Before they ever hit the track, the trucks and buggies in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series have been examined in every possible way by the crews to make sure they are race ready. Every detail has been examined, every part checked.
But it's not only the crews that are examining the vehicles. Before they start kicking up the dirt in the first practice session, the tech crew is looking at each vehicle to make sure that the drivers within will be as safe as possible. Then, during the race weekend, things will be checked before and after sessions to make sure each vehicle is in compliance with the rules.
“Mainly on Thursday, it's about safety. That's all we really worry about,” says series tech director Gary Lane. “We check all the trucks and make sure they've got all their required safety equipment. If we do see something [out of compliance] that's pretty obvious, we'll mention it to them. But 99 percent of it is safety.”
At a recent event, the series had just implemented a new helmet net rule. At Thursday tech inspection, that was one of the things Lane's crew was checking, to make sure that every one is interpreting the rule correctly.
“Some of the nets are a little bit wrong, but that happens every time. It takes a little while to get everybody on the same page. You and me both have a different idea when we read something, how it's supposed to be. It just takes a little bit of time to figure it out,” Lane explains.
On Thursday, Lane has six people. But as the weekend progresses, he loses half of the tech squad to on-track work. That leaves three people, including him, for pre- and post-session compliance checks.
“We try to surprise them every once in a while with something out of the usual. They're always trying to beat us, and we're trying to catch them. All these drivers and crew chiefs, they're really smart people. They're always trying to outsmart us and we're always trying to catch them.”
Lane (RIGHT) notes that it's not so much teams trying to cheat, but push the envelope just a bit; sometimes, they push hard enough to rip it. “A lot of times we'll run 'em over the scales, make sure the weights are right and the percentages [front to rear] are correct. That's one of the main things we throw at them, because that can be a really big advantage, if they have the percentages not where they're supposed to be,” Lane says. That's one of the things that can change pre- to post-session.
“The way the rules read, they have to be legal before the race and when they come off the track,” he adds.
Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, he says, any rules infraction is just a goof-up. “They flat didn't check it,” Lane says. “That's why we check it, to remind them that they have to check it to be right. If you check it, you never have to worry about it again. It'll always be right. If you find something in one of the classes that didn't fly, everyone will be checking that.”
There are times that the tech crew will check a particular item in response to rumors and accusations flitting about the paddock. Most of the time, Lane says, the rumors turn out to be completely unfounded. In reality, the tech inspection area is mostly a drama-free zone. When they find things, it's almost always the result of human error – something a hair too wide here, an inch short there, the weights a little off. Only occasionally is an infraction the result of a team really trying to get away with something.
“It's a great group of people,” Lane says of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series family. “All the guys want to win. They‘re very competitive and we just try to keep it as even as possible. If we check too many things, they holler. But then if we don't check anything, they holler.”