“Ride-sharing, in the old days, was everyone hopping in the VW bus to see [the Grateful Dead’s] Jerry [Garcia]. Now it’s about getting a seat on a King Air 350i ”
NASCAR teams owner calls bizav "a major tool of our business"
For Richard Childress Racing (RCR), nearly every weekend from February through November is an "away game." While RCR's nascar teams may be tethered to their North Carolina headquarters, every few days they fly off to diverse points across the U.S.-and not via the airlines.
"People sometimes...think of [a corporate jet] as a luxury," said RCR patriarch Richard Childress. "We look at our aviation department no different than we look at a piece of equipment that we have to have to run our business."
Childress-who began his own career as a racecar driver in 1969-is coming off last year's highly successful season in which all three of RCR's Sprint Cup Series teams qualified for the last 10 "chase" races that determine the nascar champion.
Although none of the three won the championship, the one led by driver Ken Harvick earned three victories during the 36-race 2010 season and contended for the top prize all the way to the closing laps of the final race before finishing third in the point standings. In addition, Childress' teams drove in 35 races in the developmental-level nascar Nationwide Series and 25 races in the nascar Camping World Truck Series.
"One of the main things challenging our business is time," Childress said. "We have to get from place to place. They're not going to wait on you for the next race. You've gotta be there."
Back in the early 1980s, RCR was one of the first organizations in nascar to have its own airplanes. In those days, most drivers and teams drove to and from the races, which Childress stresses would be impossible today because of the crowded schedule and the [great distances between] race tracks. "Aviation is a major tool in our business," he said.
"[Flying privately allowed] our people [to] get home from a race early, spend some time with their family and then get to work Monday morning ready to go, instead of driving [home] late Sunday or early Monday morning," Childress added.
Currently, RCR owns a Hawker 800, which Childress uses; an Embraer 135 regional jet that hauls 33 people; and a King Air 350. Although RCR previously had a large helicopter and three EMB 135s, the company now contracts with ETA Logistics, which leases EMB 145s and Bombardier regional jets. "It's enormously smarter for us to do that through them than it would be for us to own the aircraft," Childress noted.
RCR needs the many aircraft at its disposal each weekend because Childress is expanding his Sprint Cup efforts to four teams, along with continuing the one-car Nationwide Series team and two Camping World Truck Series teams. All will have access to the RCR "air force."
ETA is responsible for transporting many nascar drivers and owners to and from the tracks on race day, and Childress is no different. When the race is over, he uses an ETA helicopter to fly to the closest airport, where his Hawker 800 awaits, ready to fly back to RCR headquarters in Welcome, N.C., just south of Winston-Salem.
A Childress race team has won the nascar championship 12 times, seven of them with racing legend Dale Earnhardt, and last year Childress was named Sporting News Owner of the Year for the third time.
In addition to the Sprint Cup, RCR was successful in other racing series last season. Its truck-racing series team earned two victories and rookie-of-the-year honors for driver Austin Dillon, Childress' eldest grandson. His younger grandson, Ty Dillon, earned two wins in just a partial first season in the lower-level ARCA Racing Series and RCR driver Tim George Jr. finished in the top 10 in the series. And Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Nationwide race at Daytona in July, driving a car under RCR ownership.