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Freight All Kinds – The Logistics Of Shipping Racecars

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There was a time when he was a younger man that Brian Colangelo felt the need for speed. A team manager for a professional auto racing team, Colangelo loved taking his team's cars and pushing them to run as hard and fast as they could. Each time they beat the competition, it only spurred him on to keep working on those cars – "developing" them, as he calls it – so that they leave the other racecars in the dust with each new race.

Nowadays, the racing world has changed, he says, and the new rules challenge the ability to develop racecars to reach their utmost velocity. Still, Colangelo remains dedicated to the family business. Like his grandfather, who was a racer and had his own automotive repair business, and like his dad, who was a machinist by trade and helped his father on the weekends, Colangelo spends his days in the garage. As team manager for CORE autosport, he likes organizing his team and solving the complex problems that arise from hauling racecars, equipment and gear from race to race.

"In most forms of racing, there are seasons that last seven to eight months of the year. Even though there are no races during some months, you never stop developing at the shop and doing private testing at various race tracks," Colangelo said.

CORE autosport is affiliated with a championship series run by the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). IMSA, and other North American race car series and events such as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing – popularly known as NASCAR for those Dale Earnhardt fans out there – and the Indianapolis 500.

These series, plus international ones like the Formula One, in which 10 racing teams compete in 21 races across five continents, require racecar teams to develop sophisticated plans to haul racecars and even sometimes backup racecars, along with tires, tools, spare parts and awning. Racecar teams also need to factor in how weather might affect their race day operations and whether the transport mode has dimensional restrictions.

"Their trailers are pretty impressive. Some of them have garages," said Shannon Noyes of NASCAR's teams. Noyes is director of sales for Reliable Carriers, a trucking company that handles transporting specialty cars, such as antique cars, racecars and manufacturer prototypes. "Their logistics procedures are very well run and lean."

Image: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Transporting a racecar

Amateur racers might be tempted to drive a racecar onto a trailer that's attached to a Ford F-150 and take that race car down Interstate 81 or some other highway to that race across state lines.

But professional and semi-professional racers and serious hobbyists know that while that might be the cheapest option, it can also cause the car some serious damage.

"It's my net worth going down the road," said Mike Shank, team owner of Ohio-based Meyer Shank Racing, which also races in the IMSA series. Shank has been racing since 1989, but he's been a motorhead kid since his father introduced him to auto racing at age seven or eight. He loved racecars so much that he could listen to motors and tell his parents whether that motor was a V-8 or a four-cylinder.

Shank ensures that his racecars are strapped down the right way when they head to races because one of the keys to winning is to make sure all trucks and trailers are kept at a high level of maintenance.

"It all starts with the maintenance of the equipment and making sure my drivers are rested and ready to go," Shank said.

Racecars require special transport because they can have a low clearance. Often, teams and racecar owners will use trucks that have hydraulic lift gates to get the racecar inside the trailer.

Image: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

"A lot of racecars are unique, you really have to be careful," said Dean Wilson, vice president of family-run company Intercity Lines. The Massachusetts-based boutique firm is the in-house transporter for the nearby Palmer Motorsports track, and it works with members of the Ferrari Clubs of America and the Porsche Club of America.

The lift gate acts like an elevator, Wilson said. If a car owner is worried about driving the car onto the lift gate because the car is fussy or difficult, Intercity Lines will push it onto the lift gate and inside the trailer for a fee.

Once the car is inside, Intercity Lines runs nylon straps around the rubber of the tire to secure it. The nylon straps don't affect the prep work that the racecar underwent just before the loading, such as balancing, Wilson said.

Intercity Lines' trailers can fit up to six cars, and so sometimes members of a racing club will find five other club friends to ship their cars together, sometimes coast-to-coast to events like the annual Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, a venerated car show held in August in California.

Another factor in the safe transport of a racecar is the driver. While Intercity Lines doesn't have truck drivers dedicated to driving only specialty cars, their drivers know the special touch that's required when hauling a Ferrari or a McLaren.

