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AXR “Tapped Into NASCAR” to Crew No. 48 Cadillac DPi

Gary Nelson says Action Express Racing’s NASCAR connections were crucial in staffing No. 48 crew…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Action Express Racing team manager Gary Nelson says the team has relied on its NASCAR connections to provide the staff for the all-star lineup of Jimmie Johnson, Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Rockenfeller, and Simon Pagenaud in No. 48 Cadillac DPi-V.R entry at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Nelson said that finding a qualified over-the-wall crew for a single race proved to be one of the biggest logistical hurdles in expanding to a second car in a one-off capacity.

The solution came from reaching out to NASCAR teams, primarily Hendrick Motorsports, and presenting them with an opportunity to give their employees on-the-job training with some of the same pit equipment that will become standard in 2022 when the NASCAR Cup Series adopts its next-generation car.

“Typically a team like ours will hire somebody in the off-season and we’ll have an idea that we’re going to run every race for a full year, and so you have a full-time employee,” Nelson told Sportscar365.

“In this case we had to say that when the checkered flag falls at the 24 we’re going to be back to one car, so we need your help up until February 1st but then we don’t have a spot. So it’s really, really tough to find people that can jump in with experience and help us.

“Fortunately we were able to tap into some of our friends with NASCAR teams that happen to be able to be off for that week. We were able to put together a pit crew made of some guys from NASCAR teams, spotters from NASCAR teams.

“We’d go to the team owners and say we know so-and-so, do you think we can get him to come down to the Rolex 24?

“The incentive that we gave was the single lug nut in sports cars will be on the NASCAR cars in a year from now, and getting their guys a little bit of a head start on pit practice and how to do pit stops with that aluminum wheel and the single lug nut.

“That requires a lot more powerful air wrench than the five lug nut, NASCAR-style of today. The air gun is so much heavier.

“It didn’t take them long, but it is a transition that these pit crew guys will not have to go through in NASCAR next year.”

Nelson said the conversations about running a second car began with “once a week” conversations in September which quickly escalated to weekly and then daily discussions by the end of October.

At that point, Action Express started the process of bulking up the infrastructure to be able to expand, all while fighting for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class title with their full-season entry and navigating two of the longest races of the IMSA calendar.

“It was a hectic winter for us,” said Nelson. “Typically what we do is mileage our parts out through the year to where they’re done at the end of the year and then we update our parts for the next year.

“When we found out we had to do two cars, we had a whole lot of parts to replace on the 31 car that we finished the season with and then we had a whole other round of parts to build up the 48 car to start this season.

“At that point we were still racing for the championship in 2020.

“We had two of our longest events still to come, so we were fully focused on especially Sebring which would have usually been way behind us in March but here it was in mid-November!

“We really couldn’t take our eye on the ball for our 31 car championship run and so we realized that anything we do now that will help the 48 car come on line will be an advantage in December.

“We started thinking that way and purchasing parts that way and organizing our shop that way in early October.

“It was quite a job, but we were able to accomplish it in a short period of time. Within a few weeks, actually, we were able to get both cars updated with good parts to start the season with.”

Ryan Myrehn is an Indianapolis-based broadcaster and reporter. In addition to his work covering primarily domestic sports car racing for Sportscar365, he is the lead announcer for SRO America's TV coverage as well as a pit reporter for IndyCar Radio. Myrehn, a graduate of DePauw University, is also the host of Sportscar365's “Double Stint” Podcast.

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