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The Fastest Body Shop in Town: Joe Gibbs Racing

A visit to Joe Gibbs Racing in Charlotte, N.C., revealed a shop with a lightning speed cycle time.

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This month, I’m returning to my format of showing you a unique body repair shop. My travels took me to NASCAR in Charlotte last month, so I decided to see how the North Carolina race teams handle our type of work. The people at Joe Gibbs Racing were gracious enough to allow me behind the scenes to see what goes on in a first-class NASCAR race team shop.

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Needless to say, this was an opportunity of a lifetime. Most of what I saw has to remain in my memory because I was not allowed to take photos. The pictures I was allowed to shoot focused on our end of the body repair business. Take it from me, I was overwhelmed by the level of design, manufacturing and precision involved in campaigning a race car today.

Heading into the shop was like taking a trip to a high-end, low-production exotic auto manufacturer. Everything was lined up perfectly by function and in order of next procedure up. I’m used to the organized assembly areas because of my years in the Ford plants, but what I wasn’t expecting was the surgical cleanliness of this shop. It was unreal.

Then, it was time to hit the body shop (no pun intended). I asked to see a wrecked car, and the response was startling. It was Wednesday, and by then all the wrecks had been disassembled, measured and sent off for repairs. In two days? I guess they wreck ’em fast and fix ’em fast. The team races three cars every week, and each driver takes two cars to a race. So that means there has to be six race-ready cars available by mid-week when the trucks pull out. So, at any given time, there are 55 cars in various stages of readiness.

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I got to go to the body shop and, to my surprise, discovered that most of the body shop work is building new cars. You see, these cars only race about six to eight races before they’re retired to other non-racing duties. The build process is very interesting in that the cars are fabricated with a tubular chassis and then a body is built around them.

The bodies are metal with a carbon fiber front, rear, deck lid and hood. They fill and fair all seams just like we do, and sand with 320 abrasives. Then the big difference comes in – no primer. Just wrap it up! The bodies are left raw and recovered almost every week depending on which team is using the vehicle. And the frames and insides all feature Sherwin-Williams paint.

Once the racecars are built and wrapped, they must pass the NASCAR dimensions test. This is similar to frame measuring, except every measurement of the body in about six-inch increments has to be within thousandths of standards. Yes, they do check it – especially if you win.

My experience at Gibbs was phenomenal. They’ve got this thing figured out, making lean look like bacon. The interesting thing is that their goals are really the same as yours and mine. Give the customer their vehicle as fast as possible – perfectly repaired and at a price that allows the shop to make a profit.

Thanks again to my colleague Dean Martin, publisher of Fleet Equipment, and my hosts at Joe Gibbs Racing. Amy was a great hostess, and I hope you guys win at Talladega!

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