Former NASCAR employees put lives on hold

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A wedding is in the balance. A child's first trip to Disney World is on hold. A championship ring will have to be delivered. These are realities for former NASCAR crew members — estimated to be as many as 1,000 — who lost their jobs in the last year because teams merged, disappeared or cut staff. As the season-opening Daytona 500 approaches, many of those out of work are uncertain when they'll be rehired. "It's driving me nuts," said Travis McQuade, a mechanic at Gillett Evernham Motorsports for three years before he was laid off in December. "I just don't know what to do." What he might not do is get married. The wedding, he says, is set for July. Now that he's out of work, the date could change. "It may just be put on hold until I have some money," McQuade, 24, says. "I don't dare spend a dollar right now." Instead, he fills his time as a volunteer firefighter. He did that even when he worked at GEM, but when he lost his job, he was available to make more emergency runs. McQuade recently was honored as his company's most active member, responding to about 300 calls last year. It's the call of a job that many await, including Andy Page, formerly a fabricator at Dale Earnhardt Inc. Getting laid off is not new for Page, though. This is the fourth time in his career it's happened in various industries. He's never gone this long between jobs, though. Thus, he's looking for jobs outside of racing. "Bills have to be paid," he says. And a dream fulfilled. Page planned to take his family to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., this spring. His 6-year-old son Nicholas "really wants to go,'' Page says, but the trip is on hold. So each time Nicholas sees commercials for Disney and excitedly asks his dad about when they'll go, Page can only say, "Someday." For now, Page is developing a Web site that details his career in hopes someone will see it and hire him. The 40-year-old's tale is of perseverance. He wanted to get into racing but didn't know anyone in the sport. He took whatever jobs that got him close to racing, worked hard, went back to school, networked and eventually got a job. Even then, it hasn't been easy. He lost his job when Ginn Racing merged with DEI. He joined DEI shortly afterward only to lose his job there when that team merged late last year with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Layoffs have impacted nearly every team. Even Hendrick Motorsports, which has won the past three Cup titles and employs about 500 people, reduced its workforce. It let 19 people go late last year. David Tallman, who was a part of Jimmie Johnson's championship team the past two years, was among those cut. Tallman, 28, did the postrace teardown on Johnson's car, inspecting parts, cleaning the car and helping get it ready for its next race. "I knew the layoffs were coming, but sometimes you think you're going to be all right," Tallman says. Things changed when he heard about another person being added to his department who also was on a pit crew. "There was no other room for anybody," Tallman recalls. "I was the only one in my department that wasn't on a pit crew." Versatility has become the main focal point for teams. They want someone who can do several jobs. This is the era of doing more with less. Since Tallman didn't do as many jobs, he lost his position. Now Tallman awaits a championship ring that also symbolizes losing his job. He remains hopeful that he can find employment elsewhere. A recurring theme among those unemployed is that there will be openings in about a month or two when teams fire employees. Some crew members who lost jobs have already been hired elsewhere. The sudden influx of small-budget teams that came to Daytona in hopes of making the 500 and earning a big paycheck has led to a few hirings. Former Cup crew chief Derrick Finley, who lost his job when Petty Enterprises closed, is among the lucky ones. He's back at Daytona working with Joe Nemechek's team. Finley couldn't have imagined he'd be in this position last summer when Boston Ventures purchased majority interest in Petty Enterprises and talked of grandiose plans. Then the economy soured and Petty Enterprises, which seemed to be in position to survive only a few months earlier, merged with GEM. The deal put nearly every Petty Enterprises employee out of work. Finley's job with Nemechek's team came just in time. His wife is expecting their first child later this month. "It was kind of scary," Finley admits of having a child and possibly no job. Although he has a job, Finley understands better than most that there are no guarantees about employment. "Even the guys with jobs have to be somewhat worried because there's a lot of talented people without jobs," he says. They're waiting not only for a job but for so much more. Dustin Long covers the NASCAR circuit for the Virginian-Pilot, the Roanoke (Va.) Times and the (Greensboro, N.C.) News and Record.
Tagged: Jimmie Johnson, Joe Nemechek

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