Business travel can be a grind, But for NASCAR drivers and race teams who are on the road for 36 races per year travel is unavoidable.
If these teams had to rely on commercial airline schedules travel would be a nightmare, if not a logistical impossibility. That’s why most of the top tier drivers own private jets, and race teams operate fleets of small aircraft to transport pit crew members and team executives to the racetrack each week.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. owns a LearJet 60, which is the top of the LearJet line, and their largest jet. It’s a business jet that can seat up to 10 passengers.
Thanks to the jet Earnhardt can leave his home in North Carolina and be at the racetrack in Daytona or Texas a couple of hours later — about the time it would take to drive to a major airport and clear security.
NASCAR rookie and former Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya also owns a LearJet 60. 2006 champion Jimmie Johnson owns a Learjet 31A, and Jeff Gordon owns a British Aerospace Hawker 800.
Most of the drivers leave the flying to professional pilots, but Mark Martin is a licensed pilot who often pilots his own Cessna Citation. Martin lives in a unique community near Daytona Beach called Spruce Creek. It’s a fly in community with it’s own airport. Residents have aircraft hangars in the yard where most of us have garages. Martin can literally park his jet in the garage.
The race teams operate larger planes to ferry the pit crews and team executives to the track. Roush Racing operates a fleet of planes, including a Boeing 737 and several smaller business jets. Dale Earnhardt,, Inc. flies it’s pit crew on an Embraer 120, a mid-size turbo-prop that seats 30 passengers.
While cars have vanity license plates, NASCAR teams have vanity aircraft registration numbers. Dale Jr’s Learjet is N8JR, and Jeff Gordon’s Hawker is N24JG. The corporate Embraer at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. is N500DE.
NASCAR has come to rely on private jet travel so much that many tracks are located right next to airports. Daytona International Speedway is located right next to Daytona Beach International Airport where private jets and commercial flights arrive daily.
While most tracks are not located so close to a major international airport, some tracks have built their own airports. Right next to Atlanta Motor Speedway sits Tara Field, a small general aviation airstrip that sees little traffic until race week, when more than 600 planes descend on this tiny airfield.
However, some tracks are not as convenient, but when that happens expect the NASCAR drivers to come up with a solution. When NASCAR descends on a track like Dover Delaware some drivers like Dale Earnhardt bypass race traffic by flying from the airport to the racetrack in a chartered helicopter, landing directly in he infield.
Some people consider private air travel a luxury, but with the hectic schedule of today’s drivers it is a necessity. Following a Sunday afternoon race a driver can hop on his jet and be home by Sunday night. This means they can meet with the crew chiefs and team owners Monday morning to review the previous race, and develop a strategy for the following race. During the week drivers are often on the jet again, meeting with sponsors, shooting TV commercials, making public appearances, and testing. Without a jet this schedule would be impossible. Most drivers agree that having a private jet gives them one to two days per week of productive time, or just allows an occasional day off.
You can see pictures of these jets at JetJit.com and get more detailed information on each airplane.