How I Got Here with David Groseclose

Courtesy David Groseclose

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.

David Groseclose, pictured here as a young race fan, stands next to a Goodyear tire buster around 1985. He went on to work with tires in NASCAR. (Courtesy David Groseclose)

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.

David Groseclose and his wife, Susan, aboard the USS Harry Truman in 2006. (Courtesy David Groseclose)

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 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.

David Groseclose (boy with glasses on the right) stands with Brett Bodine in 1986. Bodine would later become Groseclose’s boss at NASCAR. (Courtesy David Groseclose)

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.

David Groseclose, right, with Davey Allison. (Courtesy David Groseclose)

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.

David Groseclose with his family, including three of his four sons (the youngest is not old enough to come to a race yet). (Courtesy David Groseclose)

Homestead Preview Podcast: Tire management for the championship?

With two fewer sets of tires available to teams this year, will Homestead turn into a tire strategy race? In this special edition of the podcast, the championship contenders sound off on the positives and negatives of the potential tire situation on Sunday.

The Top Five: Breaking down the NASCAR All-Star Race

Five thoughts on Saturday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway…

1. Sigh

So I’m sitting here in the Charlotte Motor Speedway press box, staring out at the track after a blahtacular All-Star Race and, well, it’s sort of deflating.

Whatever NASCAR and the track come up with for this race, it just doesn’t seem to work. That’s because it’s always the same winner: Clean Air.

So after another All-Star event that failed to deliver on the hype, it’s surely back to the drawing board — again.

It’s probably a tribute to the NASCAR and Charlotte marketing machine that we buy into the possibility of a good All-Star Race every year, only to be reminded that’s not the case. There’s only so much that can be done on a 1.5-mile track like this one.

“We all run the same speed,” Jimmie Johnson said. “The rule book is so thick, and the cars are so equal, we run the same speed. You can’t pass running the same speed. It’s just the bottom line.”

That’s why the emphasis for the All-Star Race each year is to force some sort of passing in the final stage, typically by some strategy play or gimmick. And that’s fine, because it’s an exhibition race that exists solely for entertainment.

But when the entertainment doesn’t materialize? It seems to generate more outrage than your average NASCAR-related controversy.

Ultimately, the 2017 All-Star Race was familiar in a bad way: A clean-air affair that literally required a spreadsheet to keep track of who was doing well, combined with no real action (the only cautions were for the stage breaks).


2. Tire storyline goes flat

As it turned out, everyone was wayyyy too optimistic about the option tire’s impact on this race. But it doesn’t mean the idea wouldn’t work for future events.

Let’s start with Saturday night, though. Remember when the big tire twist was first announced? The original theory was lots of teams would take the option tire for the final round.

It’s going to be crazy! How will the strategy play out? You have to watch!

Except a funny thing happened (well, actually not funny at all): Not a single team chose to use the option tires in the final round.

The problem was the tire was a little faster, but not fast enough to make up the track position a team would lose by taking them in the final round. And it didn’t fall off as much as anticipated, so it worked better on the 20-lap runs earlier in the race.

So the tires weren’t able to deliver on their promise in the All-Star Race.

“We could probably go a little bit softer, utilize a little bit more grip in order to be faster, have more (speed) split between the two tires,” Kyle Busch said. “The tires equalized more than maybe some would have hoped for. But it was just a guess. They didn’t necessarily pull a tire test here. I thought they did a good job testing.”

But that doesn’t mean the option tire was a bad experiment for races when it really counts. It’s a strategy wrinkle that could add something to Cup races in the future. And it wouldn’t feel overly gimmicky, either.

“I think the garage area … has a favorable opinion of how this went tonight,” Johnson said. “Personally I don’t have a problem with trying it. … It’s better than having a button that gives you more horsepower. I think it’s a good way, a competitive way to create different-paced cars in the field.”

3. If Kyles ruled the world

Kyle Busch is one of the all-time great talents. He didn’t need an All-Star win to prove that — though it’s certainly nice for his resume — nor did he need to beat Jimmie Johnson in a head-to-head showdown.

He’s only going to accomplish more and more before he’s all done, probably racing until son Brexton is in a car (Kyle is only 32; Brexton is 2). So as your favorite drivers continue to retire, it’s not a guarantee the young guns will take over — because veterans like Busch might just continue to dominate.

However, there’s certainly hope for the young guns — and that’s really led by Kyle Larson. The dude continues to be a one-man show, and his attitude is just so different than anyone I’ve covered.

Take this quote about clean air, for example: “I enjoy it. It adds an element. It’s something you have to work through and become the better driver, find clean air, do a good job with it.”

What?! All we’ve heard for years are driver quotes like, “Well, he got out in clean air and there was nothing I could do.” There’s a lot of complaining about aero.

Larson doesn’t seem to complain, though. He tries to use it as a challenge. That seems refreshing (although he might eventually get frustrated like the rest of them, because the whole dirty air phenomenon really sucks).

4. Open and shut

The battle between Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez — and eventually Erik Jones — during Stage 3 of the Open wasn’t just the best moment of the night. It might have been the best racing moment of the season so far.

Elliott was doing everything he could to get around Suarez, and they put on quite a show for a lap before Jones caught both of them and tried Pass in the Grass II. Unfortunately, Pass in the Grass I was aided by the cars not being sealed to the ground with splitters in the front, and it can’t be replicated today. So instead, Jones dug his splitter into the grass and destroyed his car, bringing out a caution with three laps to go.

You may recall last year’s Open was also quite dramatic, when Elliott and Larson banged doors en route to the finish line and both sustained damage.

The takeaway? Well, the Open is a kick-ass race, for one thing. It’s so fun and refreshing to see drivers other than the usual suspects going hard and fighting for a win at the front of the field. I love that race, and it’s one of my favorites each year just because of different faces getting the spotlight.

But it’s also another reason why heats and last-chance races would be very entertaining on a weekly basis during the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Remember, a “Norm Benning Moment” can be almost as good as a “Game 7 Moment.”

5. Come early, folks!

The pre-race experience might be on the way back after taking a big hit over the last couple years.

NASCAR fans used to have the souvenir haulers, the huge Sprint Experience and the SPEED Stage to occupy themselves before the race.

But by the end of last year, the stupid Fanatics tent had replaced the haulers, the Sprint Experience was phased out and TV stage was apparently a victim of FOX cuts.

There seems to be some movement in the right direction now though.

This weekend marked the return of the souvenir haulers, which drew a nice crowd (from what I could see during a short walk-through Saturday afternoon). Then there were Bellator MMA fights at the Monster Energy display, where people sat on the hillside as sort of an amphitheater and watched dudes beat the crap out of each other on a hot day.

Even a form of the old SPEED stage has returned, but not for TV purposes. They’re calling it the “Trackside Live” stage — with the old familiar TV show name — but it’s primarily for fans at the track. Speedway Motorsports Inc. realized people missed that element, so SMI recreated the stage for fan entertainment purposes. It’s a good move, because now there’s an additional place for driver appearances or concerts or things like that. Hopefully, the International Speedway Corp. tracks will hop on board with the stage as well.

The bottom line is NASCAR fans expect more than just a race when it comes to attending in person. They want to make a day out of it and have things to do for hours before the green flag. So all these things were positives in that regard.