I was certainly excited about being back to the track. I admitted that earlier.
But nothing could have prepared me for the first initial feeling of returning to the garage in the midst of the hustle and bustle. There is nothing that could replace that feeling as that’s something that’s indescribable.
Some people may call it painstaking, but the feeling of preparing a 800 horsepower machine for battle and finding the perfect balance had a special sense to it. I couldn’t describe it if I tried, but I loved working on cars for some reason. Being able to work on a racecar, and trying to find that perfect balance that was really fast and balancing the rulebook – brought forth a surreal feeling on my shoulders.
I couldn’t be more proud than I was at this moment to be back in the midst of this.
“Make sure you’re taking care of yourself Ronnie,” I hear a female voice over my shoulder and couldn’t help but smile a little. Considering how much I wanted to kill her a couple weeks ago, I had to admit – Candiss was a pretty darn cool lady and I was glad that Jimmie had been able to get with her.
“Don’t worry – I’m only doing as much as necessary but not pushing it over the edge,” I assure her before glancing back down at my notes.
With this being my first weekend back at the track and concerns over my well-being – I had to admit that they were valid, Chad had limited my working abilities on the race team. He had put the handlings of technical inspection in the hands of Cody and the crew, which it seemed that they had things down to science. There were spots that I would’ve done something different and could’ve improved the process, but Cody was learning quite well. Although when it came to practice, I was given permission to watch over the runs and share my input with Chad and Jimmie in what needed to be done.
Now with practice over, I was back to looking over the notes – as I normally would – in trying to figure the right set-up for qualifying. Jimmie’s job was to drive and tell us what the car was doing. My job was to see the trends and what the mechanical side of the car was doing. It was Chad’s job to put that together and figure what direction we should go, along with directing us all. Now with my notes, I was doing that crucial job that I loved.
A lot of people would look at these data notes and puke, wishing that they could simply turn some wrenches and have an answer with ease. However, I enjoyed the process more than anything. There was something about comparing trends in Jimmie’s laps to his teammates and competitors, along with tire wear and the car’s handling per Jimmie’s description. Looking over what seemed to be a jumbled puzzle, there was satisfaction in trying to put the best pieces together for success. There was even more satisfaction and pride when it worked out right and we got to celebrate.
“I’m just making sure that you’re taking care of yourself,” Candiss states once again, breaking my concentration away from the paper. I understood her concern and she had a right to be concerned. However, she also had to understand that I needed my space and ability to concentrate.
“Trust me – I am doing that,” I assure her once again. “Now, can you give me some time so I can look this over?” She simply shakes her head yes as I return my eyes back to the papers. Some people liked looking at the computer screen, but I had more fun when the data was printed and in hand. Let’s just say that having a messy notebook with notes all over was how I worked. It was fine by Chad, as long as I had the answers that he needed.
“Well?” I hear after about 10 minutes and recognize that voice immediately – the boss was done with his fellow crew chief/driver meeting and had returned for some answers. I simply shift through the papers, and find the one with the finalized notes before handing it over with ease.
“We’re right on top of the money in having the speed to be quick later today and in the race,” I tell him, and that was no lie. Whether single-lap speed, five-lap speed or 10-lap speed, we were solid on the charts. Jimmie also hadn’t complained about the car much so that meant that we were headed in the right direction. Now it was just about perfecting that for Sunday night.
“Thank you,” Chad replies as he looks it over, smiling. A happy crew chief means that we have a really good car, and means the competition better look out. “Make sure you get some rest and take care of yourself.”
“I’m fine Knaus,” I assure him as I stand up from my spot and head over to the cooler, grabbing a bottle of water.
Slipping the lid off and leaning back against he pillar, the cold water felt good down my throat in cooling me off and relaxing. Thus far, things had been pretty solid. There was some minor pain in my back and the stomach wound, but nothing that I hadn’t grown used to lately and nothing that a couple Tylenol hadn’t made disappear away.
Everybody was more concerned about how my chest was feeling as a result of that stupid drug dosage. It had been controlled to this point, simply a small pain but I had been careful to not do anything too stressful or strenuous to cause that to grow. As long as I kept myself calm, didn’t do too much and rested once the pain grew a little more, there wouldn’t be any worries. Now if you could assure the others of that, that’d be nice but it probably wouldn’t work as they’d constantly ask no matter what. It was fine by me, as I knew they were just asking repeatedly because they cared.
The nap of the day came during the break between practice and qualifying. There was nothing going on with the Cup side of things and I could’ve paid attention to things on the truck and XFINITY side, but knew that a nap was needed. It’d help relax me more and take some pressure off to relieve some pain, and might as well do it when I wasn’t missing anything too important.
I didn’t realize how tired I was, though admittedly, till my head hit the pillow in Jimmie’s motorcoach on the couch. I thought I’d just kick my feet up and relax, but as soon as my feet went up and my head was comfy – my eyes were closed just like that. Truthfully, the two hours that I was there undisturbed sleeping were peaceful.
Glancing at the time and knowing that qualifying was in about 15 minutes, I made my way out of the motorcoach and back towards pit road. I wanted to be there to watch it for myself and help out a bit as needed.
Of course, thus far I had been able to keep my appearance at the track quiet without catching the attention of too many people. There had been some fellow drivers and other teams’ members that came over to check on me. It was great that way as it meant no worries or pressure on my shoulders. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stand around and deal with questions, honestly.
Reaching pit road was a different story, though. That wasn’t a place that I could get to unnoticed and unannounced as when I was within feet of even being close, a swarm of people looked my way. Glancing at their cameras and recorders, I took a deep breath and allowed them to make their way over as I kept heading my way to pit road.
Whether I liked it or not, I was going to have to face the media and talk to them.