Image: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Reliable Carriers also relies on truck drivers who might have the right equipment or the right personal finesse to handle specialty cars. Sometimes the company will get a call to haul a racecar if a personal driver isn't available or if someone's truck breaks down.

"It has to be someone who can represent the company," Noyes said. About 70 percent of the specialty car work the company does is event-driven, and sometimes the driver will need to interact with company executives or celebrities. The event might be an auction or a photo shoot or a commercial, or it might be a public speaker talking about a fuel-cell vehicle.

Reliable Carriers also handles historically valuable race cars, which can be a challenge because you can't usually put straps on them.

"You have to check them much more frequently," Noyes said.

Image: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Beyond the racecar

While special care is taken to haul the racecar to a race or a classic car show, oftentimes it's not just the racecar that needs to get shipped. Race teams also make a lot of effort to care for their equipment and ensure their safe transport.

A typical week for Shank's teams might look like this – from Monday to Wednesday, his teams will be prepping the racecars in the shop. On Thursday (but sometimes it will be Wednesday), the team will travel to a race. They'll set up near the track on Thursday afternoon and plan to be on the track on Friday.

Monday through Wednesday will also be dedicated to maintaining and cleaning the pit equipment and the trailers so that "everything is spotless when we hit the road again," Shank said.

Colangelo says CORE autosport is allowed to bring in only one trailer per entered car for each race. In each trailer, he must fit in all of the team's pit equipment, equipment and tools for setting up the car, all the spare parts – bodywork, engines, gearboxes, chassis and suspension parts, electronics, and so on – plus the trailer awning and flooring, wall boards and the hospitality items.

Sometimes the team will have the use of a garage at the race, while at other times, the team will have to set up an awning. The equipment that the team brings can vary, but the car-related equipment never changes.

"This makes efficient packing and use of any available space a must," Colangelo said. "We fabricate special carts to package all of the items as efficiently as possible and fabricate special loading bars to make the loading and unloading as efficient as possible."

Hauling needs don't change that much domestically from race to race other than the time needed to transport. Sometimes if the transporter needs to get back quickly to the home base in Rock Hill, South Carolina, CORE autosport will create a tag team of drivers instead of just one driver.

Image: Rick Dole Photography

But international races are different. The team has to consider the size and shape restrictions of air-shipped and sea-shipped containers. When CORE autosport did international races, its staff needed to plan ahead and do pre-loading exercises at the shop to "tetris" everything for each scenario as efficiently as possible, Colangelo says.

"This is critical to the budget as you usually pay for volume rather than weight. All of the flight cases need to be designed to fit both air and sea cargo containers," Colangelo said.

For fly-away races, the team also needs to remove sections of the car to get it to fit on air pallets and to waterproof all of the open areas.

"You typically need to raise the ride height of the car to accommodate placing it on a pallet as well," Colangelo said.

How a team's crew travels to different races has changed over the years, too. Before, mechanics and support staff would relocate as new teams form and old teams fold. Now, mechanics and support staff live where the choose and fly in when they're needed.

Meyer Shank Racing's team is about two-thirds local, while almost two-thirds of CORE autosport's staff are considered fly-ins.

Although the racing season stops around wintertime in North America, being on a racecar team is a year-long endeavor, which means that the maintenance and care of racecars and their equipment can be year-round, too.

Image: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Classic car shows also happen year-round, with events happening in warmer regions such as southern California in the winter months. When specialty cars travel between warm and cold regions, those cars might need to undergo a "winterizing" process to protect them against the changes in temperature, WIlson said.

Even though the championship series that CORE autosport participates in runs from the first week in January to mid-late October, Colangelo spends the winter holidays developing his team's cars or preparing new cars for the next season. The racing world might be evolving, but he'll do what he can to support his team and help them to win.

The schedule "pretty much makes it a full-year championship with no downtime," Colangelo said.

Shank also races year-round because his teams do sports car racing and Indy racing. But the year-round schedule suits him, he says.

"It's my love. It's my passion. And I keep doing it because I have to make a living," Shank said.

Image sourced from Pixabay

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