This past weekend, thanks to the generosity of Furniture Row Racing, NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr.'s #78 car was wrapped in World Vision's colors and logo for the Quaker State 400 Sprint Cup race in Kentucky!
A World Vision team, along with our Kisongo Trek Experience Truck, were on site to support our new partnership and capture photos and videos of the race. Writer Chris Huber reflects on his experience.
Day 1: Initiation of a NASCAR novice
The clock struck noon on Thursday, and a horde of itinerant crew chiefs, engineers, and mechanics mobbed the row of trucks lining the Kentucky Speedway’s infield. They were focused, ready to get to work on their respective cars for the Quaker State 400, part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
I’m here to document the race and tell the story of a growing relationship between Furniture Row Racing and World Vision. In the process, I’m learning more than I ever expected to learn about NASCAR and racing culture.
This is the first of three races for which the owner of Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 car, Barney Visser, is wrapping the car in a World Vision design to highlight our work to help children and families in need. Visser, a longtime partner with World Vision, hopes to raise the profile of a cause dear to his heart.
Race day is two days away. While the tone is mellow across the sprawling landscape of campers, RVs, parking lots, and team memorabilia trailers, it’s all business in the garage.
First order: get the 3,500-pound racing machine safely from the top shelf of the team’s 53-foot trailer onto the ground 12 feet below and roll it into the garage to prep for the official inspection.
“You always get a little knot in your throat until it hits those chalks, there [on the lift],” says Jim “Jungle” Gilbert, who operates the lift that lowers Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 car to the ground.
While the crew scrutinized every square inch of the car, hundreds of fans buzzed around in golf carts, gazed at the empty grandstands from the grassy knoll, and partook in prerace festivities on this 84-degree, sun-soaked afternoon.
Some visited the World Vision Experience truck, where they took a virtual bus journey with a boy to Kisongo, Tanzania.
“Once we ‘got off the bus,’ and we went … with the kid, and he was introducing us to the people, and seeing the way that they live, it makes you feel like you were actually there seeing it,” says retired NASCAR driver Glenn Jarrett, who went through the experience Thursday and pledged to sponsor a child.
World Vision hopes the experience truck will show race fans how they can get involved with helping people living in poverty both here in the U.S. and abroad.
My first day proved exciting and successful. Tomorrow, the pressure mounts for the Furniture Row Racing team with practice and qualifying!
Day 2: Race to the Sprint Cup
Ten-year-old Douglas Ford stood outside garage 27 with his dad, Kent, patiently waiting in the 90-degree heat to meet driver Martin Truex Jr. While other teams buzzed between garage stalls and hauler trucks, the pair were content to watch the Furniture Row Racing crew ready the No. 78 World Vision car.
“It’s very fan-friendly,” Kent says as they peek into the open garage door. “How many sports let you get up close and personal?”
This is a classic picture of Cup Series American auto-racing at its best.
Douglas clutched his blue die-cast replica of Martin Truex’s former No. 56 Napa Auto Parts car. He would wait as long as he had to for Martin’s autograph.
Between practice rounds and media interviews, Martin made good on that appearance. Douglas got his autograph.
As the day goes on, the team tweaks and adjusts all aspects of Martin’s car. It must pass inspection before it can run in the qualifying rounds.
As I learned from conversations with engine tuners, general managers, racing enthusiasts, and from watching the process myself, each car, no matter the make, must literally fit the mold before it can compete.
Well, Martin and the No. 78 car World Vision team passed inspection and qualified 19th in tomorrow’s starting field of 42 drivers.
As the crew rolled the World Vision car onto the final inspection platform, “Fish” (the engine tuner) offered his thoughts on the key factors heading into Saturday night’s race.
“The motor’s gotta run all day; that’s my big deal,” he says. “You gotta have quick pit stops. Track position will be big. And the track’s so rough here that they (the drivers) won’t get close to each other, because they don’t want to wreck. They’ll just bounce everywhere. Just getting the car to happen is a big deal. You go from the hot of the day to the cool of the night; the track changes. It’s a lot to put into it to cover all the bases.”
Day 3: Rain banished, engines roar
A late-afternoon monsoon nearly drowned close to 100,000 fans’ hopes of seeing a race on Saturday.
But a legion of burly pickup trucks towed giant dryer systems around the track to “blow dry” it, banishing the moisture in time for a 7:37 p.m. green flag for the Quaker State 400 in the Sprint Cup series.
After two days immersed in the NASCAR scene, I thought I was initiated.
I was naïve.
You haven’t experienced NASCAR until you’ve stood in pit row and absorbed the shock wave that overcomes you the moment 42 suped-up racecars scream by, in formation, on the opening green flag.
“Ready … ready … green, green, green. All rolling,” says Furniture Row’s spotter over the radio as Martin takes off from the 10th row, inside.
As soon as lap one was complete, Martin began the conversation with the crew chief and the spotter, who watches from high atop the grandstand and helps the driver maneuver around opponents.
In cool, damp conditions, the car wasn’t running as well as the team had hoped, they say, but Martin held his own thanks to the crew analyzing a continuous feed of data, such as lap times and speeds, from the pits.
By lap 45, Martin ran in 24th place. The car struggled to grip the track to Martin’s satisfaction. But he moved up several positions after a number of accident-induced caution laps allowed time to fuel up and get fresh tires.
Martin about 45 laps in: “Good news is I’ve got some good rear grip.”
Martin finished 19th – the same position he started in. Brad Keselowski, in the No. 2 car, won after leading 199 of the 267 laps at Kentucky Speedway.
Radio traffic went silent. Martin and his competitors sped into the garage area while the victor spun donuts in victory lane.
Within minutes the Furniture Row Racing crew loads the car back onto the top shelf of the hauler.
“This is another race – to get outta town,” says team member David Ferroni.
An hour later, the haulers are gone—headed for Daytona.
Learn more about our partnership with Furniture Row Racing and why World Vision is racing!