Stephanie Borchelt's Motorsports Internship Blog
Hello, my name is Stephanie and I have been lucky enough to get the opportunity to work for one of the top teams in motorsports. After a year and a half of networking I have landed myself an internship with Hendrick Motorsports. This is my blog.
It is a rare thing to see a NASCAR race on Monday; it is extremely rare to see one on Tuesday. Mother Nature decided that the planned Sunday race was not meant to be. A hurricane moving through the gulf caused torrential rain in the Atlanta area where the Spring Cup boys were waiting to get on the track. Along with most fans, I don’t like races being run during the week. I love to watch the weekly installment of stock car racing and a postponed race means that workers can’t watch the race live. There is always the radio broadcast, but I feel that a lot of the excitement in a race is lost when you can’t see the action happening for yourself.
I went into work Tuesday excited that the race wasn’t going to be moved to the end of the season, but sad that I wasn’t going to get to watch it. I clocked in and went to the morning engineering meeting as usual. At the meeting my boss announced that the shop was going to order pizza so that everyone could stay and watch the race. Yay! I was so excited. Of course the shop would make arrangements so that we could see the race; it is what we toil for every day after all. The pizza showed up around noon which was just in time for the pre-race invocation and national anthem.
Next to the engineering block is a conference room where we hold meetings for everything from our weekly engineering meetings to our post race analysis. The great thing about having all our meetings in there is that the room is equipped with high tech gadgets. One of these gadgets is a high def projector with a 90 inch projector screen. I am lucky to have a nice TV and sound system at home, but this system takes the cake.
All of the engineers and a few of the shop guys grabbed our pizza and headed to the conference room. The race began and we watched our drivers charge toward the front. Gordon took the lead and decided that he didn’t feel like giving it up. When lunch ended we all went back to work, but the radios in the entire building were all tuned to the race and turned up so all could hear. I had the NASCAR leader board pulled up on my second monitor to watch lap times as the radio announcers called the race.
The race continued as usual and Gordon continued to set the pace. As laps wound down the engineers in the office started to wander back to the conference room. Unable to resist, I followed suite and with 20 laps to go found myself staring at what could be Gordon’s record breaking 85th win. Gordon was 2 seconds ahead of Johnson, but all of the sudden Gordon’s lap times started to slow as the car’s tires started to give way. Johnson closed the gap and with 10 laps left it looked as if Jimmie was going to take Gordon’s dominant win away. Johnson was on Gordon’s bumper, but Gordon wasn’t ready to give up. With both cars incredibly loose from a long green flag run it was up to the drivers to hang on and wheel their car to victory.
What followed could be said to be some of the closest and most exciting racing that has been seen in NASCAR for a long time. Johnson was giving it his all, once side by side with Gordon and in the preferred lane, but somehow Gordon kept his car from sliding and powered ahead on the straightaway. We were on the edge of our seats as all of Hendrick watched its two premiere drivers almost lose control several times and fight each other in a battle between the shops.
The conference room was full of tension and loud exclamations as each bobble from one the cars caused us to jump from our seats. I felt like my heart was about to jump out of my chest as Gordon took the white flag to start the last lap with Johnson a car length behind. Johnson pushed his car as hard as he could, sliding through the corners and trying in vain to catch Gordon as he crossed the line and claimed the checkered flag.
The conference room exploded with shouts of victory as Gordon did a burn out down the front-stretch and pulled the 24 into victory lane. I can’t begin to explain the pure joy that filled me as I celebrated the record breaking win with my coworkers. Wins are rare in the Cup series, getting to watch and celebrate a win with the entire shop is even more rare. Ringing that victory bell was and shouting “85!” is a moment that will never be repeated again and I am lucky enough to be able to say I was there.
One of the great things about growing up in Indiana is having the right to call the Indianapolis Motor Speedway my home track. Every year IMS is host to two of the biggest races in the world, the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400. The biggest names in motorsports compete for a shower of milk or a gritty brick kiss and the right to say that they have won Indianapolis. IMS has such history and prestige that drivers will do anything to make the field, let alone win the race. A win at Indy can make a driver’s or crew’s career.
Being the race junkie I am, the Brickyard 400 is a special event to me and I make sure to mark it on my calendar months ahead of time. This year I had even greater ties to the event with four cars on the starting grid. The Hendrick camp is out to win at every track we go to, but Indy is still Indy. There is a lot of added pressure when we arrive at the 2.5 mile oval. This pressure makes us work even harder to put the best cars possible on the racetrack.
Since this is the first time I have had a real connection to the 400 I decided that I needed to drive back to Indiana and actually be there for the big event. I got off work on Friday and jumped in the car to head the 9.5 hours home. After sleeping most of my Saturday away and catching up with my family, I prepared for race day. Living only an hour or so from the track, my mother and I slept in and left in time to make it there with plenty of time to enjoy all of the day’s festivities.
