Off to the races

Getting to the track is only part of the job of NASCAR haulers

Dean Mozingo, bound for Indianapolis, pulls onto Interstate 85 in Concord, N.C., just past midnight. Unlike most truckers on the highway at this late hour, he garners a great deal of attention as he navigates the sparse traffic before coming upon a 10-minute backup at a construction zone.

For Mozingo, it’s impossible to remain anonymous. After all, his rig is a rolling billboard for probably the most famous NASCAR driver on the Sprint Cup circuit — Jeff Gordon. His No. 24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont transporter is loaded with two race cars, backup engines and at least one spare part for anything and everything that could possibly be needed by the crew on race day.

When Mozingo has his CB turned on, he is sure to get a lot of comments and questions from fellow truckers.

For NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon to be competitive in the upper echelon of the Sprint Cup Series, he must be backed by a good racing team. A key member of that team is Dean “Squirrel” Mozingo, who not only transports Gordon’s race cars and other essential race-day equipment, but plays a vital role in his other duties, including being an ambassador for Hendrick Motorsports to the many fans he encounters along the highways.

“Probably the most-asked question I get is, ‘How do I get a job doing what you’re doing?’” Mozingo says. “I also get questions like ‘Is Jeff in there with you?’”

Curious truckers and others often approach Mozingo whenever he pulls into a truckstop for fuel or to take a needed break. Though he has fielded the same inquires thousands of times during his 15-year career as a NASCAR hauler, Mozingo patiently and graciously takes the time to answer the questions.

“If I take 10 minutes to talk to someone, he may become a Jeff Gordon fan,” Mozingo says. “If I’m rude, [Gordon] may lose a fan.”

Mozingo says he feels he has an obligation to represent three different entities — trucking, his race team and the sponsors — in a positive light. “I am a trucker, and I’m proud of that,” he says. “I also work for a great team that has sponsors who pay a lot of money to have their names on the side of my truck.”

Fellow transporter drivers like Jeff Craven, who hauls the Caterpillar-sponsored No. 31 car of Jeff Burton on the Richard Childress Racing team, understand the interest from other truckers. Though race fans may follow a transporter for 50 miles or more just to get a good picture of the eye-catching trucks and trailers, many truckers find the job compelling.

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“Truckers will ask you where you are going even when they know where you are going just so they can talk to you,” Craven says. “They don’t understand the job, but they are interested in finding out more about it.”

Kyle Bazzell, driver of the transporter for Jimmy Johnson’s No. 48 car, makes his way down Speedway’s Main Street in Indianapolis for the third annual Hauler Parade three days prior to the running of the 2011 Brickyard 400.

With each Sprint Cup Series race limited to a field of 43 cars, it is truly a niche profession. Even when you factor the handful of cars with limited sponsorships or no sponsors, the number of haulers in NASCAR’s top circuit at each race is small.

“There are only about 48 of these jobs in the whole world,” says Glen Shano, the hauler for the Aaron’s No. 00 car of David Reutimann on the Michael Waltrip Racing team. “It’s a pretty close-knit group. When truckers ask me about the job, I try to be cordial. I understand that driving one of these may be a dream of theirs.”

Getting your foot in the door

While a few transporter drivers came up through racing ranks, most started as truckers. North Carolina native Mozingo spent the first five years of his trucking career delivering groceries for Harris Teeter after being trained to drive a truck by country singer Ricky Van Shelton’s tour coach driver, Ken Clay, who also worked at Harris Teeter and sang in a gospel group with Shelton.

While Mozingo, a lifelong racing fan, says he enjoyed hauling groceries, his dream job was driving for a NASCAR team.

“I remember one day I saw one of these trucks go by and I said, ‘I’m going to be driving one of those one day,’ and some of my friends said to forget it. But I showed them,” Mozingo says, laughing. “Now I’m driving for the best team in world and the best known driver, Jeff Gordon.”

Landing a job with a team on NASCAR’s top circuit isn’t easy. With so few spots available and low turnover, getting your foot in the door often comes down to knowing someone. For Mozingo, that person was his friend Jeff Craven, who at the time was driving the race hauler for Richard Petty. Craven helped Mozingo land a job with Richard Petty’s son, Kyle Petty.

The chance to join the Pettys was the beginning of a dream come true. He spent the next four years hauling Kyle Petty’s race car.

