I know that we are about a week and a half past the NHRA Bristol event, but I felt that this was a good time to look back on our weekend with Billy Glidden and the Precision Turbo/Mickey Thompson Pro Mod Camaro team. An inside view of what most never get to see.
The Tuesday night before Bristol we were invited to join the team that weekend in Bristol to capture what goes on during the race weekend and create content. This is a bit out of the norm for what Ellen and I usually do though. We normally cover races as a whole and not just one team, but this was an opportunity that I didn't want to pass up.
Growing up in drag racing since the mid 90's I was a fan of Billy and his amazing black Mustang LX that everyone in the door car world knows. I remember watching in 2002, long into the early morning hours as Billy and his father Bob ran against each other at World Ford Challenge in St. Louis, and then watching him again at World Ford Challenge in Indy. He was there with his parrot and always seemed to have a smile on his face. All of this led me to wonder what kind of person is Billy behind the scenes, and now I was getting a chance to find out.
Let me say this though before getting in depth about our weekend in Bristol. It may sound like I was a fan just getting access, but the fact is that couldn't be farther from the truth. While yes I am a fan of drag racing, which is why both Ellen and I have the job and company we have, I was there to work. We were there for a specific reason and those that know me know that I wouldn't hold back if I thought someone was full of it.
We arrived at the track on Friday morning, got parked, got out gear and headed straight to the Precision Turbo/Mickey Thompson pits. At first I wasn't sure what exactly to do as this was a first and I was out of my initial comfort zone. Harry came out to meet us and pretty much said to make ourselves at home. He gave us a general idea of what they were looking for over the weekend and we knew how to take it from there.
While most people are enamored with celebrities or athletes, I tend to be more nervous around certain drag racers. I would be more comfortable talking with John Force or Shawn Langdon, than I would be doing an interview with Dave Hance or Billy Glidden. So going into the weekend, my objective was to stay out of the way and get the moments captured that we needed.
There was going to be two qualifiers on Friday and then one Saturday. Now Billy had just gone to the finals at Etown the previous weekend, so expectations were certainly high this weekend. Trying to stay out of the way of a crew that is non stop is one heck of a task in itself. This team is go go go from early in the morning until late in the evening. I wasn't surprised at all by this though, as I had always heard that Billy & Shannon, his wife were two of the most hard working people in the sport.
Now you have to remember that this team had only been together for a few weeks prior to this race and everyone was wondering how cohesive Billy and Harry would be since they are such strong minded and strong willed people. Right off the bat on Friday you'd never be able to tell that this was a team was just a few weeks old, they ran like a well oiled machine.
To my surprise, Harry, the cars owner, is someone that gets in there and has his hands on everything. He understands the car and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. I have seen a lot of car owners that just write a check and don't touch anything and that certainly isn't the case here. Billy is known for working on his stuff like a mad man, but my thoughts were that this is a turbo car, what is he going to be doing. That also was quickly answered. He was into everything as if this were the Mustang and it was just him and Shannon again.
The crew is a small crew compared to some others. It's Harry, JR, Billy, & Shannon for most of the hands on stuff. JR was taking care of the transmissions most of the weekend, which in itself appeared to be a full time job over the weekend, while Billy, Shannon, & Harry handled most other things. And when I say most other things, it seemed like, with the exception of removing the engine they were into everything.
One of the things that stuck out to me the most was the ease in which Billy and Shannon communicate in the pits. I have honestly never seen two people communicate using only one word over and over for what seemed like five minutes to get something done. Just simple voice inflections were all it took for them both to be on the same page. It was almost a thing of beauty to see two people so in sync with each other.
Round one came around and I made my way to the stands to shoot, while Ellen went with the team to staging. Unfortunately round one wasn't as fruitful as the team had hoped for, but that's why we have three rounds of qualifying. I headed back to the pits after Billy's pass so that I could catch the between round maintenance and adjustments that needed to be made. To me it seemed like there would be plenty of time in between rounds, but to this team there was not a single wasted minute.
In between rounds I watched as Harry, JR, Shannon, and Billy all talked and tried to figure out what to do during Q2. So Q2 comes around and again, this is not the results that the team is looking for. With only one more qualifying session on Saturday at about lunch time, it's going to be a scramble since they are not qualified yet.
