(all photos courtesy Miles Elliott)
A good friend of mine, big NASCAR fan, fellow freelance contributor to web sites, and a Facebook guru, Shane Smith from Porterville, CA, took the initiative, through some contacts, to put together an interview with Grant Hutchens. Through a few intermediaries Shane was able to meet with Grant, the engineer with the Richard Childress Racing #31 CAT Chevy driven by Ryan Newman, a couple weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway as the NASCAR West Coast Swing was winding up in Fontana.
Below is a little biographical information about Grant Hutchens that will give you some idea of how he ascended to the engineer position for RCR.
Grant started working for Evernham Motorsports in the R&D department back in 2005. In 2006 he moved to the race team side of Evernham Motorsports in the race engineer roles for a few different drivers in the ARCA Series, Camping World Truck Series, and the Busch/Nationwide/Xfinity Series. During those years Hutchens worked with a host of driver’s including, A.J. Foyt, IV, Boris Said, Erin Crocker (now Mrs. Ray Everham), Scott Riggs, Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger, and Patrick Carpentier, just to name a few.
In 2009 Hutchens was the race engineer for the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 19 Dodge with Elliott Sadler in the driver’s seat (that was after Petty Enterprises and Gillett- Evernham Motorsports merged). He later moved to RCR in 2011 with the newly formed No. 27 team with Paul Menard. Hutchens spent 2 years with Menard before working with the No. 29 team in 2013, Harvick’s last year at RCR, as the lead engineer of the team.
The departure of Kevin Harvick from RCR, and the promotion of the 2013 Nationwide Champion, Austin Dillon, from the Nationwide/Xfinity Series to the Sprint Cup level was just cause for the RCR No. 29 team to be renumbered. Once again the team that was formally captained by Dale Earnhardt, Sr. became the iconic black number three in 2014! Grant was the lead engineer for Dillon and that race team in his rookie year of 2014. The single biggest accomplishments of that team, with a rookie driver, was to win the pole for the 2014 Daytona 500!
Along the way Hutchens has been able to work with, and learn a lot from, some really cool people, as well as accomplish some pretty awesome things. He won the Brickyard 400 with Paul Menard. Additionally, he was with Harvick for 6 race wins, including the Sprint Unlimited and the Coca-Cola 600.
Here is the interaction, the questions asked by Shane and Grant’s answers to those questions.
Shane Smith: What does your normal workday consist of? (hours and days off )
Grant Hutchens: Our normal work week starts with a debriefing from the previous race Monday morning at the shop, discussing areas to work on and things that we learned. Then using Monday afternoons to continue to work on the upcoming race and areas that need to be researched further and information that we need. Tuesday is an off-day (workload permitting). Wednesday is at the shop, fine tuning any ideas and packages for the upcoming race, a quick review meeting on Wednesday to summarize what we plan to do. I try to take a quick look down the road a week or two at upcoming races and see if there is anything we need to be looking at or working on well ahead of time such as testing or any scheduled wind tunnel or rig tests. Thursday is usually spent traveling to the upcoming race. Friday and Saturday is spent at the race track with practice sessions and qualifying, leading up to the race on Sunday. Shop hours are from 7 to 4, but it is more normal for us to stay later to finish everything we need to.
Shane Smith: What are your duties at the race shop?
Grant Hutchens: My job at the shop is to prepare and analyze information for each race event/track and work on the development of the cars and setups that we take to the track.
SS: What are your specific duties on race day?
GH: My race day duties include working on race strategy (pit strategy, tire strategy), race adjustments (chassis changes, tire pressure changes, tape), and calculating fuel mileage, which is a big part of the race strategy. I use the morning to prepare for the race by reviewing caution history reports and reading through the race history notes from previous races.
SS: How do you go about setting up the pit speed on the tach (tachometer)? I know that it is a relationship of gear ratio, but how exactly is that accomplished?
GH: We calculate the speed of the car based on RPM using tire circumference and gear ratios. The tachometers that many of the teams use can be programmed to show the driver when different speeds are reached by displaying various combinations of lights.
SS: Who determines what the instrument panel arrangement of gauges looks like? ( Driver preference or race team preference)
GH: We have a company standard gauge layout, but we do have the ability to move some gauges and switches around for driver preference.
SS: Does the primary race car and the backup car leave the race shop with the same setup underneath the cars?
GH: We don’t really think about the back-up cars as back-up cars. We try to keep the mindset that we are preparing 2 primary cars, so they are setup as close as possible.
SS: Do both cars leave the shop with a race track specific setup or a general setup?
GH: Both cars leave the shop with track specific setups.
SS: How does this West Coast Swing affect race car transportation?
GH: The primary transporters for each team will stay on the west coast. We have other haulers that will bring primary and back-up cars from the shop to the west coast and pick up the previous races primary and back-up cars and deliver the upcoming races primary and back-up cars. The hauler driver’s will stay out west for more than 3 weeks.
SS: Are the two cars that leave the shop planned to race at all three tracks?
GH: No, we will have different primary and back-up cars for each of the 3 events. For Las Vegas and Fontana we had the same back-up car but it was sent back to the shop after the Las Vegas race to get prepared for Fontana.
SS: If any of the cars get damaged how do you get another car to the track?
GH: In rare circumstances additional cars can be transported to the track from the shop if more cars are needed, it has come up for the Daytona 500 events, but fortunately we have not had this issue.
SS: Do you have the capability to repair damaged race cars in the hauler?
GH: A primary transporter is outfitted with enough parts and pieces to rebuild all major components of the race car. Everything from engines, transmissions, suspension parts, body repair, electrical and safety equipment are carried on a weekly basis to the race track.
I would like to thank both Grant Hutchens and Shane Smith for selecting my web site to publish this insightful interview. It is very rare that the “true troopers’, the people who are in the trenches day in and day out, get any of the spotlight in NASCAR! We mainly see and hear from the race car drivers and/or the race team owners. However, there is no doubt that racing at the highest level takes a team of highly skilled individuals, that are selfless people and also have the burning desire to be the best at what they do each and every week, for 38 weeks a year!
And, for those that have more than a couple of decades of life under their belt, I will use a famous Paul Harvey saying to tie up loose ends:
“And now you know the rest of the story. Good Day”!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!