Initially I wasn’t sure what to expect, I had a very good experience running in the iRacing league that Operation Motorsports hosted but I was unsure how that would compare to actually working a race event. When I first got to Circuit of the Americas I introduced myself to Kirk and he introduced me to the never ending task of cleaning wheels. I personally dislike cleaning the wheels from my track cars but if it would help the team I was more than willing to get my hands dirty. When the rest of the team and the drivers showed up the next day Kirk introduced me during the morning meeting, that was when I found out that me and another guy would be in charge of handling the tires and fuel for the four car team. When I was not busy with tires I was lending a hand to the mechanics anyway that I could, whether it was setting up the alignment strings, wiping the cars down, vacuuming out the cars, or holding a flashlight for the mechanics. All the mechanics were willing to answer my numerous questions about any of the stuff that they were doing to the cars. There were a few late nights, some of them due to the changing weather conditions during the week and some of them due to celebrating the success on track. The entire time everyone treated me like a contributing member of the team, I was never told to not touch anything or to just get out of the way.
When I joined up with the team at Virginia International Raceway I found out that due to a scheduling conflict I would be the main person doing the fuel and tires. I was told that if I needed help I could ask any of the other members of the team and they would help me. There were a few hiccups and a lot of questions but by the end of the weekend I was very comfortable with pretty much all the aspects of the way the team wanted the tires and fuel to be handled. After the event pretty much everyone on the team including the drivers thanked me for my hard work.
Between the VIR race and the race at Road America, Skip Barber Racing provided transport and general help for the Superstar Racing Experience. I was invited to go and help for the final 3 races of the series. It was an amazing opportunity for me. I got to be around NASCAR drivers that I watched while I was growing up, I even got a few NASCAR stories from Johnny Benson and Ray Everham. My grandpa would have been extremely jealous of me, my Mom and Dad were both jealous because I got to meet some of their favorite drivers. I can even brag about how I changed the shocks on a car that was driven by not only Tony Stweart but also Ernie Francis Jr, Helio Castroneves, Bill Elliot and quite a few other famous racers.
For the race at Road America I was once again the only one working on the tires and fuel. From what I was told, I had done such a good job at VIR that the team felt like they could trust me to take care of those critical items for the team. I think it speaks highly about how fully I had been integrated into the team. There were still some late nights and early mornings but as a team it seemed like almost everyone began to mesh. During race 2 one of our TC drivers ended up damaging the car, the good news was that the driver was okay but the car would need extensive repairs. Everyone on the team came together to get the car back into good enough condition to load it on the trailer. It was the first major setback the team had had all season and it just served to make the team stronger.
Prior to the race at Watkins Glen the team had entered 5 cars into a HPDE being held one week before the race. The only problem was that the two new cars were not in race condition. Due to the HPDE being the weekend after the RA race and the weekend before the WG race the team needed to have someone go to the practice event early and work on the cars. I was asked to not only help at the practice but to also be one of the two people who would be getting the two new cars into racing shape and removing any usable items from the damaged car. It seems that all my hard work had not only made me a member of the team, but made me a highly trusted and important member of the race team. After the first race I was shown how much of an impact i have had on the team when the TC winning driver signed and presented me with his victory hat. Once again disaster struck in race 2, we had one car recieve race ending damage from on track contact and we had another car have an oil line fail causing the car to be retired from the race. Through it all the team grew closer and kept focusing on the next race and not letting the bad situations drag them down. I also discovered how important I had become to the team when we had a new mechanic asking other team members where to load stuff during pack up and the answer he kept receiving was “ask Dustin, he knows where it goes.”
During the event at Sebring I was yet again the only person responsible for all the tires and fuel for four cars. An unfortunate incident during qualifying led to our TC championship contending car being retired for the weekend. During the first race our remaining TC car began experiencing brake issues and retired early. What could have been a devastating blow to the team's hopes of a TC championship became a huge example of teamwork when our remaining TC driver gave his seat up to the TC points leader so he could make race 2. I was shown yet again how much my work was appreciated when I was given the opportunity to ride in the safety car for the GT4 sprint x race. I was also complimented by the team chief because we only had a very brief discussion about the tire strategy before the two test sessions and we did not need to have any other discussions that weekend, he mentioned that he has worked with tire guy with a lot more experience who wouldn’t have been able to accomplish his desires without having a lot more supervision.
The last event of the season was held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Even though we had two heavily damaged TC cars the team was able to field five cars. During the event the weather was ever changing, but I ensured that no matter the weather conditions all five cars would have tires ready for a wet or dry track. Our TC driver ended up securing the championship position despite strong pressure from the 2nd place car. After the race the team chief, driver, and car chief all thanked me and said they could not have done it without my help.
When I originally found out I was going to be retired I had no idea what I was going to do. With my medical issues I did not see any way that I could be a contributing member of any team. After the first event I realized that just being around motorsports and the teams with all the camaraderie could actually be helpful to my treatment plan. I began to stop worrying about whether I would be able to work and started thinking about what I would like to do for work. During the race weekend at Indy I approached two different race teams that had openings that I was interested in. One of our car chiefs introduced me to one of the drivers for a race team and gave me a glowing recommendation for the opening I was looking at applying for. This opportunity has opened up many doors that I thought would be closed until I was able to receive a lot more treatment for my medical issues. Instead of just making ends meet until I was in a better position medically I can now look forward to the possibility of a bright future in a field that I desire to work in and it would not have been possible without Operation Motorsports and the Skip Barber Race Team.
Every time I go to an event I receive such a warm welcome from the team and Hardpoint is no different. I received a text from Jason Leach and Chris Walsh asking if I was available to work in VIR for the IMSA race and after sorting some things out with work and receiving the ok from the wifey I was able to make it. I’m so glad I did!!
From the moment I arrived, Hardpoint welcomed me with open arms! Rob, Jason and the team immediately put me to work like I had been there the entire season. Such a smooth transition into working with Ashley on tires. Once I learned her quirks it was like we had been working together for years. The weekend went off without a hitch, yea we didn’t podium but the car and the team performed flawlessly and that’s a win in my book.
I hope I get the opportunity to work with them again. And any beneficiary who gets to work with them would be lucky. Many of the team members went out of there way to make me feel welcome and I truly appreciate that. Without them I wouldn’t have had as good a weekend that I did have.
This past weekend I was finally able to attend my first event as a member of a team. I honestly didn’t have any expectations or concerns, I just decided to go with the flow. Having loved auto racing for as long as I can remember, I had an idea of what my weekend would be like. If anything, I was excited to see how the weekend would go.
From the time I got there Friday night, I was helping inspect the cars since they just came off the track and prepping them for the race the next day. Working with Radical Canada, they had 7 cars running during the weekend which gave me plenty of opportunities to work and learn about the cars and how they are run. Sunday was a lesson in being flexible. Due to changing weather conditions all the cars had adjustments made so the cars could be better suited for the rain and standing water on the track.
In the military, I was a helicopter mechanic and during the weekend I found out motorsports and aviation have a lot of similarities. Everything has to be right; cars are inspected before they run and inspections are made after the race. Data is pulled from the cars and gone over to make sure the car had no issues. Basically, I got to do what I loved about being a helicopter crew chief over the weekend.
Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. It was hard work and long days, but I loved it. The team was so welcoming and eager to teach me or answer any questions I had.
Thank you, Robert Burgess, Richard Yin, and the entire Radical Canada team.
Thank you to FEL Motorsports for opening your doors and for your support of Operation Motorsport.
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