The NASCAR life cycle: Living the dream to looking for work
The Charlotte area is the Promised Land for those who want to make fast cars go faster. South Iredell County alone is home to 60 racing teams who employ engineers, welders, fabricators and mechanics like Lance Hanna. "It's always been on the agenda, always been a dream. I'm here doing it. Been doing it for seven years," says Hanna. And job opportunities have been pretty good over the past decade and a half. During that time, many teams more than doubled their crews with the hope of creating winning cars. But as sponsorship dollars have waned and the cost of racing has ballooned, teams have been cutting their workforces. Many of those who once considered themselves to be living the dream, are now looking for work. Yates Racing in Concord is one of dozens of shops in the area where crews turn frames and parts into cars that can go more than 180 MPH. "We got Ryan over there. He's assembling dashes. We got Sean, he's doing all the oil tanks for every car," explains Tony Price, a foreman at the shop. There have been job cuts at Yates, just like at many other race teams. Throughout the motorsports industry, it's estimated about 1,000 people have lost jobs, most of those cuts in the Charlotte area. "They had 6 teams when they merged and they basically had to get rid of 2 teams. So I was one of the lucky few that got let go," says Dave Kwasniak. He worked at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. Up until a few weeks ago he was one of about 17,000 people in the Charlotte region with jobs tied to the racing industry. When DEI merged with Chip Ganassi Racing, Kwasniak was handed a pink slip along with more than 115 others. Since then, he's been looking for work at other shops. "We were let go at Homestead and I went back to New York for two weeks. I made phone calls while I was up there. And just nobody wants to talk to you," explains Kwasniak. He moved to Mooresville six years ago to take a job as a set-up mechanic at Joe Gibbs Racing, which meant he had hit the big time. Before that in New York, he spent 12 years working the dirt-track circuit. Once he got here, he loved the work and the pay wasn't bad either. Kwasniak says someone doing his job earns between $68,000 and $100,000 a year. "We worked a lot of hours and we're gone from home a lot so that's why we were benefited with the pay. But to go from what we got paid racing to a normal job here in another industry is quite significant," says Kasniak. He's hoping he won't have to leave racing. He's passed his resume to a former colleague at DEI who also lost his job. "This pile is the ones we've sent out to several people to help us," says Don Gemmell. More than 250 resumes have passed his desk over the past two weeks. They showcase the work of 20-year racing veterans to those with just a few years in the industry. Gemmell is a newcomer himself. But he's been an organizing force for those who have recently lost jobs in racing. He and a handful of others are collecting resumes, polishing and posting them at a Web site, dontcheckup.com. "When there's been a contraction or a team has had to cut, usually word of mouth was able to get you another position. You could walk down the street to the next race shop and pretty soon the guy's back to work. But we're not in that situation right now," Gemmell explains. And so he says these guys aren't used to writing resumes. They require some re-working before he can post them. One resume on his desk takes a third of a page to describe a decade in the racing business. Another is four pages long. So far, Gemmell knows of no one with a resume listed on the site who has been hired. But about a dozen businesses have contacted him directly, asking about the resumes. Most of the companies are in the automotive industry outside the Charlotte area, and none of them are in racing. Gemmell says the prospect of leaving that industry is tough for a lot of people. "Some of these people worked for 10 years in order to qualify themselves to come down here and work for 'the man' and they did that. And sometimes you just have to console them now that that's over," says Gemmell. Along with hundreds of others, Kwasniak is holding out hope that he'll have another shot at racing. If that doesn't happen soon, he's thinking of moving back to New York to work as an excavator. And in a rough economy he considers himself lucky to have that option. "I know I can have a job if I go back there. I know enough people up there. It won't be in racing, but it'll be a job."