Saturday morning, Ellen and I arrive at the track and again head straight over to the pits, where we find everyone already thrashing on the car. Not sure if it's a transmission issue or what exactly it is, but the car wasn't happy on Friday and they've only got one more chance to put it in the field and that's coming up quick. It was a mad dash to get all the issues resolved and get the car together for Q3.
The thing that I have seen time and time again over the past twenty plus years going to the drag strip is that when the times get tough people start to lose their cool. I saw the exact opposite happening on Saturday in these pits. Yes the entire crew was hustling, but there was no anger, no screaming, none of the acting like a five year old like I had seen over and over through the years. This team was on a mission and they were doing exactly what needed to be done in an attempt to accomplish that goal.
I am not sure that I have ever seen anyone work as hard as Shannon Glidden at the track though. Shannon absolutely crushes the work. One minute she is helping with the transmission, the next I turn around and she taking the huge back tires off the car. All this while keeping a smile on her face and asking me if I need water.
It was about that time, the NHRA official came by to let them know how much time before they had to go up for Q3 and the entire time I was thinking to myself there is no way they are going to have this done in time to make Q3. I headed back over to the stands to get some shots of Billy while Ellen rode up to staging with the team to get her amazing shots.
Thinking to myself the entire time, this is the only shot you've got to make the field so you'd better make it count. My anticipation was up because of course I wanted the car to get in the field and go rounds. Light comes down and it shakes the tires a tad, the next thing I see is the front end of the car way too high up in the air. This can't be good I kept thinking, and that's when I realized that they were not going to make this field of 16. For a moment I looked at the big screen to watch the replay and get a better idea of what happened. That's when I saw the car hike the front end up about 18" and then made a move for the left wall. Watching from where I was you couldn't tell how close Billy had come to the wall. Watching the replay and all I could think then was, live to race another day.
By this time I was feeling deflated and took my time before heading back to the pits. No one likes to not make the show, and after going to the finals the week before I thought to myself, there are going to be some angry people in that pit. To my shock and surprise though, it was the exact opposite of that when I got back there. This team really is a bunch of professionals. There was no pointing fingers, placing blame, or yelling. All that I found were some disappointed yet very upbeat people. They understood how it works and understood that you may not win every single one.
Something that really took me aback, even after Q3 when they didn't make the show, was how great Billy was with fans. There was never a time that I saw, where Billy didn't make time for someone, and he did it with a smile. He never appeared to be irritated or seem bothered by someone wanting to speak to him. Trust me when I say I have had my fair share of drivers at events I attended as a fan long ago, completely blow me off or act like it's a bother to interact with me and other fans. It is refreshing to see Billy isn't one of those guys.
I cannot say enough positive things about Shannon as well. I am going to give a quick example of the gratitude she has as well. I was sitting in the pits on Saturday after Q3, later in the day, and the car was still out. A gentleman came up to the pits and asked me if there were any shirts for sale. I quickly grabbed Shannon's attention and she stated that they didn't have any there. Now normally you would see both parties say OK and be on there way, but not Shannon. She took the time to talk to this gentleman about getting him a shirt. She got his address and even checked the shirt his was wearing to make sure they got the right size. Shannon told him that they would get one out to him and that if the size was wrong, that he should call them and they will take care of it. I honestly was in awe from watching all of this unfold. That was a moment that I will take with me and always remember.
My weekend at Bristol taught me so much about team work as well. I always wondered how it was that Billy and Shannon could accomplish what they accomplished with it just being the two of them before, and I get it now. It helps me to understand other small teams like Chad Hester and Rickie Smith or Kevin Fiscus and Johnny Drama. People who work together in such a way because they just get it. They know what needs to be done and they know how to communicate effectively.
Finally in closing, I personally want to thank some people and companies that made this happen though. First off I want to thank Harry from PTE for bringing us in. Next a big thanks to Billy & Shannon for making us feel welcome and not getting agitated about having cameras in your business all weekend. JR was a great sport too. I think we took fifty photos of him working on the transmission and he was great about it. Lastly I want to thank some of the team sponsors, because without them there would have been no reason for us to go. So a shout out to Precision Turbo & Engine, Mickey Thompson Tires, Brisk USA Spark Plugs, Larry Jeffers Race Cars, VP Racing Fuel, HPL Oil, AFIS Advanced Fuel and Ignition Systems, Pro Torque, & Jesel.
Part two of the story will be soon, and that will be the perspective that Ellen had on the weekend and her time spent with the team. Stay tuned for that.