When I was in Indianapolis in December for the International Motorsports Industry Show, I got the chance one day to visit some of the team shops that are located in Brownsburg, Ind. Each one had its share of memorable features — the expansiveness and the state-of-the-art equipment at the John Force Racing shop is worth covering in a future column — but the thing that left the biggest impression on me was the parts and inventory room at Don Schumacher Racing that serves as a kind of Top Fuel retail store headed by Tommy Johnson Jr.
Basically, T.J. keeps supplies on hand that each of the seven nitro teams located within the 120,000-square-foot facility use a high volume of. The organization benefits in terms of productivity, cost savings, and convenience.
“It’s a parts store for Top Fuel and Funny Car,” said Johnson. “We manufacture a lot of our own parts, which I stock in the room. The other half of the room is for high-volume usage stuff. It’s all things we use in large quantities that the teams go through a lot, so I buy it in bulk and stock it on the shelves. I look for better pricing, better deals. I buy it in bulk and break it down into smaller items on the shelf for the teams to get when they need it.
“It saves money in two areas: It saves in the area of getting a cheaper price by buying in bulk, and it saves a lot of man power and time. Guys used to have to go to Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club to get supplies for the team, so every week they’d be out two or three hours at a time buying supplies and picking up stuff. Now, they come to my store at the shop, and I have everything they need in stock.”
Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster crewmember John Benshoof referred to the room as “T.J.Maxx” while I was there. It makes a great deal of sense for a team that size to have such a resource on-site, and John Force has recently hired an employee to do something similar.
“It’s something that really needed to be done and only a few of the teams can do on that level,” said Johnson. “When you have that many teams, you have to be able to have a good way of managing the volume of parts and supplies that they go through. Your resources for buying it are better. Instead of having each team buy everything, it makes more sense to combine everything.”
Johnson, who has won nine events as a driver in Top Fuel and Funny Car from 1993 to 2007 and would ultimately like to get back into the cockpit, is visible at the racetrack as the track specialist for DSR, but he spends most of his time in charge of purchasing at the shop. The job was created prior to the 2011 season when Schumacher saw an opportunity to rein in expenses for his ever-expanding operation while making better use of his employees’ time than searching for supplies at local retail stores.
“Don was really happy about the fact that we’re not losing productivity from a guy because he’s out for hours on end trying to find stuff,” said Johnson. “It’s all here. We’ve condensed a lot of things. Some teams were using this, some teams were using that, and we looked at it and said, ‘Hey, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. We’re going to buy it all from the same place and get a better price by buying it all in more quantity.'
“Last January, I didn’t have a ride for the season, and Don asked me to work for him, saying he had something he wanted me to take over and see if I could make it better," he added. "DSR had gotten so big so fast that this became an area that needed to be reined in. It started off with coming in and trying to consolidate where the teams were getting everything to get a better price on stuff. It grew from that to controlling the supply of new parts that we build and parts that we buy for the cars. I don’t do all the parts that we buy for the cars, but I handle anything in a large volume, like seals, some of the bearings that we use a lot of, things that we would normally order several times throughout the year. It just kept going from there.”
Johnson turned out to be the thorough and detail-oriented person needed for the job. He sometimes endures ribbing for how he keeps the shelves organized like that of a retail store down to having the labels on each product turned out toward the aisle.
When teams arrive at the shop after a race, Johnson interacts with a member from each team, usually the assistant crew chiefs, and simplifies the process of restocking the trailers that teams use as mobile race shops when they’re in the pits at each event.
“I print an inventory sheet for each team when they come home from a race and hand it out to every trailer,” Johnson explained. “The guys go through the cabinets; do some inventory on what they’re low on, what they need; and they mark it on the sheet. They bring the sheets to me and pull what they need off the shelves. I give the team an invoice for what they took, and they’re on their way. It streamlined the paperwork trails, everything.”
Johnson spends a significant portion of his time researching deals for items to buy in bulk. He has often found that some of the smallest items have helped him achieve the greatest savings over the course of a season.
“I spend a lot of my time doing research, like finding products, different people who sell it, where it comes from, who can get the best deal,” said Johnson. “I can tell you for a fact that it has cut some huge costs. For instance, one item we go through a lot of are paper towels. I was able to knock $0.10-$0.12 off the price of a roll of towels. We use 40,000 rolls of the one towel in a season, so that adds up to an annual savings of $4,000-$5,000. You take that times all the savings you use.
“It’s funny. Probably the biggest savings of one item we use at each purchase that’s about $2,000 cheaper to buy as a bulk item than a one-at-a-time item is the toilet chemical for the toilets in the trailers," he added. "That was one of the biggest savings I found. We buy it by the 55-gallon drum now instead of buying the bottle at the store. You start adding that stuff up and go, ‘Holy cow.’ I didn’t realize what kind of gains I could make doing this.”
Being able to monitor the rate that each of the seven teams go through items has given T.J. the opportunity to compare and contrast them and find ways for each team to operate more efficiently.
“It’s an inventory control system, too,” said Johnson. “Teams sometimes don’t realize how much of one product they’re actually going through. If there is a certain item that one team uses an excessive amount of, we can find it by looking at a spreadsheet. If we have one team that’s out of balance with the rest, we try to figure out why. It kind of keeps everybody in check. I work closely with the assistant crew chiefs because they generally do all of the ordering of parts. Toward the end of the season last year, I gave each team reports with highlighted areas and asked why they were high on certain items or asking why they weren’t using certain items that we have on the shelf.”
T.J. has eyed ways to further improve and expand his role at DSR by organizing the purchasing for other areas of the company and possibly opening up their shop to pass the savings along to other teams located in the area.
“It seems like every time I turn around, there’s another area of the company that we’re looking at trying to improve, like office supplies, janitorial supplies, etc.,” said Johnson. “Office supplies are something we incorporated this last winter. I’ve also moved into the hospitality side of things ordering stuff for them.”
In the meantime, T.J. has made sure to make his job as simple as possible for someone else to take over for when an opportunity to drive again arises.
“I want to race,” said Johnson. “What I’m doing isn’t my passion, but I do enjoy it. My long-term goal is not to be doing this; it’s to be back in the seat. All along the way, I made it as simple as possible so someone else can take over the reins when I’m ready to go back to racing.”