Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their career path. Up this week: Bob Decker, hauler driver for Front Row Motorsports’ No. 34 team.
Can you tell us what your job entails?
The easy part is driving the hauler. Once you get to the racetrack, you set up according to points and you park the truck. It’s usually a day early before the team gets here. We usually park the trucks at night, so we have to unload the tool boxes, unload the truck and get everything squared away for the next day when the guys get here.
What do you do once cars are on track?
I pretty much maintain the trailer, take care of everything that needs to be done on the trailer, set everything up — like the observation deck. Then when the race practice starts, I’m in the garage. I help change tires, I run the cool-down unit, I run fuel, weigh the fuel for each practice, get the ice. Pretty much a little bit of everything — keep it organized.
How did this all get started for you? Did you grow up as a race fan?
When I was 5, my next-door neighbor was the manager of Orange County (Fair) Speedway in Middletown, New York. He used to throw me in the car and sit me in the grandstands. From then on, that’s where it all started.
Did you think you wanted to have a career in racing? Did you just enjoy it?
I was always a car nut. I was pretty lucky — once I got of age where I could afford to do this myself, I had my own dirt race team in New York for 14 years. I ran a Big Block Modified there. Did pretty well. Won a couple races, got Rookie of the Year. After that, I got married and had a kid and started a trucking company. I worked for Horseless Carriage running my own truck from coast to coast.
Being a race fan, I traveled with the Outlaws and helped Joey Saldana out. It was pretty much an easy truck driving job because I got to make my own schedule, where I wanted to go. So I picked the races and followed them around quite a bit.
After that, a friend of mine called me in North Carolina — he was with the Outlaws — and asked if I wanted to get a job in NASCAR. My daughter was moving to North Carolina to go to college, so he said, “You want to go to work for Roush, driving a hauler?” I said, “Hmm…NASCAR?” Racing is in my blood, so that’s pretty much the top of the line racing series, so I jumped at the chance.
What hauler did you start driving?
I started with Carl Edwards on the 99. I was with him for five years and we won 16 races together. Had a good time. It was pretty awesome.
And then did you go from there to Front Row?
When the Petty/Roush merger deal went together, they wanted me to go over with Kasey Kahne on the Petty side. Unfortunately, Kasey only stayed one year. But I was with the Petty deal, so I was with Marcos Ambrose for four years. So that was pretty fun.
You’ve gotten to work with some fun drivers.
It’s a good opportunity I’ve had so far in racing. I couldn’t be any luckier. There are a lot of guys in the business who have never won a race. I won my first year here. It was pretty cool.
If we can back up to your own racing career for a moment, you said you owned the team for 14 years. Did you drive that entire time?
Yes. There were three owners and I was the driver and part-owner.
You said you won some races. Why did you give it up?
Basically got married and couldn’t afford it anymore. (Laughs) That’s pretty much what happens to everybody.
Do you miss it?
I still drive. We’re pretty lucky — we’ve got guys who are ex-racers and we go to different tracks, and they give us their cars and we go out and race them. It’s pretty awesome.
(Motor Racing Outreach) used to put on a race at Black Rock (near Watkins Glen) before they changed the schedule to a two-day show. And all the Cup guys would go over and race. They happened to need a driver one time because a driver didn’t show up and they knew I drove a car. So they said, “Do you want to race?” I said, “Sure, I’ll take a shot at it.” I hadn’t sat in a seat in 12 years. And I went out and won the race. So that was pretty cool.
Is it true you also did some military service at one point in your life?
Yeah, I was in the Army. I was only in for three years. My dad owned a tree business, and once I did my time in the military, I was stationed in Fort Ord, California. I got out and basically got back to work with my dad.
Why did you want to be in the military during that time?
Believe it or not, I went in when I was 17. You know, I was a child with no father. My father was a boss. (Pauses, tears up.) So basically, I went in (to the military) to take care of my mom.
Was that hard for you to leave home during that time?
Yeah, it was pretty hard. My mom was a single mom. (Continues to fight off tears.) I’m sorry. But it was a good experience. I’m glad I did it. Served my country, got out and basically went back to work again.
Were you able to do any racing when you were in the Army?
I was too young. Like I said, I was only 17 when I went in. I had a motorcycle and raced motocross. But that was pretty much it with my racing.
I didn’t start real racing until I was 27, because I didn’t have the money. We basically scrounged everything together and got a couple guys and threw a car together and from then on, we got pretty good.
We got a couple sponsors — I was sponsored by Wendy’s, so that was pretty good. A couple other big sponsors. A friend of mine hit the lotto for $7 million, so he helped me out quite a bit and kept us going. So we did pretty good for what we had.
If you hadn’t gotten the call to come do NASCAR, what direction do you think your life would have gone?
I’d be in racing somewhere. It’s in my blood. When I’m 80, I’ll still be at a dirt track. I’m a dirt racer. I never raced on asphalt. I’m a true dirt racer. I love NASCAR and everything, but my heart and soul is in dirt racing.
I’ve had people ask me how to become a hauler driver. If someone out there was reading this and wanted to drive a hauler in NASCAR, what advice would you give them?
First of all, you have to have a good record and a good license. Nowadays, they’re trying to get the younger crowd in here. It’s pretty much luck of the draw. If you know somebody, it’s a plus. Keep trying, keep your resumes out there. Show up. Show your face, because nobody knows a piece of paper. That’s with any job. Carl Edwards used to hand cards out and say, “You need to hire me.” And he was right — look what happened to him.
Any final thoughts on what it’s like to be you?
It’s pretty good. I’ve been so lucky in my career. I’ve always had a good job. I’ve got a great family. Beautiful home. (Gets choked up.) I came into NASCAR and they used to have a truck driver challenge. They had the Pilot challenge and the Freightliner challenge. You drive your truck through chicanes and stuff. And I’m the only one so far to win both of them in the same year.