At first glance the facility in Welcome, North Carolina, doesn’t look much different than any other body shop. Cabinets, Shelving, Push brooms, dustpans, and a dust collector in the corner. But that’s where the similarities end because this is the home of Richard Childress Racing. The cars that are built and prepared inside this building are anything but street legal. They are more like the ones that top 200 mph. Faster than a commercial airliner at the moment of take-off. Twice as fast as the fastest pitch ever recorded in major league baseball history. This is where elite racing machines are forged, repaired, and rebuilt – again and again – so that for each race, it is like the car is seeing the track for the first time. When we take a closer look around, we’ll find more than a few things that make it quite unique.
Beyond the standard tools, and lifts, this shop features diagnostic equipment you’d expect to find at NASA, complete with analytics monitors running read-outs on everything from fuel efficiency, weight-ratios, tire performance, and everything in between. The coolest thing in the shop, though? A machine with a computer controlled hydraulic chassis with wheel actuators that are accurate to .003 and capable of over 4,500-lbf load. This is what mechanics refer to as a “pull down rig.” It is so precise and so calibrated that it is able to mimic any conditions on the track and can test the car, like almost making time stand still, to ensure that it is prepared for whatever conditions it will face.
Marty Houston is the shop foreman at Richard Childress Racing, and as the shop leader, he has worked with every type of mechanics tools and spent countless hours working on the highest performing cars on the track. One might think he would attribute success to a specific tool , but to Marty, it’s much simpler than that. “Winning a race comes down to two things. Preparation and attention to detail,” he states. And this, he adds, begins in the shop.
“There's nothing small enough that it doesn't matter,” says Marty. “It's crazy what we pay attention to. Our team will counter-sync every bolt on the car to ensure that any fastening element does not protrude in any way,” he adds. The way Houston explains it, every part of the car, right down to the very smallest piece, has to match perfectly. To make sure of this, the team takes great care to ensure any specialty items are on hand for the job before they are needed. That’s the preparation part – thinking ahead and having what you’ll need on hand. However, Marty says, “If what we need isn’t available, we just fabricate it ourselves.” says Marty. But it’s not just about the cars. Because as every day at the shop ends, after all the high-tech equipment has been shut down and all the hydraulic systems turned off, there is still the task of cleaning the floor, taking out the trash and reloading the new trash bags. For Marty and his team, certainly, attention to detail matters.
“Efficiency is at the heart of it all.”
Marty will tell you that his approach to managing his shop and the people who work in it isn’t much different than running a warehouse or factory. He’ll tell you that at the heart of it all is efficiency. Marty looks at the big picture and offers sound advice. “Think about your day-to-day tasks and the tasks of your employees. Think about how you move between them. It’s best to not spend all day walking back and forth,” he states.
One of the reasons that Marty and his team in the assembly shop have recently switched from air tools to power tools is that each member can carry their own power source and work on their own section of the car without crossing wires or tangling round each other with hoses from the compressors. He stresses to the team to work with what they’ve got and to make the best use of every tool in the shop. The same goes for race day as they stand at the ready to grab their pneumatic tools at a moment’s notice.
More than any tool in the shop, the most important resource they have is each other. “It’s like a family in the shop. Chemistry and comradery are the most important factors in the team's success. It's the same engine, same body, same way that it's put together, what makes the difference is the way you treat your people and the way they treat each other,” Marty says. No doubt, this is a blueprint for many successful organizations outside of racing as well. He jokes that on some days he feels like the principal of an elementary school, but that his teammates will be the first ones to help each other out. “If someone on the team makes a mistake, they'll be the first to pick each other up. And on Monday, we meet to go over it together and get it resolved,” he adds.
“It’s organized chaos from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed. But I love it.”
Every day is different in Welcome. Whether the team is reacting to a new specification for the car or looking for new ways to give the car an aerodynamic edge, Marty is right there managing it all. Much like a car, the team within the shop needs to work like a finely tuned performance machine. Which is why Marty says, “It's how you treat your people and how they treat each other that makes all the difference.”
After years of all this preparation, attention to detail, syncing and counter-syncing, aerodynamic calculation, setting the car up for race day, you might think that Marty would be the first to jump on the bus to wherever the race might be headed. For a time, this was the case. “I used to love being at the track. But now I don't like to be away from home. So, I'm good in good old North Carolina,” he says.
So next time you find yourself in Welcome, North Carolina, take some time to stop by the RCR shop. Meet the team, explore the advanced tools, and feel the passion that goes into taking the checkered flag.
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