Holidays Just the Calm Before the Storm at JRM

Ron Lemasters | JR Motorsports | 12/13/2017

News

The shop floor at JR Motorsports remains busy, but it’s a different kind of busy in the weeks following the company’s annexation of the top three finishing positions in the NASCAR Xfinity Series point standings.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Dec. 13, 2017) – The shop floor at JR Motorsports remains busy, but it’s a different kind of busy in the weeks following the company’s annexation of the top three finishing positions in the NASCAR Xfinity Series point standings.

Cars are moving around the 66,000-square-foot shop, lining up at various spots to receive new parts, repairs or other services. Personnel from the fabrication shop and the suspension room are busy, getting a head start on the 2018 season, and the week-to-week equipment—pit boxes, fuel cans, transporters and the like—are being disassembled, repaired where needed and assembled anew.

It’s the calm before the storm, and that zephyr will break before you know it.

In the meantime, there is a small window where the road crews and teams can sit back a little, ease up off the throttle and rest, savoring the company’s second NXS title in four seasons.

It’s the first time since last January, really, that the team has had some time to stop, look around and get after the things that need to be done before it all starts again. Steve Rasmussen, a 20-year veteran of the NASCAR grind and the team’s shock specialist, is already looking toward Daytona.

“We got everything off the haulers, got everything off every shock and all back in the shock room and started going through it all,” he said of the inventory the teams finished the season on. “This week, actually, I’m starting to think about Daytona. I was trying to put it off until the end of the year, but I can’t. I’ll work the rest of this week, use a week of vacation next week, because these are the only two consecutive weeks you can even consider taking off.

“Come the first of the year, we’ll start getting ready for Daytona and right after that, California. You’ve got to catch up with the family. This is the time that we make up for all the time we missed during the year. We’re going to do all the things that most people do during the summer, go to Disney, visit the family...”

Billy Wilburn, car chief on Justin Allgaier’s No. 7 BRANDT Professional Agriculture Camaro, was looking forward to the time away.

“I’m going to take my time off and so are most of the guys,” he said. “It would be a better break if we could actually have rules to go by and cars to work on and starting to prepare in December. We are preparing, we are doing some things. The main thing is the time off. You need to get away from this. We went four weeks longer than a whole football season without a weekend off, so somebody needs to get on top of that. It’s ridiculous.”

For his part, Wilburn has his time off already scheduled. “I’m going to the rodeo in Las Vegas, spend time with the family for Christmas and go to the beach for New Year’s.”

Allgaier, fresh off a third-place finish in the season points, said that the offseason for drivers can be as taxing as the regular season in many ways.

“The biggest part for me is trying to finish all the things you don’t have time for during the season, but also too, we do a lot for team, sponsors, family, friends...there’s a lot of stuff that goes on where you’re probably as busy during the offseason as you are during the season," he said. "For me, the big keys are to not let the holidays catch up with you too much, stay in shape and be ready to go when it comes to Daytona."

It's family time as well for the Illinois native.

"I try to spend about a week where you separate from everything that is going on and really focus on family, spend time with my wife and daughter and close family, make sure they get the time that they deserve.”

In the suspension room, where all of the car’s underpinnings are prepared, maintained and groomed, Danny Earnhardt Sr., Tony Barclay and Billy Taylor will keep a steady pace.

“It’s about the time to get ready for next year, but then you keep running into problems,” Earnhardt Sr. said. “Something gets to its mileage limit, or you see something you can improve, cataloguing stuff, checking over stuff, doing this, doing that...It’s busy, and then when you think you’re caught up, there’s a change and you have to do it all again.

“Jan. 2 is going to come and then it’s going to be on.”

Mike Bumgarner, the race operations manager at JRM, has organizational worries to contend with in making sure JRM’s fleet of cars is ready for the season.

