Thursday, May 01, 2014

GKR crew: nurturing friendships & striving for success

**As printed in the Gettysburg Times, Saturday, April 19, 2014.

What do you think of when you think of dirt track racing? Maybe you think of the smell: that perfume of burning alcohol that can only be found at the racetrack. Or perhaps you think of flying mud pelting you in the face and particles of dust sticking in your contact lenses. Maybe you think about the food: greasy and most likely heart-attack-inducing but definitely some of the best nachos and soft pretzels you will ever have (or if you’re at the Grove, the pizza…yum!). Maybe you think of the bright-colored cars that hurtle around the oval tracks at crazy speeds. What about the drivers: your favorites that you cheer for, or maybe even your not-so-favorites that you boo?
Maybe something that doesn’t come to mind at first: the pit crews. You know, those guys who get the cars ready during the week, make sure they have enough fuel, enough air in the tires; the guys who hurry around trying to patch the cars back up when they wreck. The guys who play vital roles in getting the drivers and cars you love and hate out there on the track every weekend for your entertainment.
Danny Dietrich, local favorite, has a crew of dedicated guys behind him every week. The 25-year-old Gettysburg resident drives the Gary Kauffman-owned, Sandoe’s Fruit Market/Hickory Run Orchards LLC/Weikert’s Livestock No. 48 410 sprint car. He frequents local Central PA tracks such as Williams Grove and Lincoln Speedway, and even does some traveling. Dietrich ran in Australia last year and started his 2014 season down in Florida. The young driver has built up a resume of wins, including back-to-back victories against the World of Outlaws at Lincoln Speedway in 2012 and 2013.

But Dietrich wouldn’t be able to do it without his crew. The crew works together as a whole, but each member has their own specific duties that they must perform in order for the operation to work smoothly.
Gary Kauffman is the owner of not only the GKR No. 48, but also Sandoe’s Fruit Market, which is Dietrich’s main sponsor. Kauffman has gone to the races his whole life but is only in his fifth year as a car owner. Kauffman is responsible for some of the most fundamental yet important aspects of fielding a winning race team. “The main thing is providing good sponsorship,” he said of his role as a car owner. “I get Danny the best equipment that we can have to keep us up front. Our goal is to go out there and win, that’s the name of the game today.” In other words, he’s the one who makes sure all the bills are paid and keeps everything in line.
Jake Hinkle, 26, of York Springs, PA, is Dietrich’s crew chief. Jake started going to the races as a young teenager and started hanging out with Dietrich, who he went to school with. He eventually started helping him out. As crew chief, Jake works with Dietrich to make a lot of the decisions regarding how they will set the car up and what they will or won’t run. Jake describes his role as “putting up with the driver.”
Jakes younger brother, Cory Hinkle, 21, is also a member of the No. 48 crew. He met Danny through Jake and their father and started helping out on the team. Cory is the fabricator. He mostly takes care of things involving fuel, such as the fuel settings. After those responsibilities, he said he does “a little bit of everything.”
Yet another Hinkle family member works on the No. 48: Bo Hinkle, 39, of Biglerville, PA, is Jake and Cory’s uncle. Bo has been around racing his whole life but has only been involved with Danny for five years. Bo’s brother and other nephew work on Dietrich’s brother’s car, “so it’s sort of like the Hinkle’s and the Dietrich’s,” he said. Bo is what is referred to as the car chief. He’s constantly going over the car and checking it to make sure everything is where it should be.

