Twice a month, we will utilize this blog to showcase some of the employees of Pocono Raceway. Today, we feature Lee Horner from our Operations Department.
“How it all began“
Written By: Lee Horner
I got my start in racing with go-karts as a teenager and then dirt track racing when I was about 19 or 20. I took a three-year break from the racing scene, then got back into racing on the short tracks of Orange County Speedway, North Carolina. Ace Speedway was another asphalt track our team raced. I always worked as a crew member helping out in some way, shape or form, maintaining and building cars.
As I got into the late 90’s, I stepped up to a team that had a very good sponsorship. Adam and Eve became our sponsor. They gave us $25,000 a year to run a late model and that made us very competitive. To NASCAR Sprint Cup Teams, that’s like a 25 million dollar sponsorship. Several times we tied for the most poles at our local track. The same gentleman that was the Owner/Driver of that late model, also did modified’s. We would bounce back and forth between the two, if we weren’t running for a points’ championship. One year, we ran a full season at Orange County and Ace Speedway, running 44 late model races. You tear a car up on a Friday night at Ace Speedway, stay up all night to fix it so it will carry over for a race Saturday at Orange County and then spend the night doing the same for the next day. In the end, it just lead to making friends in the racing community. So many from Ace Speedway have moved up the ladder and gone on to what is now known as the Xfinity Series and moved up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Those are the people you just kept in touch with. On the Friday night of a race those faces would show back up again, they worked for all the different organizations.
Some of the guys I used to compete against, they’re in the top leagues. One name comes to mind, Chris Rice. He was one of the guy’s we were always trying to beat, because he was very good at what he did. I also got to know and become good friends with Carl Long. I started helping him on a volunteer basis in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and then he bought a truck, and we raced in the Craftsman Truck Series as well. He didn’t run a full schedule because we were a low budget team. He did what he could, we came to this track a hand full of times where NASCAR called him and said if you show up we will guarantee you a spot because we only have 43 cars. You always try to get involved with a team, but with teams you have to know somebody.
One day in September 2005, I went online searching for a job with a team, switched over to the NASCAR website and they had an opening for an Inspection Technician with the Busch series (now called the Xfinity Series). So I emailed them a resume, and in February of 2006 they called and asked if I was still interested in the position. Of course I was. A couple of weeks later a woman called and set up a phone interview that was supposed to be about 15-20 minutes long. I think we were on the phone talking for 45 minutes! She asked if I would be willing to come to Concord, N.C. to the NASCAR Research and Development Center for a personal interview and I said without a doubt, yes. The director at the time was Joe Balash, we hit it off well, the interview lasted over an hour. March 10, 2006 was my hire date. I started off with a part-time schedule, that’s how they started you back then. You went to the races they chose for you, and then you were able to choose races you wanted to go to. I chose tracks that I had never been to, my first track being Bristol Motor speedway and in April 2006, it snowed like crazy there, good times.
My main job then was handling templates, I did body configurations for Chicago Autohaus – Collision Repair. I have a background in collision repair service. Collision repair was my line of work for a number of years and then I went into Car Repair West Chicago IL for awhile when I was looking for something a little healthier. Some of the guys that didn’t do so well moved on to the construction business, but I kept my hand in the collision business as well. For a short while I dealt with locksmiths quoting locksmith prices when people were locked out of their cars. That came in handy with the race cars, because you were always tearing them up and putting them back together. When you go late model stock car, you don’t replace anything unless it’s un-repairable. The cars were designed to be repaired easily.
Our Itinerary for a typical race weekend would go something like this;
Fly out on Wednesday to your destination, and go to work on Thursday inspecting cars all day. Thursday would mainly be an inspection day depending on the track we were at.
Friday would be a practice day for the competitors to have their time on track to dial their cars in.
Saturday morning, we would do a pre-qualifying inspection, qualify the cars. With the Xfinity Series you would impound the cars so they can’t be touched. The only adjustments that can be done are air pressure, wedge adjustments, or track bar adjustments. Being limited on your wedge adjustment meant if you put one round in the right rear, you had to take one out of the left rear, so you couldn’t go down both or up both. The track bar adjustments were however you wanted to do them there were not limitations.
So if there was an incident on track where they had to get a back-up car out, there would be an inspection on that back-up car, and then it would have to go through a qualifying inspection if it was before qualifying. If the incident happened during qualifying, you just did an overall inspection and the car would be put on the grid and they started dead last because they were in a back-up car.
