By Mike Henle
There are countless unsung heroes at any auto racing event throughout the country.
From individuals in charge of handling everything from the media to the race cars, there’s an incredible level of teamwork that goes into each team.
However, the transport drivers may be at the top of the list of those pieces of the puzzle that are key components to total success in the highly competitive NASCAR Monster series that finds drivers competing from east to west and from north to south.
From the winter weather that challenges transport drivers each year as truckers go from Daytona to Las Vegas in March – not to mention dealing with basic issues on the road – there can be no argument that NASCAR truck drivers hauling colorful trailers undoubtedly dodge their share of challenges en-route to race tracks all over the country.
No matter what their pay, hauler drivers are definitely worth their weight in gold, especially to the competitors who count on their services throughout the year; and God forbid that any of them run into a snag be it because of weather, traffic accidents or road conditions.
Whether it’s selling advertising each week or tackling the challenges of driving the hauler, there are challenges.
In fact, long-time racing writer Bob Pockrass quoted Las Vegas driver Brendan Gaughan, who said, “The toughest job in the sport is the one that more people say; “Oh, I could do that or I want to do that.
“Truck driver is the toughest job in the sport. It’s not just getting the truck from here to there, there’s so much (more) to driving a big rig in our sport.”
Drivers leave early and then return late. They’re responsible for everything from the car(s) to the tools and the rest. And God forbid one of the drivers is on the road only to discover that he may be facing personal issues. Every trip has a deadline, and in the case of Las Vegas, hauler parades draw thousands, so you’d better know where you’re going.
In the case of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there is no such thing as a lazy event. In the case of LVMS, there are countless gatherings to attend and special presentations such as the burnout contest on the Las Vegas Strip that requires intense planning and coordination of hotels and the Metropolitan Police Department for everything from planning to tear-down.
In a nutshell, scheduling a trip to Las Vegas is not intended for relaxation. It’s a giant business trip unlike any other stop on the NASCAR Monster circuit – and those attending had better be ready for a Mach I-like experience, as countless puzzles are assembled to fulfill the promise that the show will be one that visitors will never forget.
No matter what the requirement, transport drivers are involved in one fashion or another. Their trailers await them with impressive quarters that certainly aren’t bad at all considering that they’re homes-on-wheels.
Also interesting is the personalities of the men behind the wheel. While their jobs with particular teams can be – and probably are – sometimes tense, drivers also carry fascinating personalities in their own little world that seemingly changes from one stop to another.
Transporter drivers are the first ones to arrive and the last ones so to leave. They do this for 38 weeks out of the year, so their dedication is enormous.
In fact, the business of hauler drivers is so intense that trucks compete against one another each year. In the case of Michael Gaughan’s South Point Racing, the team hauler carries the engines and the cars; and it’s impressive enough to also generate first-class meals and sleeping quarters.
On a day when the temperature soared to 134 degrees in race cars, survival was a must for the haulers and the crew members. As usual, members of the team responded with preparations for meals and fuel for the race vehicle.
This particular day was not one for auto racing because of the heat, but employees and friends still cranked out the necessary foods and beverages. NASCAR drivers and their crews are quick to react to needed help.
In this world, there is no time to complain. Instead, race teams accept challenges to provide necessary ingredients.
You see, auto racing is a team effort. Nothing is perfect but everyone gets along primarily because ever challenge is met with a plan; whether talking about a pit stop or the next journey to another NASCAR track.
Hauler drivers accept their assignments on a weekly basis. In fact, when they’re done with Las Vegas, drivers packed up the team’s belongings and headed cross country for the next week’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup showdown in Martinsville, Va., about 2,300 miles from Las Vegas.
Hauler drivers are probably the most dedicated souls on earth. They leave home before the rest of the crew, and for the most part, they’re still cleaning up long after the checkered flag has been dropped.
Martin Truex, Jr., won the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sept. 15 and you can bet that some of the haulers were headed for Martinsville early in another chapter of the NASCAR Traveling Road Show.
Between the NASCAR and Infinity classes, the road show sees more than 70 haulers going from one end of the country to the other.
Among the many team members that follow the NASCAR circuit while driving the haulers thousands of miles during a month’s time is Mark Ellis who drives the hauler for William Byron Racing.
Ellis’ role with William Byron Racing is multi-faceted. The 32-year-old native of Utica, N.Y., is on the road from February to November driving the team’s hauler.
“We put up to close to 65,000 miles every year,” said Ellis. “I grew up racing go-karts as a young kid. Eventually, you have to choose your path. I went to two technical colleges and got an associate’s degree in automotive and diesel technology and added high-performance engine building.
“That transpired to the second degree I got at Sam Tech for high performance engine building and machining.
‘I consider myself as an engine building specialist,” he said. “I have built everything from top to bottom.”
Ellis, the team’s hauler transporter driver, said the profession is time-consuming, but he would not change his path for anything.
“It definitely is pretty life consuming. You put everything into this. We leave directly after the race is over. We have to get prepared for the next race. I also own a pressure-washing business, so there’s no slowdown. We’re hoping that this will be the best year of my life.
“I have been blessed and have also worked for some of the best drag racers. We’re always looking forward.”
Ellis also praised the team at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for an excellent effort.
“I thought everything went great,” he said. “It’s a busy schedule, and we had a great turnout. I looked up in the stands, and it was very good.”
Ellis also praised the officials at LVMS for the burnout contest.
Ellis’ schedule also includes a pressure washing business (finishlinewashpros.com).
“I’m blessed to have received great opportunities from the Good Lord and Mr. Hendrick,” he said.
Editor’s Note: Mike Henle is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He writes about automobile racing, real estate and the automobile industry.