On Sunday, NASCAR will run one of its biggest races of the year, the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis. For most teams, it’s about a 550-mile trip from their shops in Charlotte, North Carolina. But for a Denver-based team, the trip is about twice that long. Scott Graf has more on NASCAR’s only top-level team based outside the Carolinas.
Here is a transcript of Scott’s report.
Reporter Scott Graf: On a hot Saturday night in May 2011 a major upset was brewing at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. A team that had never won in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series was leading late in the race. Furniture Row Racing driver Regan Smith was in first. But right behind him was Carl Edwards, a driver for one of NASCAR’s mega teams. Here’s the call from Fox Sports:
Fox Sports Broadcast: “…Regan Smith looking for his first Sprint Cup win. Edwards two car lengths back! Smith gets the flag! And this time he’ll get to keep it! How about that!”
Reporter: It was one of the biggest upsets of the year because of where the winning team was from.
Joe Garone: I think maybe our whole race team realized history was just made – a team out of Denver, Colorado had just won a Cup race.
Reporter: That’s Furniture Row Racing General Manager Joe Garone. He and team owner Barney Visser, the owner of the Denver-based Furniture Row chain, started the team several years earlier. At the time, Garone was a Colorado native working in NASCAR in Charlotte. Once back in Denver, Garone learned right away the biggest obstacle was just getting racing parts from manufacturers in North Carolina.
Garone: I remember the conversation I had with Barney. “Look we’ve got to do something here.” He said, “Joe I have a truck that goes to and from North Carolina every week, picking up material.” And we took the 53-foot tractor and got him to let us use the back part of it. And it actually works really, really well.
Reporter: Talent was also an issue. To win in NASCAR it takes a specialized group of employees. Charlotte is full of those workers. Denver is not. Garone says Furniture Row caught a break when the economy went sour in 2008.
Garone: Some of the race teams made major cut backs. And I found myself getting ready to hire new people when the teams in North Carolina were getting rid of people. And we really took advantage of that.
[Sound of machines]
Reporter: Now, many of those employees build cars in an east Denver shop that used to be a furniture and water bed factory. The gritty area around the shop - full of warehouses, grain silos and train tracks - is very different from the fancy campuses Charlotte teams call home. But Mark McArdle, Furniture Row’s Director of Competition, says in Charlotte chatter between NASCAR workers - what team’s paying what, who has an opening – leads to high turnover. That’s not the case in Denver.
McArdle: It’s just refreshing. We come in, we work on the programs and plans that we have in front of us. We go home to our families and we enjoy our time away. And we come back in, fresh and ready to go each day, not beaten down.
Reporter: Still, there’s a mindset in NASCAR that if you want to win, you’ve got to be in Charlotte. So what do people there think about a team in…Colorado?
Todd Parrott: Umm…I hear it’s a great ski location.
Reporter: Todd Parrott is a NASCAR champion crew chief. He is skeptical about locating a team outside the Carolinas. But he’s also been impressed with Furniture Row.
Parrott: They’re competitive. They’ve got good cars. If you look at their equipment, their race cars are immaculate. They’re very nice. It’s just a long way from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Reporter: After a promising season last year, Furniture Row is in the middle of the standings this year. The team just announced it’s adding a research and development department, and is replacing its crew chief. Officials say the struggles have nothing to do with location. This season, though, has proved they’ve got a long way to go. But then again, that’s something they’re used to.
[Photo: Scott Graf]