"Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them"-Henry David Thoreau
Mosport International Raceway, Canada-Leave it to me to go to the Bridgestone Racing Academy and spend a day thrashing Reynard Formula 2000 race cars around a track all day, only to come back with a story about the mechanics. True, I had a great day piloting the winged single-seaters around the track and sharpening my racing skills. Who wouldn't?
But with all of that adrenaline coursing through my system it was easy to miss the real story. The one not on the racing surface, but in the pit lane and back in the race shop where two dozen racing mechanics in training are the source of the school's enviable reputation for quality and superb service.
A Career ChoiceHow does one become a racing mechanic? The time honored way was pretty much one of trial and error. A person with mechanical aptitude would find a friend who needed help with his or her race car. After a few weekends of simple tasks, a bigger job would come along and the fledgling race mechanic would learn by doing. Vocational courses might provide the basics of day-to-day automotive technology, and a lucky few might find employment with a race shop, but learning the trade as a race mechanic was never easy or straightforward.
Making matters worse, the number of mechanics has been decreasing steadily over the last few decades. According to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), for every 10 automotive technicians who retire or change careers, only two to three new technicians enter the field to replace them.
Learning The RopesThere are alternatives to the traditional path to becoming a racing mechanic. NASCAR racing, for example, is served by the NASCAR Institute (www.ntieducation.com) and the Stock Car Racing Training School (www.crewschool.com) while the Jim Russell School Mechanics Training Program (www.espnrussellracing.com/mechanicstraining/mechanics.php) provides formula-car experience with a year-long $10,000-per-student program.
There are other vocational schools that provide a chance to learn fabrication, welding and car-prep skills a professional racing team will find attractive. And then there is the Bridgestone Racing Academy Mechanics Training Program.
Bridgestone Racing AcademyThe Bridgestone Racing Academy (www.race2000.com) was formed in 1992 after Brett Goodman and his sister Kim Deluliis bought 10 Reynard Formula 2000 race cars from the Spenard-Davis Racing School, located at Shannonville Motorsports Park in Canada. Goodman had been a successful Canadian racer and was looking for a way to turn his passion for racing into a viable business venture.
In 2000, the Bridgestone Racing Academy moved to Mosport, signing a 10-year lease with Mosport's owner Don Panoz. Goodman designed a special Driver Development track and the Racing Academy continued to grow, adding an additional 10 Reynard F2000s in 2003. The move to Mosport also provided an opportunity to build a dedicated race shop and Goodman realized he needed to staff it with racing mechanics. He came up with a plan he called the Mechanics Training Program.
Work In CanadaThe Mechanics Training Program at the Bridgestone Racing Academy provides an opportunity for up to 20 would-be racing mechanics to work, live and breathe racing for 8 months. The program starts in March when the new mechanics begin by building from the frame up the cars that will be used in the upcoming season's school and race programs. The school's five full-time mechanics oversee the work and are there to answer questions and help with problems.
No previous mechanic experience is necessary, but applicants should have some mechanical aptitude and an enthusiasm for racing. After the cars are together and have been tested, the racing mechanics work for the entire season, keeping cars running, performing maintenance and helping fit the racing students into the cars.
At the end of the season, the cars are torn apart and put away in winter storage. In other words, they do everything a racing mechanic would do while working for a race team-except getting paid. "They pay us to work their butts off," explained Goodman. The cost of the 8-month program is $780 (USD) while room and board adds another $450 or so per month.
Mechanics must also purchase their own tools, which run $300 to $400. Because the racing season in Canada is so short, the workload is intense and there are few weekends off. But this has advantages, too. "The racing teams that hire the mechanics from our program know they're getting people who are used to hard work," said Goodman. Indeed better than 20% of the graduates end up working within motorsports at every level of competition.
Icing On The CakeIf it were just a mechanics training school, the program would be pretty attractive. But Goodman has sweetened the pot. The mechanics get to participate in a 4-day wheel-to-wheel racing school at the season's start. Then, throughout the season they have their own seven-race series along with five half-day lapping sessions. For at least half of the mechanics I spoke with, this chance to race in a Formula 2000 series was a big reason they were there.
For some it is an eye-opener as they learn they aren't as fast as they thought they were, while others show real talent that the Mechanics Racing Series nurtures. But it is more than just a good time. By putting the mechanics into the cars they are responsible for, each mechanic gains a better understanding of what is involved and how to work better with the school's paying clients.
Arrive And DriveI'm not used to having a mechanic help strap me into my race car. Hell, I'm not used to having a mechanic at all. On my race car I always figured if the wheel falls off heading into turn one, I only have myself to blame. So it was quite a change for me as Clive from Scotland or Agnes from nearby Toronto helped me with my belts, adjusted the foot pedals or suggested additional padding in the car's race seat.
The mechanics are young and about a third are from outside Canada. They have come to get experience before pursuing a motorsports career as a mechanic or driver. They work hard, making sure the cars are gassed, the drivers are shaded with umbrellas and the wheels are torqued. They learn how to deal with clients who are nervous and excited and sometimes those who are scared.
With so much help around, I felt quite pampered by all the attention, which is, of course, exactly how Brett Goodman wanted me to feel. He is a man who understands the value of customer service and by dedicating a mechanic to each race car and driver, he makes you feel like you've arrived in the big-time.
Someone You KnowIf someone you know wants to become a racing mechanic or thinks they have what it takes to be a race-car driver, the 8-month Mechanics Training Program at the Bridgestone Racing Academy might be for them. In addition to learning the racing ropes and finding out if they have the talent, they will learn skills that will serve them well, even if they decide to work in other fields. At the very least, they will have chased their dreams and learned more about the song within them.