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Airplane Undergoes Off-Season Inspection

During every NASCAR season, the Joe Gibbs Racing team logs tens of thousands of miles crisscrossing the country from one race to the next.  Our aviation team is made up of pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, and managers who work hard to ensure every mile traveled is completed safely and efficiently. In early January, I made a trip to Joe Gibbs Racing’s hangar to see what our aviation team was up to.

[singlepic id=148 w=320 h=240 float=left]We operate two SAAB 2000 airplanes that are used for transporting our employees who attend the races each week. Typically one plane will leave midway through the week carrying the A-team, which consists of crew chiefs, drivers, mechanics, engineers, and other specialists. Then, on race day (or the night before), a second plane departs North Carolina with pit crews, sponsor reps, administrators, and other miscellaneous guests. Usually the flight crew consists of two pilots and one flight attendant, though a mechanic is typically on board for our longer trips. After a race, the two planes await about 70 people who are anxious to get home after a long weekend at the track.

[singlepic id=147 w=320 h=240 float=left]What about the off-season? Do the planes and flight crews sit dormant, twiddling their thumbs, waiting for Daytona? Not at all!  Our planes undergo an extensive and thorough inspection every few years. After the 2010 NASCAR season, it was time for SAAB Tail Number 517 to go under the microscope for its 8-year look-over.

The 8-year inspection is about an 8-week process that requires an entire team of mechanics. The airplane is stripped from nose to tail. Every nook and cranny is inspected for damage, wear, or corrosion. The propellers are removed and shipped to England where they are scanned with special instruments that detect cracks or other imperfections that might pose a problem in the future. Additionally, all seats and carpets lining the fuselage and cockpit are removed to reveal the mechanisms that operate the flight controls. The flaps on the wings and tail are removed and checked out.

[singlepic id=142 w=320 h=240 float=right]The checklist for this inspection is thousands of items long. A large board next to the airplane holds all of the schematics needed to inspect each item of the plane – somewhat like a checklist. Replacing parts on an airplane is not as simple as replacing parts on your street car. Careful documentation is kept on every piece of the aircraft. Furthermore, you can’t make a trip down to your local Advanced Airplane Parts store for an off-brand part. Almost all parts are certified for use in airplanes and typically cost much more than you would expect.

The pilots are also busy training during the off-season. They spend dozens of hours in Florida at a special flight simulation center inside a life-size replica of the SAAB cockpit.  There they are put to the test and dropped into a variety of situations where they have to think fast and make the right decisions. Water landing? Practiced. Engine gives out completely? They know what to do. Aborted take-off? They’ve tried it. The bottom line is, these pilots don’t want to be caught off guard when it comes to making the right choices to save lives.

[singlepic id=122 w=320 h=240 float=right]In this economy, saving money in new ways is the name of the game. Completing this extensive inspection in-house saves Joe Gibbs Racing several thousands of dollars that can go back into making our racecars even faster on the track. Even more important than saving money, however, is the increased safety these inspections provide to our passengers and pilots.

As I toured the hangar and saw the crew working on the disassembled SAAB, I realized just how dedicated to perfection our flight department is. Every person that touches our planes takes pride in seeing them fly and return to and from the races safely and efficiently. Our flight department is certified IS-BAO which means it meets a code of best practices designed to help flight departments worldwide achieve high levels of safety and professionalism. This difficult-to-achieve certification is a testament to the hard work and attention to detail of our flight team.[singlepic id=149 w=320 h=240 float=left]A few weeks after my first visit, I was invited to come back to the hangar to observe the test flight of 517. The 8-year inspection had been completed the day before and the pilots and crew were eager to take her out for a spin. As I watched the plane take off for the first time since the inspection, one of the flight crew members standing next to me said, “It sure is good to see her fly again, huh?”

Two weeks later I boarded the same plane for Daytona with 40 other team members, comfortable and confident in the pilots and crew, and the plane they take such good care of.

A tip of the hat to those who spent so much time on this particular inspection: Steve C, Tim P, Ken H, Shawn H, Bob M, Riley S, Greg P, Kenny T, Jim T, Tim D, Rick O, Mike P, & Charles M.

Photo Gallery

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About the Author: Boris

Boris is the man behind Joe Gibbs Racing’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. Think of him as the fan’s personal connection to all things JGR. His all access pass to the track and shop mean you get unprecedented insight into the NASCAR team and drivers you love!

