Features

Warming up, in more ways than oneMonday, January 13, 2014
Posted by: Tommy Johnson Jr., Chandler/DSR Racing

Wow, the weather, right? I'm sure you've all heard about – or been part of – the major winter storm we had last week here in the United States. Boy, it was something, and that's the kind of weather I remember from when I was a kid growing up in Iowa. I haven't seen it like that in years.

The day before the storm hit, I had a chance to go to the Colts game with Will Truitt from DSR. It was great; we tailgated before the game and the game itself was probably one of the best that I've gone to at the new Lucas Oil stadium. I had a lot of fun. It was kind of interesting, too, because we were seated in a section that only had a couple of rows to it but after chitchatting with the man and his wife who were next to us, we found out that he was a drag racer who had recently moved to Indy. It was their first Colts game. We ended up sharing pictures of our racecars that we each had on our phones, and I think we've made a new fan. He says he's going to come to the U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in September to see us. That was pretty neat.

I'm really glad I got to make it to that game because I've been so darn busy that it's about the only thing outside of working or traveling that I've been able to do all winter. Our team is about ready to head down with the other Don Schumacher Racing cars to West Palm for the Winter Warm-Up, the annual pre-season test session for the nitro cars down in Florida. I get home from testing a week from Sunday, and I fly back out again Monday to do another shoot for Performance TV and the Velocity Channel. We're about to wrap up the show for the year – it runs from October to March, and we'll start filming again in September right after Indy.

Back to the weather – I went to the grocery store as soon as it started snowing on Sunday morning. I don't normally get groceries because I'm really not home enough, but I thought I better get there so at least I could survive. I bought stuff to make chili, picked up some frozen pizzas and got some drinks. That's all you need to survive, right?

It got brutally cold out, and I shoveled off and on all day on Sunday trying to keep up with the snow as it came down. I was doing a really good job until Sunday night when the winds picked up and drifted it. I spent most of Monday in the house, looking outside and praying that my heat wouldn't quit. It was strange to stay inside and to look out there and not see a single person stirring. It was very different.

I tried to keep busy, watched a little TV and did a few of those jobs that you always put off. At one point I decided that I had better shovel the drifts in front of the garage so I could get out when I needed to. To keep warm, I wore my head sock that I wear under my helmet, and it actually worked very well. I shoveled a little bit, but you really couldn't stay out too long. Tuesday wasn't much better, but I had to venture out and head to the shop.

Everyone was off on Monday, just a few stragglers made it, but on Tuesday everyone was there despite the weather. The DSR shop was full. I walked in and went, "What's everybody doing here?" All of the guys on the team are that dedicated. They understand that that's just the way racing is. You do whatever it takes.

Usually during the off-season, everybody works close to a regular 8-5 at a steady pace to get things done, but when we lost Monday because of the weather, it became a "work until you get it done" week. The team put in a lot of extra hours, and there was some added stress with packages that were supposed to be delivered Monday not showing up until Wednesday or Thursday because of the weather. Thankfully, it all worked out – but for a while there were a lot of extra hours, a lot of worrying, and some nervousness about getting everything done in time for the trucks to leave on Sunday. They worked very hard, and on Friday, the guys were just finishing up and getting ready to load our second car into the trailer at around 5pm when I was leaving, so hopefully that means they all got to spend Saturday with their families before we leave for West Palm.

The last time we tested was in December, and we only took one car that time. This second car has a brand new front half on it, and that was one of the main things the guys were working on this week, getting the spare car finished and put back together after being front-halved. This time we're going testing with two cars, and we plan to run both. We'll spend a couple of days with the car we ran in December, and then we'll switch over and make some runs on the second car. When we leave testing, we should have two cars that are ready to go.

December was a real test session for our team where we were able to try a lot of different things. This time around will be a little different. It's still very much a test session, and there are things we want to continue with from the December test. But a lot of testing, especially this time, is for the team. The guys are working out a routine on servicing and making sure they're up to speed for a quick turnaround. A lot of teams will make certain changes like adding new toolboxes or changing how things are set up in the pits. Now is the time to get everyone used to everything so that they can do their job quickly and as best they can once Pomona rolls around. This is an opportunity to get everyone back in the swing of things, and it's almost like starting over again. It'll be great for me to get back in the Funny Car, for the guys to get back into their routines, and for all of us to continue what we started testing in December. The goal is to get to Pomona and pick up like the team never let off.

At the end of the day, this test session is also for a little bit of bragging rights – there will be one car that makes the quickest run, and although the guys who don't run very well will tell you this test session isn't a competition, the guys who do run well will tell you different. On Friday and Saturday they pair the cars up, and that gives you a little bit of practice, too. It's a whole lot different running a single than having somebody in the other lane, and that gets you back into the routine as well.

I'm really looking forward to this week. Our team owner, Terry Chandler, is planning to be there, and it will be nice to get to see her again and have everyone all together. Pre-season testing, throughout my career, has always been one of my favorite times of the year. I missed it almost as much as I missed the racing sometimes. I've been looking forward to this for the last few years. There is something very special about it.

I'm very excited about everything that this year has in store for me and for this team. Since I found out last year that I would be driving this car, the excitement that I've shown has been somewhat tempered. I wasn't giddy or jumping up and down, I guess you could say, I was more in the "let's do it" frame of mind, and some people have mistaken that for me not being excited. But the truth is that I'm very excited, and as it's getting closer and actually beginning to materialize, that feeling of excitement about what's going to happen is really creeping up on me. It's time. Now it's time to do this.

That's it for now. I'll try to check in with you from West Palm. Everyone have a great week.

 
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