“I loved working for the Pettys,” Mozingo says. “Kyle and I got to be pretty close. I even lived with him for about a year and a half. I was between houses and marriages, and Kyle asked me to move in with him. He had a barn on his place with a little apartment. Kyle and I still talk a lot. He’s a good guy.”

Craven eventually left for Hendrick Motorsports to drive the hauler for Gordon. Mozingo soon followed and took a job as the hauler for Hendrick’s No. 5 car. The list of NASCAR drivers on the No. 5 car has included Terry Labonte, Kyle Busch, Casey Mears and Mark Martin.

This year, Gordon switched over to the same crew Mozingo has been working with the past 11 years. This meant Mozingo only had to change the number and graphics on his transporter.

Bill Lewis, who hauls the No. 56 car of Martin Truex on the Michael Waltrip Racing team, drove trucks and had his own truck repair shop in Maryland. “I had a friend who went to work driving the hauler for Dave Marcus, and he told me I ought to go down there and get a job doing this,” Lewis says. “I got a job with Active Motorsports, and I’ve been doing this ever since [1994].”

While leaving the NASCAR transporter business is rare, Tom McCrimmon, a 23-year NASCAR veteran who drives the Home Depot-sponsored No. 20 car of Joey Logano for the Joe Gibbs Racing team, left racing for general freight with now defunct Consolidated Freightways. “Most of us have hauled freight somewhere in our careers,” McCrimmon says. “I left a couple of times, but I’ve decided that if you’re going to be a truck driver, this is a pretty good place to be a truck driver.”

More than driving a pretty truck

One of the biggest misconceptions about NASCAR Sprint Cup race team haulers is that they have a relaxed lifestyle that consists of driving a flashy tractor-trailer and watching races on Sunday. While it’s true that transporter drivers no longer go over the pit walls on race day with a gas can or change tires during the competition — as was many times the case in the early days of NASCAR — they are far from privileged spectators.

“A lot of people think when we get [to the racetrack] we’re done. Our day has just started,” says Scott Crowell, who team drives with McCrimmon on the No. 20 car. “We don’t come here to sit back, drink beer and chase women. We have a job to do and take a lot of pride in doing it well.”

While an experienced race car hauler for a major team can earn well over $100,000 a year in salary and bonuses driving an average of 65,000 to 70,000 miles a year, it’s the important team roles they play outside of the truck where they prove their worth.

“The truth is, driving the truck is the easy part,” Mozingo says. “It’s about 10 percent of what we do.”

In addition to being responsible for the maintenance of the truck and trailer, the drivers are responsible for making sure everything needed is on the truck when it leaves the shop. After getting to the track, most drivers have numerous duties, including unloading the trailer, cooking, working in the garage and pits for practice and qualifying (over-the-wall pit crew members typically fly in the day of the race) and other duties.

“For practices and qualifying, one of the first things I do is get my gas cans ready for race runs,” Mozingo says. “I get radios out, set up the computers upstairs. I cool the cars down after runs. In this job, you got to plan your next move so everything comes together.”

Cindy Lewis, co-driver with her husband Bill Lewis for the No. 56 team, will feed up to 200 people over a race weekend. “When I came on board 14 years ago, I took over the cooking duty,” she says. “We cook for four teams, three with Michael Waltrip and also the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing.”

Cindy finds the longer race seasons and more time away from home to be among the hardest parts of the job. Almost all the race teams are based around Charlotte and for all but a couple of races, they return to the shop before the next race.

“It used to be that we had a lot more time at home,” she says. “Often we had three days at home back then. Now we’re lucky to get two days at home. Sometimes we have to do the turn in eight hours.”

Tom “Thumper” McCrimmon and Scott “Scooter” Crowell share multiple duties, including driving the hauler for the No. 20 car of Joey Logano on the Joe Gibbs Racing team.

Still, other aspects of the job are easier than when she and her husband first started. Teams are bigger and there are more crew members helping, especially with getting the truck ready and turned after a race.

“Still, it’s a tough job,” Cindy says, “and by the end of the season, you are worn out.”

But most NASCAR drivers don’t just cool their heels during the short off-season. The majority of the drivers work at the race shops preparing their equipment for the upcoming season.

“It’s great getting to spend a little more time with family, but getting ready for the first race of the next season can get pretty stressful,” Mozingo says. “It’s very important to start off the season right.”

Playing the celebrity role

Often drivers of race team haulers find themselves signing autographs and posing for pictures. For most drivers, it’s a little strange being treated like a celebrity.