“We’re in a changeover mode with the flange-fit body,” he said. “We’re still waiting on some last-minute rules from NASCAR, they’ve got some different template procedures going on. We’ll visit the (NASCAR) Tech Center and go through a lot of their options on what to do with the bodies, their parameters for what they’re asking. We’re going through parts and pieces, and hopefully they don’t change a lot of things.”

A season which saw a record 136 starts for JRM’s five-car team took its toll on the parts and pieces the team has at its disposal, he said.

“A full season...it’s a lot of wear and tear,” he said. “That’s why we have mileage numbers that we try to achieve, and we lean on Hendrick Motorsports for those parts and pieces. We’ll cycle things out.”

Getting away from the day-to-day grind is vital, Bumgarner said, and he should know. He’s done it all during his 20-plus years in motorsports.

“I have done this for 20 years, and I know what it’s like,” he said. “If any of these guys have time off, I don’t want to see them here. It’s important to get time away. It’s more important to get that time, because come Jan. 2, here we go again. We’re going to try to do this next season on less cars than we had this season. We’ll just have to see how it works out. The road-course season is longer, lasting to October, so that kind of stretches us out in terms of parts and pieces. We’re aiming at 29 cars for this year, but it could be 37. This last season, we dressed out 50 cars total, so we’ll see where it winds up.”

Crew chiefs are not immune to the pressures faced by all the shop folks, either.

“The guys are working hard on reorganizing our equipment, rebuilding our tool box, making it more functional,” said Jason Stockert, crew chief for the No. 5 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet driven by Michael Annett. It’s the newest of JRM’s four full-time teams, and was not even completely staffed at this time last year. That’s what Stockert is working on right now, getting his group together for the coming season.

“The overall push for me this year is putting a group together that will be even better than what we had last year,” he said. “After we got knocked out of the playoffs, we revamped the way we did things on the 5 team. The last four or five weeks (of the season) had a different mindset and we were strong enough to overcome whatever came at us.”

Waiting for NASCAR rules and regulations is the next step, he said. “We try to evaluate what the changes are going to be, what is changing and we’re waiting on some chances to test things for ’18.”

Kelly Kellis, one of the shop mechanics, had different priorities for the “break.”

“This time isn’t any busier than it normally is, but I am looking forward to getting some time off,” he said. “I have to finish moving into a new house, get all that organized. It’s a good time to do it, since we’ll be hard at work once the new year comes in.”

One of the groups that is hard at work even over the holiday break is the marketing and licensing team, led by VP of Marketing Joe Mattes.

“From a licensing perspective, we’re working with all our partners and the HMS partners on 2018 paint schemes,” he said. “We’re getting projections from Fanatics and all of our retailers, getting all that product ready for Daytona. It amplifies for us in December and January. I laugh when people say, ‘man, it’s your offseason.’

“With licensing, as with racing, there is no offseason. There is no spring training. It’s always full-tilt. The biggest part of the offseason...I would say July is offseason. For us, it’s time to put the hay in the barn. What happens is, you get a car designed, you get it going through the system and making product, and there are tweaks and tweaks and more tweaks. We have running changes and it’s never-ending. It’s the nature of our sport. Fortunately, the team here at JRM is experienced and has dealt with it.

“These curveballs that keep coming just start to look like regular pitches.”

It might seem like it’s a slow time of year at JRM, but looks often are deceiving. There’s plenty of activity going on inside the JRM campus, but nothing compared to the hammer-down push that will lead to another NASCAR Xfinity Series season on the track.

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • February 17 03:00 PM ET
    POWERSHARES QQQ 300Daytona International Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Ford EcoBoost 300

Homestead-Miami Speedway | 11/18/2017
RankDriverPointsBehind
1William Byron # (P)40340
2Elliott Sadler (P)4029-5
3Justin Allgaier (P)4025-9
4Daniel Hemric # (P)4003-31
5Cole Custer #2288-1746
6Brennan Poole2223-1811
7Matt Tifft #2211-1823
8Ryan Reed2161-1873
9Michael Annett2155-1879