Boris is at the track every weekend, providing you with photos and updates from the garage. Also catch Boris on JGR: The Show and read his blog posts on JoeGibbsRacing.com. Ask Boris a question through Twitter, Facebook, or the website. That’s why he’s here!

How Many Lug Nuts Per Year?

Between live race pit stops and practice, how many lug nuts do you think our organization goes through in a year? Remember, that includes Sprint Cup and Nationwide races.

The answer? In 2010 we went through just over 90,000 lug nuts. We use new ones for every stop, including practice stops. That’s a lot of lug nuts.

Hamlin [Almost] Wins Shootout; Kyle & Joey Wreck Out

The new surface at Daytona International Speedway might have changed the style of racing slightly, but tonight’s Budweiser Shootout certainly proved that heart stopping excitement will remain the primary attribute of the famed racetrack.

On a night that saw a record number of lead changes and lap speeds well over 200 mph much of the night, all three Joe Gibbs Racing entries proved strong and worth of victory, but with the strategy favoring two-car drafts it came down to picking the right moment to make a run to the front of the field and of course, having enough good fortune to avoid the wrecks. Denny Hamlin appeared to have it done it all correctly to earn the victory, but unfortunately a drive below the double yellow lines to the checkered flag was ruled illegal by NASCAR and took the victory away from Hamlin. Meanwhile his two teammates were unable the wrecks, with Joey Logano falling victim to an accident on lap 27 and teammate Kyle Busch getting taken out on lap 36.

The Budweiser Shootout is a non-points event that has become a pre-season tradition in NASCAR since 1979. The 75-lap event is run in two segments this year. First a 25-lap run that is followed by a 10-minute trip to pit road for teams to make adjustments to the cars. Once restarted it is a 50-lap run to the finish that has become famous for exciting racing and tonight was no exception.

Hamlin proved to have the best luck of the three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers when it came to selecting his starting position for tonight’s Shootout as he pulled the fourth spot for No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota. That allowed Hamlin to team up with Tony Stewart in a two-car draft that spent much of the first 25-lap segment at the front of the field. With car shuffling in and out of the lead thanks to two-car draft runs, Hamlin would end the first segment back in the 14th position. Hamlin would deftly avoid the accidents that captured both Logano and Busch and would wait until about 20 to go to make his move to the front in a two-car draft with Ryan Newman. Hamlin would keep Newman in the lead for several laps as the race neared its conclusion. As they came around turn four for the final time Hamlin pulled down below Newman and passed him on the inside for what appeared to a photo finish victory just edging out Kurt Busch who had closed on the leaders from the outside. Unfortunately NASCAR ruled that Hamlin had driven below the track’s double yellow lines in an effort to win the race without wrecking Newman. The ruling penalized Hamlin back to the rear of the lead lap cars and a 12th-place finish, while handing the victory to Kurt Busch.

Kyle Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota in 21st position but found his way to the front of the field midway through the opening segment of racing. Busch would take the lead on lap 18 after pairing up with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on a run to the front, but as the cars swapped position quickly he would find himself in the eighth position following the first 25-lap segment. Ten laps into the second segment Busch would get bumped from behind by Mark Martin and the two would spin across the track into the grass making contact with each other. The No. 18 M&Ms crew worked to make repairs, but ultimately Busch would be forced to take his Camry back to the garage and end his night early in 16th place.

Meanwhile Joey Logano started the night in the 22nd position in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, but quickly proved to have a car capable of running to the front of the field. Logano would partner with five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson during the first 25-lap segment and the two flirted with the lead but ended the opening portion of the race in the fifth spot. Unfortunately Logano would not receive the opportunity to go for the win in the end as his night ended early when he was an innocent victim

in a wreck started just in front of him on lap 27 by Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He would end the night in 18th place.

Kurt Busch of Penske Racing captured the victory.

The starting front row for the Daytona 500 will be decided Sunday during a qualifying session at 1 PM. The rest of the line up for the Daytona 500 will be decided by a pair of Duel races on Thursday afternoon. Tomorrow’s qualifying session will be broadcast live on Fox at 1 PM, while the Duel races can be seen starting at 2 PM on Thursday.

The Great American Race will once again provide the official start to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when Fox broadcast the Daytona 500 live from Daytona International Speedway next Sunday, February 20 at 1 PM. The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 128.