At 6 a.m. on Memorial Day in Furniture Row Racing’s Stapleton-area shop, car chief Blake Harris gathered the staff of more than 40 around him for the meeting that opens every workday. Why so early? Like stockbrokers, the FRR crew works on Eastern Time.
Rather than starting by laying out the agenda for the day, Harris nodded to the two men next to him, both carrying huge bottles of Coca-Cola. They shook the bottles, unscrewed the caps and sprayed all.
It was the replication of the winner’s circle celebration Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Martin Truex Jr. drove the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing car to a dominating win in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, leading a Sprint Cup-record 588 of the 600 miles.
The celebration was brief, but raucous. Then all toweled off, washed up and went to work. On the shop floor, the crew was wrapping up work on readying a car from the team pool for Sunday’s race at the Pocono Raceway in Long Branch, Pa., and it was shipped out Tuesday afternoon.
One of the sport’s rare teams based outside North Carolina, FRR has roughly 30 “shop-based” employees who work and remain in Denver while a traveling group of about 12 heads to the races. (The team’s pit crew is separate and Eastern-based, supplied as part of FRR’s alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.) The spraying was important, symbolic and energizing, soggily including the members of the team who watched Truex’s run on television or online from home. And the members of the road crew present didn’t mind getting soaked twice.
“It’s about morale for the team, which you really need when you start getting into this time of the season, when people start getting tired,” team manager Joe Garone said at the shop Tuesday. “You see people running off the feeling off the energy you get when you reach one of your goals. This sport goes so long, and the road crew is gone from home four days out of the week. It’ll wear you out.
“So a win, and while there are all kinds of benefits you see out front, one of the things in the background is the energy it gives a team to keep pushing forward.”
Said crew chief Cole Pearn: “There are so many people who make sacrifices and put so much effort into it. It’s great to hear their stories when we get back, about what they thought was going on and how they felt when we won. Honestly, that’s one of the coolest things about winning.”
Garone and Pearn grinned and admitted they hadn’t gotten to the shop in time for the spraying. They snagged an extra couple of hours of sleep after landing back at Centennial Airport in the FRR company plane at about 3:30 a.m. and got to the shop about 8. They and the rest of the “road” team will leave for Pocono on Thursday.
Truex won at Pocono last year, and all of this — including Truex’s strong recent runs and a heartbreaking runner-up finish to Denny Hamlin by inches in the Daytona 500 — is demonstrating that a one-car team based far from the North Carolina team epicenter can get checkered flags, not just participation ribbons. Truex had 24 top-10 finishes in 2015, with the one win at Pocono. He’s had six top-10 finishes so far this year.
“There’s a difference between racing and winning, and racing and winning a championship,” Garone said. “We’ve raced. We’ve won races now. And the next step is winning a championship.”
Now that would rock the sport.
“I actually think other teams should think of getting out of that area,” Garone said. “There’s nothing wrong with Charlotte. But from a competitive standpoint, it would be to get off into an area and a different market, to bring NASCAR to an area as a home team. That’s for fans, for sponsors, everything, and from a business standpoint, it’s a really interesting idea.”
Garone’s point: In a sport with no home team, FRR has become one for Denver, including for sponsors with a regional emphasis. The sport’s not for everyone, but the team’s success under unlikely and unique circumstances is drawing interest along the Front Range from those who don’t know where to find the oil dipstick.
“The second thing is we don’t have teams down the street,” Garone said. “There’s one team in Colorado, and our guys are focused 100 percent on what we do here. … And what we do is pretty private. We don’t have to worry about people walking in and seeing what we’re doing.”
Pearn said he visited Joe Gibbs Racing in Charlotte last week. “There’s so many things you’re trying to stay up with that are hard when you’re away,” he said. “But it’s just really nice being out here, and being a single-car team is a huge advantage because there’s only one priority and we don’t have to compromise on anything. If we want to change something or move something, we can decide to do it and do it. The lack of red tape and corporate structure to this team is one of our strengths.”
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