As a part timer, I did about 10-15 races. Part timers were only allowed 1,000 hours and we were approaching that 1,000-hour mark. I let the Series Director know that when a full time position was open, I would be available. I was self-employed in the construction business and very interested in a career change.
He offered me that full-time position, and I took care of my clientele and shut my business down. I was totally committed to NASCAR. I went to work for him in January of 2007 as a full time NASCAR employee.
Still doing templates, I started out in the back of the car when the template was long and went from nose to tail. My responsibility was to check the rear part of the car from the top of the rear glass back. Then there was a template that went on the deck lid, a template that went on the spoiler, three more that went on the rear body panel, the rear bumper and one that went down the very center of the rear. There were marks made on the templates so you knew where they should line up. You also had a block that gave you tolerances. If the template went in and drug it was okay, if it didn’t go in it was okay, if it went in and didn’t make contact then they were supposed to repair it. Depending on the location of the problem you would write in on the inspection sheet in red, which meant it had to be repaired and checked again before they could hit the track for practice. Otherwise, you wrote the discrepancy in black ink and the car would be repaired before the qualifying inspection.
So this goes on until 2010, traveling with the Nationwide and Busch Cup series. If you worked Saturday, you automatically worked Sunday. We attended the mandatory meeting on Sunday morning before the garages opened. Then they would release us and we would be free to finish up what we needed to do before the Cup side started their pre-race inspections. Once they started their pre-race inspections they would call us on the radio and we would go over and help. The same thing with the Truck Series, if they needed help they would just radio our Supervisor and he would ask for a volunteer or choose one. I always volunteered.
In 2010 some positions became available, and I was ready for a department change being in templates for quite some time. The Cup Series made their transition to their “Car of Tomorrow,” the Generation Five car. So they were a completely different entity of what the Nationwide system was doing. The Nationwide series had run their “Car of Tomorrow” on the Super Speedways. They were making the transition also for their new car. There was a gentleman I would help on race day with mechanical weights and measurements. I would go in early and help him through his entire inspection. He asked me if I would like to come to work for him, and I said well you have to have a position available first. The gentleman said when I do I will let you know, and he did. So, I went to the Director at the time, John Darby and said I would like to put my name in for that position. That was in Michigan, late spring 2010. When the Cup Series and the Truck Series went to Talladega that October, is when I made my transition to full time for the Cup Series. Early on in my role, one of the guy’s became ill and I was put into templates again. I wasn’t too happy, but they told me be patient when everything gets back in line we will put you in mechanical weights and measurements like you transferred for which concerns, the body weights, wheelbase, tread width, chassis offset, camber caster on front end tires. Those were the things we all checked. At one point in time we did right height, and of course NASCAR’s done away with mandatory right height in the Cup Series. In 2013 NASCAR went to the laser platform, so that did away with the wheel base platform I was in charge of. I was put inside the weight room to help, sometimes I would operate the laser platform, work checking camber on the front end. That was the cool thing about mechanical weights and measurements department, they switched you around doing something different to keep you interested.
I used to come to Pocono with Carl Long and as soon as we pulled to the facility I fell in love with it. That was in those black and white days of “Doc” Mattioli. My understanding was his theory was everything was black and white, what you see is what you get. In 2014, I parted ways with NASCAR and I reconnected with this woman and her daughter I met in 2006. Whenever I was in town with NASCAR she, her daughter and I would meet up and hangout. We started dating before I quit NASCAR and things became a little more serious and I decided to take it to the next level and move up here. One day, I pulled up to the Operations office here at Pocono, and filled out an application. About a month or so went by and I got a call from Starr Warner wanting to know if I was still interested in working for Pocono and would I come in for an interview. She said if I was coming in for the interview I should bring my work clothes with me. My start date was May 2015. My responsibilities here at Pocono involve Outside Operations, anything inside the catch fence to prepare for any event that may be going on, with the exception of anything that directly involves the race track surface itself. If we have to put up cones for a road course, and there are several options for a road course, or bicycle fence for an event. Inside operations figures out what the client of a lease event wants and needs then makes it happen whether it be a small event, NASCAR or IndyCar.
I always thought Pocono would be a cool place to work for and it definitely is. I love this place and it’s a beautiful facility. The people are great here too. Being able to see the changes that have gone on is awesome too. Brandon and Nick learned to add color and move away a bit from the black and white theme. We used to hate coming through that tunnel and now look at it. The changes are steady and ongoing up to this very minute. I love it, I love being here.