Sunday, November 18, 2012

Behind the Scenes

Brad Keselowski
2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion
(Photo Courtesy Penske Racing Photos- Facebook)


As the confetti fell and Miller Beer sprayed in the air, Brad Keselowski and Roger Penske celebrated their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Indeed, it was Penske's first NASCAR Cup Series Championship since he began fielding cars in NASCAR's premier series in 1972. While the TV audience got a glimpse of the car owner, crew chief, driver, and crew, what they did not see was the amount of men and women that work full time 12 months a year at the company headquarters and shop in Mooresville, NC. These men and women are responsible for building 55 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars, 11 NASCAR Nationwide Series cars, and 7 IndyCar Series cars.

Michael Lott
NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Chassis Fabricator
(Photo courtesy Leah Lott Photography)


Sitting at home with his wife and two boys watching the final race of the season wind down at Homestead-Miami and watching his driver win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship was Michael Lott, chassis fabricator. Michael started his racing career at 19 years old, He had dropped out of college after the first day deciding it was not the path for him. He had instead elected to work in his father's automotive repair shop.

I met Michael early in my dirt track racing career at a time when I had been responsible for maintaining and driving my own car. I quickly learned he had a passion for automobiles and racing and had a intense desire to perform quality work in everything he was involved. When I met him, his mechanical knowledge was amazing. The best way I could describe him was someone who could disassemble your street car, reassemble it blindfolded, and it would run better.

He dove head first into learning race car suspension and tuning. Together we took a car that had been finishing laps down and created a car that began logging top-10 finishes. I distinctly remember explaining concepts of jacking wedge, moving static weight, unsprung vs. sprung weight, effects of reciprocal weight on drivetrain, and other fundamentals involved in stock car racing to him. He was attentive and a quick study. He would ask a few questions to ensure he had a full understanding of what I was explaining and then it was committed to memory.

Within a month of Michael working with me, he had assumed the complete maintenance of my race car. In fact, he made it very clear that he did not want me wrenching on the car, "Go do your driver thing", he would tell me once the car was unloaded at the race track.

After my daughter was born, I resigned my day job and launched a computer consulting business. The business start up eliminated the budget to race, so I sold out my inventory of racing equipment and poured myself into the business. Michael felt lost without racing and after a few months, he set out to Charlotte, NC to attend a one week Racing Suspension class and to circulate his resume. Before the week was over, he had secured a job with a small NASCAR Cup team sweeping the floor, picking up tools, and serving as a general gofer. But his knowledge of race cars and mechanical ability was soon recognized and before long he was on the road crew and the over the wall pit crew.

I still remember him calling me from the garage of the Michigan International Speedway on his first road trip as a crew member. I am not sure he slept the entire four days he was there. He was rubbing shoulders with all of the guys he had watched on TV for years and now he was apart of them. His skills continued to improve. When I had met him he could arc weld. I had helped him master MIG welding. He took it upon himself to learn TIG welding which is in much demand among the big league race teams.

His skills continued to be noticed and appreciated. He made a few team changes and continued to receive promotions. He went from a general mechanic to a fabricator. On one trip to NC, I admired the work he had been performing shaping sheet metal into fenders, hoods, quarter panels deck lids, and roofs. Eventually, he moved to the chassis shop where he works with a team of skilled individuals work build the entire chassis (frame and rollcages) for Penske Racing's NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series cars.

So as I sat and watched Brad Keselowski celebrate winning the Sprint Cup, I smiled as I thought about my friend who has labored behind the scenes for the last 15 years that is apart of a team of people who's hard work and determination just won the championship.

Congratulations Brad Keselowski, Roger Penske, Penske Racing, and Michael Lott on a job well down.

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