Once we parked and found our seats we headed out to find a few of my friends that were attending the race as well. One of my friends was running around in the garage and pits for the first time with a NASCAR credential. She was overjoyed to be there and couldn’t wait to tell me about all of the really cool things she had seen. I hadn’t seen her since I left for North Carolina and I really loved getting to see her so excited about racing. We said our goodbyes and it was time for pre-race activities. Rascal Flats sang the anthem, jets flew over the track, the balloons were released, and it was time to race.
The drivers strapped in their cars and headed on to the track for a few pace laps. Everyone in the stands rose to their feet, the green flag dropped, and they were off. It didn’t take long for the Hendrick boys to make their way to the front. For a short time Earnhardt led the field, and Jr. nation cheered in their excitement. But his stay at the front was short lived. Gordon soon charged his way to the front of the field, passing Jr. with a mix of cheers and boos.
The race came down to the last caution with 40 laps to go. Many of the cars at the rear of the lead lap made pit stops, but the top 20 stayed on the track to duel it out. The race went back green and they were off again. A few laps went by and the leaders had to pit for fuel. Gordon came in for his stop and made it off pit road ahead of the rest of the leaders, but those who pitted at the caution didn’t have to stop and Gordon only had 25 laps to make up a 2 mile (3/4 lap) deficit.
He came off the lane and determined to catch the new lead group. It seemed impossible to do, as if Gordon would have to settle for 10th and call it a day. But Gordon miraculously charged through the field once again and found himself 1 second behind the leader with 2 laps to go. Even with all his effort and the amazing car he had under him, there just wasn’t enough time to make it back to the front. Paul Menard ended up winning with great fuel mileage and Gordon had to settle for second.
I left IMS with a heavy heart. Yes, our car had been the dominate car all day, but it still sucked to come that close to winning the 400 and not go home with the trophy. Of course it took my mother repeatedly telling me to look at the positives to realize what exactly had happened that day. My team had just dominated the Brickyard 400, a race that is commonly seen as a good prediction for who is going to do well in the chase.
Not only had we dominated the race, but we made up an entire lap with no assistance from cautions to come within a second of winning. I have been watching races for a long time and I have never seen someone make up so much ground on the strength of their car alone. We may not have won the race, but we have a great shot at this championship. I will have other chances to win the 400, but for now I’m looking forward to the chase ahead and enjoying the rest of the time I have with Hendrick.
Racing is full of ups and downs. Countless nights of backbreaking work and fearless driving end up as a heap of wrecked sheet metal in the garage. Everyone in the business knows this, but still we go to the track every week with heads held high and our thoughts full of checkered flags.
One of the great things about working for a multi-car operation is that there are several opportunities every weekend to win. This also means that there are several opportunities to have your hard work turned into a pile of wreckage. While these races can crush your heart, there are also moments of amazement.
July 3rd the Sprint Cup series lit up Daytona Beach with fireworks in the air and on the track. Daytona is famous for its close pack racing, but ever since they repaved it a new form of racing has started to develop. It has been termed the ‘two car tango’. The air flowing over two cars allows them to move faster together than one car can on its own, but try to add a third or fourth car to the group and it all falls apart. This kind of racing makes having a four car operation, such as Hendrick, a huge advantage. At all the superspeedway tracks the 24/5 and 48/88 pair up and make the rest of the field sprint to catch up.
Another thing superspeedways are known for are wrecks that take out large chunks of the field in one fell swoop. The general strategy the Hendrick camp used in the Daytona race was to run in the back of the second or third pack of cars. The idea is to stay out of trouble by being as far from it as possible without losing too much time to the lead pack. Of course at some point our drivers are going to have to make their move to the front.
With 30 laps to go the 24/5 cars started to move through the pack. They made up a 5+ second gap in 15 laps and began to cut their way through the field. With three laps to go the 24/5 made a move in the middle lane to take the 6th/7th place positions. While in the middle lane, one of the cars in the low lane got loose and had to move up to keep from crashing his car. When the car moved up it forced the 24 to hit the brakes, get hit in the rear, and spin in front of half the field. It was a miracle that Gordon did not wreck the car.
He came in to the pits, changed his tires, and lined up 31st for the restart. One lap after the restart the 5 was turned around by another car and took out 10 cars with him. Martin’s car was destroyed and there was nothing to do but load it on the hauler. After a couple of caution laps the field took the green with Gordon in 16th. Somehow he found the 18 of Kyle Busch and the two of them miraculously fought their way to a 5th/6th place finish.
