20 YEARS: Meet "Frenchy"
Terry Saunier, better known around the fabrication shop as “Frenchy,” might be described as a “Jack of all trades.” Frenchy has worn a number of hats at Joe Gibb’s Racing over the years, from washing windows at pit stops to building parts in the fabrication shop, he has done it all.
What did you do before you started working at JGR?
I worked in a motor shop building racecar motors. I’ve always had an interest in racing though, been into racing all my life. I’m from Ohio but moved down here because I got an offer to do what I like, and get paid to do it. I used to work with a team that raced Super Modifieds all over the country. We’d run from New York to Phoenix, and those cars were pretty fast! When we qualified at the CopperWorld Classic, our speeds were so fast that we could’ve qualified mid-pack in the Indy 500 at the time. It’s one of the fastest racecars there is.
Nowadays, what is your official title and role?
These days I wear many hats in the fabrication shop. They include supervisor, scheduler, part building- basically making sure everything is stocked up to build the cars. It’s not as much hands-on stuff these days.
How has JGR changed over the years?
When I first started there were 18 people total- that’s including front office and all. You knew everyone because there were less people. I came here in 1994 and the shop was on Harris Boulevard. You have to be a lot more precise now than you did back then because of how the sport has evolved over time. Back then, from February until May, we would work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Even though we worked a lot back in the beginning, it was fun.
The amount of cars we build has also drastically increased. We used to save a lot of stuff and reuse it. Now, if the front clip gets bent and the rear is bent a little bit we throw it away and build a new one. You used to save everything you could and then pull and pound stuff straight, but now we throw them away or put them through a crusher and shred them. It actually makes more sense to do that because if you’re putting all this work into making parts reusable, you might as well just get a new one.
Were you ever on the road with the traveling team?
I went with the B-team for the first 7 years that I was here. I washed the windows during a pit stop. We drove almost everywhere back then, or at least a lot more than they do now.
Do you have a favorite memory from those days?
The first championship with Bobby Labonte was a big one. Well really, any championship is awesome, but the first one with Bobby was a big deal. The emotions of winning were different when you knew everyone on a really personal level. Now it is harder to enjoy a win because you immediately have to focus on the next race. Unless it’s on an off weekend, there really isn’t much time to savor a win.
What is one thing that the average person might not know about a NASCAR team?
How much work actually goes into a car. A lot of fans don’t think much of a wreck, but it’s 5 days of work just for a minor fender bender. A car spends 2 days in the fabrication shop, 2 days in the body shop, and then it takes a day to put it back together. The amount of work really gets ramped up during the Chase. Some guys are working 60 hours a week and most of the weekend.
We get cars from the shop and we have 8 days to put a body on it. One guy who does the front, a guy that does each side in the center section, and a guy that does the back. They have to work together and make sure things are gelling between them so they know that things are put together well.
What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
Winning races. Seeing what you made and seeing it win.
How has the technology changed?
Everything has to be so precise now that we have to check car alignments on the setup plates within thousandths. The equipment had to get better and we had to be better at what we do, and be more precise because every little thing matters. Nothing can be rounded up, because now we try to build the car within a very tight tolerance. On top of that, back when I started we had all winter to build 5 or 6 cars, now we have one week.
What made you choose the fabrication side of racing over another area?
Well, truth be told, I probably would’ve started in the engine shop, but fabrication was the place I could get in. It was the open door. There are many parts of fabrication that are interesting and fun. Things liked welding, the English Wheel, and other tools allow you make some pretty cool things.