Words and photographs by Jack Webster
With the opening round of the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship coming up
shortly with the running of the Rolex 24, I could not help but reminisce about my experiences
working for a race team back in the day and pay tribute to the new generation of crewmembers
who are about to embark on their quest for victory at Daytona. They are all about to make
memories that will last a lifetime.
Been there, done that. It reads better than it lives. Work expands to meet time allotted. Lord,
don’t let me (f—) screw up. Those are just a few of the apt descriptions of what it is like to be a
crewman on a sports car (or any racing) team.
Being a crewman on a race team is something you can look back on with pride, recalling and cherishing the camaraderie
I know. That’s exactly what I did in the 1980s on the Porsche Fabcar Camel Light prototypes in
the IMSA Camel GT Series. Overnight sessions in the shop before heading to the races were
followed by countless all-night sessions at the track fixing a race car that had been damaged in
an off-track excursion in practice. Or that wouldn’t handle properly. Or go any faster. Regardless
of the changes we would make. Or trying to figure out why that engine suddenly had a misfire
that it didn’t have back at the shop. We didn’t complain. We were focused, dedicated and
single minded in our goal of getting our car and drivers to the finish line…regardless of what it
I can recall quite vividly, running the 24 Hours of Daytona for the first time with the Fabcar
Porsche in 1987 (back then known as the SunBank 24). We were so focused and so intense! Our
first pit stops during the race seemed like a Formula One or an IndyCar stop – everyone
rushing around, changing tires, fueling the car, cleaning the windscreen – then the car being
revved to the redline before tearing out of the pits to rejoin the fray. It was the stuff of dreams
– an out of body experience. Of course, by the ninth or tenth stop we were much more, shall I say,
“calm” about the pit stops. The stops were still focused, professional and quick, just not as
frantic as the first ones.
In a long race, things settle down into a predictable rhythm. Everyone on our crew was convinced that leaving the pits at all during the 24 hours was certain
to bring on “bad luck”, so we never left the pits – other than to walk to the fence bordering the
area behind the actual pit to grab what was one of countless cigarettes consumed during the
race (hey, it was the 1980s and Camel supplied us with all we wanted!). There we would discuss
our strategy, check out lap charts to see where we stood on the leaderboard (no computers
back then), who we were chasing for position (or who was chasing us), who would drive next
(and if they were “fit” enough), and occasionally talk to our driver on the radio to see how the
car was running (when the damn radios worked, for in the 1980s they seemed to fail quite
often). Today, if you stroll behind the pit wall in the middle of the night or in the wee hours of
the morning you will see that the new generation of crew members are keeping up the
tradition of staying in the pits for the duration, albeit likely without the smokes. Staying up and
focused for 36+ hours requires a lot of endurance and dedication to one’s craft.
At 3am, you will find the inevitable scenes of crewmen grabbing a catnap, while another crewman has drawn a chalk outline around him like at a murder scene. Modern crews are still in possession of a wry sense of humor – just like we had those many years ago.
The cost to the crew was measured in bloodied knuckles, burnt and bruised arms and a fatigue
that was difficult to put into words. More often than not, back at the shop, we would be
washing down cold pizza with even colder beer when preparing to hit the road for the next
race. However, truth be told, it was an honor to do what we did, for very few people did or
could do what we could do, and all these years removed from those adventures makes one long
to go back in time and do it all over again. Being a crewman on a race team is one of those
things that you can look back on with pride, remembering all the ups and downs, victories and
defeats, but most of all recalling and cherishing the camaraderie of that small “Band of
Brothers” – the crew guys, tire guys, mechanics, truck drivers – both from our team and our
competitors’ teams – everyone who shared the incredible journey with us. Probably the main
thing that has changed from my day to the present is that this “Band of Brothers” now includes
“sisters” as well – and deservedly so.
One can make a direct comparison to bomber ground crewmen in World War II waiting for their
B-17s to return from their latest combat mission. The exhilaration of seeing your plane coming
back for a landing, beat up and damaged, or the anguish of it not showing up at all, directly
relates to motorsport. The crews in the pits and paddock ride with their drivers on every lap,
cheer on their on-track successful passes and despair at their off-track excursions that result in
a cut down tire – or worse. The crew literally lives and dies, waiting for the car to complete each
lap and with each pit stop that is (hopefully) executed quickly and flawlessly.
It is no different today. Things are no doubt a lot more sophisticated, more technical and
complex than they were back in my day (or even earlier), but only the faces and names have
changed among the crew members. I look at them today and see a younger version of the same
guys who worked on our team, people who worked their butts off, who sacrificed time with
family and friends to be a part of that thing that was so important to us – being a member of a
race team, and contributing to its success.
Some things never change, and I am grateful for those things that remain the same, the things
that keep that connection to the past alive. Seeing the current crop of dedicated crew members
working on their cars brings back great memories and gives me the satisfaction of knowing that
they are doing the same hard work that we once did and like us, they will someday look back on
those great experiences with pride and smile, just as I and my brothers do today.
So, if you are going to Daytona for the Rolex 24 and are watching the crews doing their prep,
setting up the pits, or working on fixing a wrecked race car take time to say hello and thank
them for all that they do. Without their dedication and hard work, there would be no racing,
there would be no Rolex 24.
It may be the drivers who get the trophy, Rolex watches and the glory in Victory Lane, but it is
the efforts of the crewmen (and women) who literally carried that car on their backs to get
Hats off to you all.