into the speedway, arriving from nearby Commerce, Georgia, just off Interstate 85. The other team membersShan Russ, Mark Williams, Bill Green, and Richie Gazawayarrive later. The skies are overcast and a light rain has settled over the area. They set up a portable canopy just behind pit road as teams around them do the same. The car is unloaded and normal race-day activity is taking placedespite the drizzle.
Throughout the morning, the black No. 5 of Bobby Gill Racing gets lots of attention from competitors, fans, and others passing by. Its obvious that Bobby Gill is the man to beat in Hooters ProCup racing. Brian Ross, a Northern Division rookie who has won five races at this point in the season, has shown up for the race. Some see the event as a showdown between Gill and Ross. Ross is campaigning a car he bought from Bobby Gill Racing.
A drivers meeting scheduled for 1 oclock begins three minutes early, and a possible rain delay is the main topic. Fritz Augustine, director of competition for Hooters ProCup, tells the group that the weather front is moving northeast from Atlanta. It looks like its going to miss us, Augustine says. Even if it hits us, by 3 or 3:30 we should be done with it. Just after he says this, the rain picks up pace, from a light drizzle to a steady shower. The meeting ends at 1:13 and the group walks out into the rain.
By mid-afternoon, the rain, sporadic all day, lets up, the track is dried using wreckers, trucks and personal vehiclesnine at one timeand practice begins shortly after 3 p.m. At 3:20 Bobby climbs into the car and hits the track.
Jason Sarvis is clocked by a Gill crewman as the fastest car in practice, running a 19.57-second lap. At 3:35, after running in the mid-19 second range, Bobby brings the car in and the team changes shocks, putting a new shock package under the car. Dont change no stagger, Bobby instructs the crew.
A fourth-turn crash during practice brings a warning from Elaine, Bobbys wife and race-day spotter. Back it down, back it down, back it down, she says. Bobby, coming from the backstretch, easily avoids the two-car accident. Qualifying begins at 6 p.m. Bobbys first lap is a 19.183, but he picks it up on the second lap, turning a 19.044. The time puts the team in the second starting spot.
At 7:26 the cars roll off the starting grid and the race begins six minutes later. Bobby quickly jumps in front of Sarvis, the pole sitter, and leads the first lap and several more. Steve Christian also leads in the early going, but Bobby chases him down and passes him off Turn 2. Christian, however, retakes the lead on lap 55, passing Bobby off of the last turn.
Bobby drops off the leader board, outside the Top 5, but is working his way through the pack as the lap count nears 100. Christian, the leader, has a straightaway lead on Bobby as lap 95 clicks off. Between laps 105 and 108, Bobby races Ross, the Northern leader, for fifth. Christians lead over Bobby is a half straightaway.
On lap 133, during a pit stop under caution, the Ross car gets out early, assuming the lead. Duze, have somebody look at the 42 pit and see if they put just two stickers on, Bobby says over the radio. Send the windshield guy (Tony Mitchell) down there. Hes plainclothesed.
When Duze tells him later that Ross took only two stickers, Bobby says, Well let him go then.
When a caution for rain comes on lap 144, Bobby is eighth, while Ross leads the race, one-quarter lap ahead of Bobby. By lap 154 Bobby is back on the leader board, having worked his way to fifth. Christian, meanwhile, has regained the lead. By 160 Bobby has claimed fourth. Fourteen laps later, on lap 174, the race is red-flagged for rain, with Christian leading, Sarvis second, Ross third, and Bobby running fourth.
As the rain becomes more intense, Bobby and crew sit just inside the teams hauler, awaiting official word that the race will not restart. Its a Saturday night and short tracks all across Americathe ones not in the middle of a downpour, anywayare alive with the roar of engines and the smell of burnt rubber and exhaust fumes.
At 9:35, with the prospects of restarting the race growing dim, Bobby gets the crew to sing Happy Birthday to Duze, who turned 40 the day before. Bobbys wife, Elaine, had delivered a pizza-sized birthday cookie earlier in the day. The week is capped off with an unusual mix of heavy rain, a singing crew, and a large cookie.
After the celebration, Duze entertains the group by playing his harmonica and singing a blues tune. The mood, despite Bobbys apparent fourth-place finish, is relaxed and upbeat. The race is hardly mentioned.
Later, after the race has been declared official, with Christian getting the victory, Bobby is asked about his fourth-place finish and the downpour that kept him from claiming a possible ninth win in 10 races.
It doesnt matter, he says. It aint the end of the world.