Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their career path. Up next: David Groseclose, director of tire systems and unified testing for NASCAR.
Can you tell us what you do now and what your job entails?
My title is director of tire systems and unified testing, so I have a lot to do with the tires, with Goodyear — I’m kind of a liaison between Goodyear and NASCAR. I go to all the tire tests. I’m the NASCAR representative there, along with Jerry Kaproth who handles all the logistics for the testing. We also do the friction testing with our new friction testing machine we just purchased last year. We also do track surface scanning — that’s part of my job that’s not really in my title, but we’re gradually going toward that sort of thing. We’re getting more scientific with the data we collect; we’ve got more qualitative stuff. It’s really good for Goodyear, because they’re getting all this data and it can help them make the tires better every weekend.
So pretty much anything related to the tires or track surface, especially in regard to each other, falls under your purview.
That’s right. Tires, wheels, any of the testing we do — rookie testing for Xfinity and Trucks, organizational tests for the Cup Series, the tire tests, new organizational testing for new organizations that are just starting to try and build up their speed. That helps them a lot.
How did this all start for you? We’re sitting at Bristol Motor Speedway right now and it sounds like you have quite a history in this area.
My first race here was when I was 5 years old. My dad likes to say I went to sleep during my first race, and that’s the truth — they’ve got a picture of me sleeping in my Harry Gant outfit. I was a big Harry Gant fan. So I went to sleep during my first race, but from there on out, I paid attention to them a lot and really enjoyed the racing.
We would come out here on the Tuesday before the race and my dad would park the camper. Even though we lived 10 miles away, we would still camp out here. He would park the camper on Tuesday. The rest of us would come on Thursday. We’d go to school from the camper on Friday, then we’d come back and we’d spend all weekend. We had a bunch of friends we camped with at the track and had a good time with.
My dad had a block of 32 tickets we had for a long time. I still have the tickets — not all of them, we’re down to six tickets now — but we’re still coming to the race.
So I always loved racing and wanted to get into racing. I kind of took a different path than a lot of people you’ve interviewed — a lot of people start out at the bottom and work their way up in motorsports. But I really started out as just a fan. I came into it later in my life — I’ve been in it five years now.
I went to high school here at Sullivan Central (in Blountville, Tenn.). I met my wife in high school. Then after high school, I went to Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tenn. Got a degree in mechanical engineering.
At the time, what are you thinking you wanted to do with that? It sounds like racing wasn’t on your radar yet as a career.
I knew eventually I could get into racing with something like that, but it wasn’t a focal point for me. I wanted to get into the automotive industry, and with a mechanical engineering degree, it’s pretty diverse, so you can get get into that industry.
While I was in college, I did a co-op for Bridgestone. That was dealing with big truck tires. I’d go on tire surveys, I’d make a lot of PowerPoint presentations looking at tire sections. That kind of got me started in the tire part of it.
After college, I went into the Navy for seven years. I was in the nuclear power program as a nuclear engineer; I was on a surface destroyer for two and a half years and a carrier for two and a half years with school in between.
I kind of got away from (tires) there. But after I got out of the Navy in 2007, I was looking at jobs in the automotive area because nuclear power wasn’t something I wanted to pursue any further.
So I was looking at jobs, applying for jobs. I actually applied for a generic job listing and I didn’t know it at the time, but it was with Bridgestone. I applied for it, got the interview and when I got the interview, I found out it was with Bridgestone — which was pretty much perfect for me, because I’d already worked for them before and knew a little about tires.
So I got that job. I worked in Wilson, North Carolina for seven years at the tire plant there for passenger tires.
And then in March of 2013, I was on Jayski or NASCAR.com or something and saw a listing for a position with NASCAR. I clicked on it, and it was for a tire engineer. I was like, “Well, that’s pretty neat.”
I showed my wife, and she was like, “If you don’t apply for that job, I’m going to divorce you.” (Laughs) Because I’d been a fan all this time. With this (Bristol) race, starting from the time I was five years old, I can probably count on one hand the number of races I’ve missed — and most of those were when I was in the Navy.
So I applied for it and didn’t hear anything for awhile and kind of forgot about it. It was September before I heard back from anybody. Someone called me from NASCAR and said, “Hey, this is so-and-so from NASCAR.” I said, “Who?!” They said, “We want to get a phone interview with you.” And it was with Brett Bodine.
You must have been pinching yourself.
Yeah. So I did an interview with Brett Bodine and they liked me enough that they brought me in for another interview with Brett and Gene Stefanyshyn. So I ended up getting the job, worked under Brett for a couple years (as a tire engineer). Got promoted a couple times and now I’m in charge of tires and testing for NASCAR.
So you’re definitely living the dream, it sounds like.
Definitely living the dream. A lot of times, I don’t feel like I have a job. Going to tests, talking to drivers, talking to crew chiefs, it’s a lot of fun. It really is. And the testing part of it is pretty good, too, because it’s a lot more laid back than the race weekends. You can talk to everybody and they’re not on a time crunch or anything really and it’s really good to get to know everybody.
Once you get into the grind of it and in the industry, it’s a lot different. How have you been able to hang onto the enjoyment of it? Because it’s different as a fan versus working in it.
As a fan, you obviously don’t see every aspect of it. I don’t see every aspect of it either, because I’m not in every meeting all the time.
But really, it’s just looking back and trying to see why I got into it. Because I love it. I love the competition part of it, I love the camaraderie of it. It’s kind of a small group, a small community, and I love being part of it.
It can be a grind, but I don’t go to all the races. It’s not like I’m there every single weekend. So that’s a part my wife likes, too, because I’m home on a lot of the weekends and just traveling during the week to the tests.
You mentioned being in the Navy for seven years and I’m sure during some of those deployments, you’re out at sea for a long time. How did that experience translate to the rest of your career in NASCAR?
I’d say just dealing with people. On the carrier, I was in charge of a division of 25 guys. We worked on the diesel generators that are backup for the nuclear reactor if it goes down. So working with people, knowing how to talk to people, having that experience leading people. I don’t lead a whole lot of people here — I’ve just got Jerry under me right now — but that’s a big part of it.
You’re on Twitter, so sometimes you see the negative at times. I’m sure it’s frustrating for you with your background as a fan, you want the same things these people on Twitter want. Is there anything you wish people understood about your job a bit better or that you all want the same things they do?
Yeah, I think that’s true. I think NASCAR wants the same thing the fans do: We want good racing, we want close competition. As a fan, you don’t see every little part that goes on. You may think, “This would be great if we did this,” but you don’t see all the other stuff behind the scenes that can cause that not to be a good idea.
You also have to look at cost for the teams, driver feedback, team feedback, owner feedback, everything. That’s why we’ve got all these councils we have now, because everybody needs to be involved when you’re making a decision like that. When you’re talking about packages or tires — having Goodyear involved in that, and getting driver feedback and team feedback on that, and then also looking at the data and saying, “Well, is this the best tire?” You can’t always go solely on driver feedback and you can’t always go solely on data. You’ve got to go somewhere in between.