Jason Gastley, 26, of Gettysburg, PA, grew up with Dietrich and used to sit with him and his mom in the stands to watch Dietrich’s father race. Gastley has been around the sport his whole life but didn’t start helping Dietrich on his car until 2006, after he graduated high school. “We each have our own little individual things we go over every week,” Gastley said. “I’ll do the tires and get everything mounted up and sized up for Jake and then let him make the decision on what we run.”
Last but not least is Tyler Koenig, 29, of Carlisle, PA. Like the others, he has been around racing since he was young, but started helping Dietrich around the middle part of last year. Koenig doesn’t do much mechanically with the car, but his role is still an important one. “Everybody’s got their own little gig,” he said. “For me it’s just getting lineups, scraping mud, anything small, cleaning the car off as it comes off the track; just little things so that the guys who are wrenching the car can worry about that and I’ll take care of the other stuff for them.”
Kauffman said he thinks they have one of the best crews around. “They’re young and they’re energetic and they work together as a team,” he said. “And with a young driver like Danny, we’ve got everything put together as one of the better teams here in Central PA. We all work together. That’s what it’s all about today.”
The whole crew agrees that they get along well with each other, and there’s a recurring theme present throughout their interaction with each other. They’re a family, of sorts, and it’s important for them to not only build those relationships at the track, but away from the track as well.
“We’re all basically family,” Cory said. “We’ve all known Danny forever. We all know how each other works and what works best for everyone.” Koenig agreed, saying, “We’re like brothers. We’re making fun of each other one minute and the next minute if any of them have an issue, we can talk to each other. That’s what makes it really good.” Gastley said the crew even spends time together during the off-season. “We have fun, we talk, and everybody is just on the same page,” he said. “In the off-season we all get together and still hang out so we’re all pretty close. We look at each other as family and have each other’s backs when something needs to get done.”

Kauffman said that in order to be successful, the members of a team need to be dedicated to the sport. “The main thing is, you’ve got to know what’s going on when it comes to sprint car racing, with the tires, with the fuel, with Jake setting the car up,” he said. “You just have to have guys on the crew that know what’s going on.”
A pit crew needs to be able to work efficiently and communicate well with each other. A key to that is having a mixture of people who get along on a fundamental basis. “Getting along and being on the same page and not fighting is important,” Gastley said. “Just staying happy and having fun with it. As long as everybody’s having fun it makes it enjoyable. When we can all get along and be around each other, I think that’s a huge thing on any team, whatever you race.”
“You need to be able to laugh together,” said Jake. “You can’t be angry at each other or nothing’s ever going to work. You’ve got to be able to listen to each other or you’re never going to do anything.”
Heated moments and arguments are bound to come up, but the No. 48 crew said it’s important to be able to talk it out and then put it behind you. “The good thing about us is if we get mad at each other, we can go drink a beer later on and it’s all good,” said Bo. “I think that’s the family thing that’s in it. We get mad every now and then but it doesn’t even last the next day. I think that’s why we’re so successful with what we do; we’re on the same level.”
Cory agreed and explained how things can escalate quickly in such a fast-paced environment. “I think one of the biggest things is not to take offense to anything anyone says because things happen quickly and sometimes you yell at each other,” he said. “But you’ve got to be able to turn around five minutes later and be totally fine with each other. I think that’s one of the biggest things because there’s going to be ups and downs.”

 The dynamics of a pit crew are a delicate balance between hard work and fun, but Dietrich’s crew seems to have it figured out. “We don’t come here to run second,” said Bo. “We’ve got the best driver out there and the best crew, I feel, and everybody sees that. We just have a good time.”
Dietrich expressed how important it is to have a reliable crew behind him. “Having a crew I can trust is huge,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about parts falling off the car. When I hit the racetrack I can worry about racing, not if something is going to fail.” And Dietrich trusts his team 100 percent. “My confidence in the entire team is as high as I could ever trust anyone,” he said. “Those guys work their butts off week in and week out. They are proud of the job they do and they have every right to be; they do a great job.”
The driver of the No. 48 is confident in his crew’s ability to be a winning force out on the track, but also to maintain their friendships regardless of their success out on the oval. “In my mind, a crew has to be able to have their heated moments and then turn around 15 minutes later and be back to jelling with winning in mind,” said Dietrich. “We are all one big family. At the end of the night we all can sit and have a beer together and I don’t think there will ever be a day we wont be able to do that.”