Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne are pushing 2,000 miles on their wiiings as another team of elite drivers has begun racking up the miles heading west.
Jim Gilbert and Gary Clem drive the No. 4 hauler, Mike Williams and Donnie Clark the No. 83. Together, they will travel some 5,000 miles round trip — about one-fifth of the way around the Earth — in roughly 84 hours as they transport the Red Bull Toyotas to suburban SoCal and the Inland Empire and back.
For those envisioning NASCAR hauler drivers flying down America’s interstates like a scene straight out of “Smoky and the Bandit,” think again. Driving a hauler, often times referred to as a transporter, is a craft developed over years of experience and miles on the road.
“We have been doing this for years so you become accustomed to life on the road,” said Gilbert, 52, who has been with Red Bull Racing Team since 2007. “Even our families are used to us being on the road. They understand there will be times we may be away from home weeks at a time.”
LONG, STRANGE TRIP
In what is considered the worst stretch of the season — the trip to southern California comes off recent trips to Phoenix and Las Vegas — the 80,000-pound haulers carrying two drivers each will leave Tuesday morning and arrive in Fontana, Calif., late Wednesday evening, allowing no time for site seeing. They won’t be stopping at Graceland to pay tribute to Elvis or to snap a shot of the World’s Largest Totem Pole in Oklahoma.
There’s no dining at fancy restaurants, either. Instead, drivers do the old “grab-and-go” during their three fuel stops and driver change.
That’s it. Three stops. It is indeed a beeline from the shop in Mooresville, N.C., to the track in Fontana.
The drivers all agree that it’s safer to be moving. “Get the equipment where it needs to be and in one piece,” Gilbert said. “You stand a greater chance of an accident happening being parked at the truck stops than you do driving down the road.”
For those of you who aren’t thrilled about gas prices, how would you like to fill up a 300-gallon tank and dropping a staggering $900-$1,000 each fill-up? And the tank takes 30 minutes just to fill up.
As for grabbing a night’s rest at the Holiday Inn, the only bed these guys sleep in is a bunk located in the semi that’s barely 6-feet wide. Gilbert stands 6-foot-5 and makes it works by sticking his feet into the storage compartment — not exactly the most comfortable way to sleep. "It's something you just have to get used to. You feel the rhythm of the road and are aware of everything," Gilbert said. "You really force yourself to sleep."
Like your kids passing the time on a long road trip, drivers keep themselves entertained in similar fashion. They spend time chatting with other truckers on the CB or scanning their favorite channels on satellite radio. If they aren't sleeping in the bunk, they might be relaxing to some music on their MP3 players.
WAKE ME UP WHEN WE'RE THERE
Hauler drivers must follow strict regulations set by the Department of Transportation.
The DOT allows a driver to be behind the wheel no more than 11 hours with 10 hours in the bunk during a 24-hour period. So when one drives, the other sleeps. The guys realize the responsibility they have in ensuring that everyone and everything arrives safely.
“We can’t afford to risk our livelihood,” Gilbert said. “If we need to stop and stretch we do. You just have to use common sense.”
Once they arrive some 42 hours after departing, the drivers will finally get the rest they deserve, if only for a short period.
When the teams arrive at the track Friday morning, you won’t find the truck drivers relaxing by the hotel pool. Instead they can be found right there with the rest of the team. While at-track responsibilities vary amongst the drivers, they typically can be seen setting up equipment, running fuel and lending the team a hand with whatever they hectic schedule may bring.
Once the race weekend concludes, teams begin flying back to North Carolina; that is everyone except the truck drivers. Once the haulers are locked and loaded, drivers will make the return trip home, some 2500 miles. However, guys will have little time for rest. After returning to Mooresville, drivers have a day to catch up with family, before jumping back behind the wheel Thursday as they travel to Martinsville.
TRANSPORTATION FACTS AND FIGURES
- AVERAGE MILES PER YEAR: 70,000
- COST PER SET OF TIRES: $7,500.00 (so don’t complain the next time you put a new set on you ride.)
- MAXIMUM WEIGHT ALLOWED: 80,000 pounds
- DIESEL FUEL USED PER YEAR PER TRUCK: 14,000 gallons
- COST OF DIESEL FUEL PER YEAR: $52,500.00 per truck (OUCH!)
Follow Red Bull Racing Team on Twitter: @RedBullNASCAR.