Jeff “Rooster” Craven, driver of the hauler for Jeff Burton’s No. 31 car, fills gas cans prior to Brickyard 400 practice runs at the Indianapolis Speedway.

“People look at us like we’re celebrities, but I tell them, we’re not all that,” laughs Cindy Lewis, co-driver of the No. 56 car hauler.

Jeff Gordon’s transport driver Dean Mozingo says while he understands NASCAR fans want to get closer to the team, it’s a role he still finds a little uncomfortable.

“It’s a little embarrassing at times when people come up to you and want you to sign something,” Mozingo says. “We do it because we want to represent the team. And there are some people out there who are fans of the truck, so that’s neat.”

The King bestows a title

Like most truckers, NASCAR race car haulers are often known better by their CB handles. And some match their occupation.

Dean “Squirrel” Mozingo

Dave “Speedracer” Radney, hauler of the No. 5 Mark Martin car, seems fitting. And there’s No. 00 car transporter Glen Shano, whose family grew up racing (his father owned a race team in Canada and two of his brothers are drivers of transporters), carrying the handle “Fireball” after legendary NASCAR pioneer driver Edward Glenn “Fireball” Roberts.

But Dean Mozingo’s nickname has racing nobility because “King Richard” Petty bestowed it upon him.

“People who have followed racing for a long time know that [Richard Petty’s father] Lee Petty was called Squirrel,” Mozingo says. “Richard was known as Squirrel Jr. When I was working for the Pettys, that was the nickname that Richard gave me. So I look at it as quite an honor, and I’ve kept it ever since.”

Notes and quotes from transporter row

Hauling smiles “I have a 7-year-old son myself who loves the truck. So for me the best part of the job is seeing the faces of kids when they come out and first see the truck.”

— Dan Collins, who drives the transporter for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 car

Not all fired up “If race car drivers get into a fuss, that’s them. That doesn’t carry over to us. Most of us are like family.”

— Jeff Craven, hauler of the No. 31 car

Who won the race? “I haven’t seen the end of the race since I started this business. With 30 laps to go, we’re running down there to pit road and grabbing stuff to load on the truck. Your job is to get this thing ready to roll.”

Not everyone’s a race fan “We get treated exactly like a regular truck driver with the DOT. We don’t get to slide like people think we might.”

— Glen Shano, hauler of the No. 00 car

Better than my truck at home “I love this [2011] Freightliner [Coronado]. I’ve got a Chevy Silverado pickup at home that I love, but I tell people this rides even better than my Silverado.”

— Dean Mozingo, transporter driver for the No. 24 car

Dave Radney, who hauls Mark Martin’s No. 5 car, is president of the Transport Drivers of Motorsports Association, which helps hauler drivers in emergency situations and sponsors children’s charities.

The perfect co-driver

All the major Sprint Cup teams have a main transporter driver and a backup driver. It’s essential they get along and work well together for the sake of the team.

Bill and Cindy Lewis have spent the past 14 years of their 23-year marriage as team drivers for NASCAR race teams.

For Bill and Cindy Lewis it is doubly important, because unlike other race team haulers, they go home together after each race. They have spent 14 of their 23 years of marriage working the races together. Their son, Adam, is also in racing, an over-the-wall pit crew member on the Sprint Cup circuit.

This season, the Lewises are working their first year as the hauler for Martin Truex’s No. 56 car with Michael Waltrip Racing.

“It works out pretty good because we have similar likes,” says Bill, who is better known as Stump.

The secret to a happy team marriage is often an unspoken bond.

“We have ridden six to eight hours without talking,” Bill says. “We’ve been together so long and done the same job that I can often tell what she’s thinking, and she can do the same with me.”

Cindy also says it’s a mutual respect for each other’s role with the team.

“People sometimes ask me why I don’t ever pull the truck into the garage area when we get to the track, but that Stump’s thing. He enjoys that,” she says. “I’m a co-driver, and I’m happy with that.”

While they love the lifestyle, both are looking to the day when they can retire and simply be husband and wife. “I’d like to retire when I’m 62 so we can go enjoy ourselves — maybe take our motorcycles out and ride part of Route 66,” Bill says. “Of course, we’ll still keep up with NASCAR. We got too many friends here. Even if we’re out traveling the roads when we’re retired, we’ll find a little ‘Mel’s Diner’ and watch the race on Sundays.”