Since the action at the Darlington track doesn't really start til tomorrow we traveled to the Hendrickson Motor Sports complex to learn about a family and company that has been involved with NASCAR since before there really was a NASCAR. The original Mr. Hendrickson won some races in the 1940's and he used the proceeds to build a garage where he and his crew developed and innovated race cars. Business must have been good; today Hendrickson Motors is a huge complex of buildings filled with mechanics and designers. Because we were here with a large group, we got a special behind the scenes tour. Wherever we saw cars with their hoods open and cars that had not been completely painted, photography was forbidden - a reminder of how competitive this industry is. Each building had collections of winning cars in the foyer and show cases full of trophies and the uniforms worn by the winning drivers in those races. I was impressed by how neat and clean the garages were. You could have cooked a meal on the floor. Each mechanic/technician was garbed in matching attire - kind of a garage drill team.
I have a hard time looking at the cars. Because they are so covered with decals, I end up reading them, rather than paying attention to the car itself. The advertisers who are paying between $500 and $2500 for each small decal on the car must love people like me. The placement of the decals is closely regulated as is most other aspects of car production. The decals must not obscure the large numerals on the side since it is the job of someone in the stands to log each lap a car is driven manually as a back up to all the mechanized and computerized systems that really do this job.
Hendrickson manufactures all the parts of all the cars it produces by hand on site and is unique in that regard. They are in turmoil at the moment since they are producing "The Car of Tomorrow" in addtion to the style of car that has been used in these races of the last few years. The Car of Tomorrow is designed to maximize safety, cost efficiency and competition. NASCAR supplies a template to the manufacturers and the cars must conform exactly to these templates on the exterior. However, because tracks vary greatly in length and the tightness of the turns, crews fine tune the cars for each individual race.
The Darlington track is especially challenging because it is not a true oval; turns are tighter on one end than the other. The original creator of this track back in the 1940's did not want it to interfere with his favorite fishing pond nearby and made the oval thinner near the pond. He was inspired to build the track after a visit to Indy, but priorities are priorities. I saw a quote from a driver here who said you can move from the outside wall to the apron without moving your steering wheel. NASCAR tracks vary greatly in size and shape, which is part of what makes each race such a challenge to the drivers.