Racing Beat

| April 11, 2005

Pictured at the Talladega Superspeedway, Rick Johnson (left) and Jack Kurtzner haul Ryan Newman’s car and equipment to Nextel Cup races.

PIT CRUISERS
Hauling for NASCAR star Ryan Newman gets these drivers plenty of attention

Truckers Jack Kurtzner and Rick Johnson admit they have a dream haul that pays well, gives them access to some of the coolest equipment on the road (and off) and a front-row seat to one of America’s most popular sports.

But that doesn’t mean their job hauling rising NASCAR star Ryan Newman’s gear and cars around is without its challenges. Remembering, for example, which of your driver’s racing uniforms is the correct one can be challenging when they are all black.

“We forgot the trophies once, too,” Johnson says.

All kidding aside, Kurtzner and Johnson are two key personnel on the ALLTEL/Mobil1 racing team that finished in the top 10 in the 2004 Nextel Cup – amassing more than $6 million in winnings – and appears headed to another successful season in 2005. Their job is more than pulling a load of auto parts, cars and equipment from race track to race track. They are the packers, organizers and team members for one of racing’s hottest young drivers.

Each week the team loads the truck with motors, gears and all the parts (right down to the uniforms) necessary for the next race. There are 36 races each year, and the duo is responsible for getting gear to those races as well as all the tracks the team tests on in the course of a season.

“The easiest part of our job is driving,” Kurtzner says. “We have a checklist we go through, and it changes depending on the race. Road course races require extra stuff, for example.

“Our job is to put everything in the truck we’re going to need,” Johnson says. After each race, they return to the team’s headquarters in North Carolina and unpack the truck. During the races, the pair helps support the pit crew, running for tires, among other jobs. They don’t go over the wall when Newman’s Dodge is in the pits, but their work is essential to the team’s success.

The job comes with some fairly substantial perks. Each team member – “even the janitor,” Kurtzner says – receives a portion of Newman’s winnings. Last year, the team had a banner year, winning two Nextel races and eight poles. The team also finished in the top 10 of more than a dozen races and earned $6,354,000. Other perks usually include a nice hotel room when Johnson and Kurtzner arrive at a race site, although they occasionally use their 2004 Freightliner Coronado.

They interact with truckers on the road, giving out hats and other ALLTEL/Mobil 1 gear. For their part, truckers constantly ask them questions about Newman and their job. “Most want to know, ‘How do you get that job?’” Johnson says.

The answer to that question is fairly easy: who you know helps. Kurtzner, originally from New York, is a truck driving veteran who hauled groceries for 20 years for the same company his father drove for. He got to know the late John Nemecheck hanging around his Craftsman Truck Series Team. Johnson, who is from Maine, got his NASCAR start driving a motorcoach for NASCAR magnate and team owner Ray Evernham. A friend who worked with another team passed along Johnson’s name.

Other popular trucker questions: “‘Is Ryan in there? Is the crew in the back?’” Kurtzner says. “It’s like they just got back from watching ‘Days of Thunder.’ Those people fly to races.”

Kurtzner and Johnson are already back on the road hauling Newman’s gear from track to track. For his part Newman is back in the spotlight with a top-10 finish after just two races of the season and a top-15 Nextel Cup ranking. 2005 looks like another banner year for the team.
Sean Kelley

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