After a night of craziness and wrecked race cars the Hendrick camp came home in 6th, 19th, 20th, and 33rd. Weeks of work were put into every car, but it all came down to a single moment. Everyone in the pits and all of us watching at home try to will our car to the front, but only one car will make it to victory lane. 42 teams go home every week with “what ifs” and “could haves” that they will turn over in their heads for weeks, and in some cases, years to come. While racing can be a heartbreaking sport, but if you work hard enough and everything goes your way it can create some of the most satisfying moments you will ever experience.
The past few weeks have been absolutely amazing!
On June 12th something happened that I will remember for the rest of my life. Jeff Gordon won at Pocono. This is his 84th Sprint Cup race, which ties him for 3rd on the NASCAR all-time win list, but it is my first win. I can’t explain the joy I felt when the car I had been working so hard on crossed the finish line. I have watched Jeff win races for years, but it means the world to me that my first win came with him behind the wheel.
At first I was a little confused when I showed up to work on Monday morning. Everyone was happy, but the day was perfectly normal. I kept thinking, “Come on, I know we expect to win, but really?” Silly me, of course our shop would celebrate. We waited until Tuesday so that the road guys could have their day off, but when they got back we had a great time. As with every race win, Sprint came to the shop to provided breakfast and leave everyone a Sprint victory hat. Mr. Hendrick gave everyone a Hendrick teamwork shirt to commemorate the win. The real fun of the day came when the victory bell was rolled to the middle of the shop floor. We all rang the bell with pride as our crew chief, Alan Gustafson, stood to the side grinning from ear to ear.
This past Tuesday Dupont held a victory lunch for us. The food was great, but the really cool thing was the person I met at the lunch. While waiting in line I chatted with a couple of my coworkers, turned around, and there was Mr. Hendrick. For a moment I wasn’t sure what to say. He took care of that, he shook my hand and congratulated me on our big win. He welcomed me to the company and we chatted for a bit about how I made my internship happen. He and several of the higher ups in the company gave little speeches about our hard work and the chip our shop has on our shoulder.
For those of you who don’t know, the other shop on campus has won 9 championships with Gordon and Johnson, our shop 0. We have finished 2nd several times, but the championship has been elusive.
After all of the jibbing and congratulations, Mr. Hendrick stood up and gave one of his famous rallying speeches. We all left the team center fired up and ready to go kick some tail. We are now nearing the middle of the season and our shop is going to give our all. We will do anything to get the big trophy for our show room.
Hello, my name is Stephanie and I have been lucky enough to get the opportunity to work for one of the top teams in motorsports. After a year and a half of networking I have landed myself an internship with Hendrick Motorsports.
For those of you who don’t know, Hendrick is one of the top organizations in NASCAR. We employ some of the top drivers in the sport, including five time champ Jimmie Johnson, four time champ Jeff Gordon, fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., and longtime sentimental favorite Mark Martin.
Three weeks ago I moved to Concord, North Carolina, a far cry from Indianapolis. Surrounded by mountains and 90+ temps, I drive by the Charlotte Motor Speedway on my way to work every day. It seems right to me that I get to see the Speedway every morning since I use to drive by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway every day last year on my way to Vance and Hines in Brownsburg.
For the past two weeks I have shown up to the 24/5 (Gordon/Martin) shop bright and early at 7:30 every morning. First thing each morning the Engineering department has a meeting with the leaders of the shop floor and the crew chiefs. We go over the events for the day and everyone gets to work. Even though I am based out of the 24/5 shop, I have actually spent most of my time over in the 48/88 (Johnson/ Earnhardt) shop with the transmission group. I had never worked with transmissions before, so it has been a very education couple of weeks.
My first weekend with Hendrick was rather rough. The boys were in Charlotte for the Coca Cola 600, a race that Johnson has been known to dominate. Our cars ran decent for the most part, with Johnson and Jr. in the top ten and Gordon and Martin in the teens. In the end it was a poor night with Martin crashing, Johnson losing a motor, Gordon being caught a lap down by pitting a lap before Johnson’s motor blew, and Jr. running out of gas leading 1000 feet before the finish line finishing seventh.
This weekend went much smoother for the Hendrick camp. It was the first race for NASCAR at Kansas in the summer and Gordon looked to win another ‘inaugural’ event at the track. After poor qualifying attempts by all four drivers our stable started from 18th to 31st in the field. The boys worked hard and drove our cars to the front. Jr. played the fuel game again this week and took home 2nd. After spending all afternoon in the top 5, Gordon had to come in for fuel and finished 4th. Johnson finished 7th after an uneventful day and Martin struggled all day to finish 21st. Overall it was a good weekend for the Hendrick camp and we’re look forward to Pocono next week.