Frontstretch Readers – We know that you love our driver diary series, which gives you an inside look at the lives of NASCAR’s stars. Now, we are taking it to a whole new level! Fans love stock car racing for many reasons, one of which is that it is the ultimate team sport. While the driver ultimately hoists the trophy in Victory Lane, it is the blood, sweet and tears of men and women behind the scenes that ultimately drive the success of the team.
New for 2013, Frontstretch is proud to introduce the “55 Team Diary” which will provide insights from different people who contribute to the accomplishments of Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota. Kicking off this series is Tony Cardamone, who serves as the jackman and mechanic on the Aaron’s Dream Machine and has become an integral part of the weekend road crew that travels to each event. We hope you enjoy this first installment of the 55 Team Diary, where Cardamone shares his thoughts on work/life balance and the latest headlines in NASCAR today, as told to our Tony Lumbis.
I first got involved with NASCAR several years ago following my service in the Coast Guard. I was already a huge fan of the sport; I attended Talladega while in the Coast Guard and the Bristol race with my dad. In fact, to this day, Bristol is my favorite track because of the fun atmosphere and the great racing. So when I saw the ad looking for a jackman, I jumped at the chance and have been involved ever since.
The unique aspects of NASCAR are what kept me involved for all these years. For example, we compete against the same guys every week, but in the end, we’re one big family. There is a large teamwork aspect to being involved in this sport. Nothing I do alone will get us to run any better; we all need to work together in order to be successful and that is similar to what the military was about. From that perspective, it was a natural transition to go from the military to NASCAR. Just like with the Coast Guard, in racing, we are a bunch of people having fun, working towards a common goal and trying to think outside of the box trying to get there.
Speaking of outside the box, after the 2011 season, all of us on the Aaron’s Dream Machine team were presented with the reality of competing with three different drivers in 2012. Obviously, one of the first things that enters your mind is that we wouldn’t be in the running for a driver’s championship. That is why (crew chief) Rodney Childers gave us the option of transferring off the team. All of us stayed, though, and I think it was the caliber of drivers we have that made staying with the No. 55 team so enticing. I was actually working in the shop and pitting the car on Sundays when I got the opportunity to go on the road as a mechanic as well. So I actually became more involved at that point. I knew we had something special; we proved it last year, and are off to a strong start again this season. The drivers we have are amazing, it is a perfect situation for us and I really like it.
The job is not without its share of challenges, and being away from home a lot is one of them. A few of the guys on the team, including myself, have bought campers and we try to camp at the track so we can bring our families with us whenever possible. It gives me the opportunity to show the kids what I do for a living. My son loves tools and is interested in taking things apart. He wants to do what dad does so I try to involve him as much as possible.
It is tough when the family is at home because I end up missing a lot of stuff like soccer games. On the flip side, I’m there during the week, so I get to attend things that a lot of other people do not because they are working. It also helps that Michael Waltrip Racing is really good about giving us time off, so you just need to get creative with your time to make it work.
When the family is not at the track, we do face some down time when not working on the car. Most everyone on the team is married and/or has kids, so we really don’t go out much. We try to relax when we can. The season is long, so you don’t want to burn yourself out early. We’ll also try to find something fun to do when we can, like racing go-karts when possible.
Working out is another activity we enjoy. Mark Martin has inspired us all to get into shape. What he does is amazing and we try real hard to keep up with him! There are several times where he will join us and, in my mind, whatever he does, we need to do also. Contrary to what some may believe, Mark is open to working out to different kinds of music as well!
On the same topic, Mark has been helping with the development of a new gym at the race facility, which, when completed, will be a huge upgrade over what we have. Those of us on the pit crew are required to work out a certain number of times per week, so having brand-new equipment to fulfill that obligation is huge.
There has certainly been a lot of news in our sport lately. Denny Hamlin’s injury is one headline and I really feel bad for him as I had to miss time due to injury myself, so I understand what he is going through. In fact, it was the worst-case scenario for me when my injury occurred a few years ago. The week after I was injured, I had to stay home, and we ended up winning that event at Chicago. On the one hand, I was excited for the team but it doesn’t reduce the sting of not being there. I know Denny, like all of us, is a competitor and it is hard for him to sit on the sideline. From my experience, though, you need to ask yourself if you will actually hurt your team by trying to participate when injured. That’s the bottom line along with trying not to hurt yourself any more. As much as the competitor in us wants to push the doctor to clear us early, we as athletes have to trust the professional opinion and abide by it.
Rivalries have also been in the news and many wonder what those of us, who have to work on wrecked cars that result from these skirmishes, feel about them. I can tell you that we are 100% behind our driver. Those situations are going to happen in racing—there is no way to avoid it. It would not be that exciting if everyone just rides around and stays out of everyone else’s way. It happens from time to time, but you just get yourself back up and get them the next week. Everything comes around in this sport. In fact, I think what happens is that the drivers will tolerate certain things for awhile and then, they finally hit their breaking point with some of the competition. If our driver feels that he is in a position to stick up for himself, we will back him up. It’s tough to see your car wrecked, but you don’t want to be pushed around all the time, either.
I know I speak for our entire team when I tell you that we are very appreciative of all the support the fans give us, week in and week out. Thank you! We look forward to giving you even more to cheer about this year!
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