Secret Lives of Staff — Brent Crandall, race car driver

There’s so much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see them doing on campus. In this occasional series, we take a look at some of the interesting, unconventional, and inspiring things that members of our Behrend community do in their free time.

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications, Penn State Behrend

As the maintenance trades supervisor, Brent Crandall could be in almost any building on campus on any given day, overseeing the maintenance and repair of the college’s mechanical systems. But on Sunday evenings, he’s easy to locate. Just follow your ears and the dust in the air to Eriez Speedway in Greene Township where Crandall has been dirt track racing for twenty years.

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Brent Crandall

“I used to go watch a lot and then a neighbor who raced there invited me to come over and work on his car with his crew, and that was it. I was hooked,” he said.

A year later, Crandall participated in his first race, driving a friend’s racecar. He quickly learned it was harder than it looked from the stands.

“I got hit before I even got to the green (start) flag,” he said with a laugh, “and, I was lapped right away.”

It didn’t slow Crandall’s enthusiasm for the sport, though. He soon bought his own racecar and trailer and started pouring his free time and expendable income into racing.

It’s not a cheap hobby, requiring not only cash for tires, racing oil, and auto parts, but hours spent maintaining, improving, and repairing cars from the inevitable bang-ups and wrecks that occur.

Crandall has built a couple of his racecars from the ground up. He does most of the work himself. “I do the welding, mechanics, and fabricating,” he said. “Everything but the machining.”

We caught up with Crandall (no easy feat, by the way) to learn more about his not-so-secret racing life.

What kind of car do you race?
I started in the super sport division, which was supposed to be a less expensive class with cars made up of junkyard parts. But, as with anything in racing, the one who spends the most on their car often wins, so that division didn’t really turn out like I hoped. Now, I race street stock, which have a stock front stub, but a custom-built chassis and motor. My car is #73, which I picked because when I started driving I had two teammates and their cars were #53 and #63.

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Why dirt track? What do you like about it?
Dirt track drivers have much more control over how they do in a race. A good driver can compensate for a less expensive car, and that’s not necessarily true in asphalt racing, where the best car is probably always going to win. Also, dirt track racing is just fun and exciting. There’s a lot more action in dirt track racing.

By action, do you mean bumps and wrecks?
Well, nobody wants to wreck, and drivers don’t ram you on purpose because our cars are expensive and we all have a lot of money tied up in them. But there’s plenty of bumping and sliding on the corners. Rubbing is racing!

Tempers must flare.
Oh, sure. Drivers can get heated up and when I started racing, there were regular brawls in the pits, but the track owners have done a lot to stop that, like fining drivers and making it a rule that if you want to confront another driver after the race, you have to take a pit official with you. Another thing that has helped a lot is videotaping of the races. When you’re in the car, you see things in one way, but when you get out and review it on video, you can see the big picture and why something might have happened. It’s gives drivers perspective and settles arguments.

Have you ever been injured in a race?
I’ve broken my wrist and had a concussion before. The worst accident I have ever had was a rollover last year. Racecars are built to withstand impact, but not while upside down. I was in third place and had fifteen cars behind me and was worried one of them was going to hit me while the car was on its roof. Once it stopped rolling and I landed on the tires, I knew I would be OK. Cars have fire extinguishers and drivers wear fire suits and five-part harnesses to keep us in the car until we need to get out.

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After the rollover crash

How do you see? Is all that dirt a problem?
Most drivers wear driving glasses with a few tear-offs on the lenses that allow you to quickly rip the top layer off if it gets covered in mud or dirt so you can see. But veteran drivers learn to rely on their other senses, too. I can tell by the sound what is going on and how near other cars are. And, as crazy as it sounds, you can almost feel it, too.

Who causes problems on the track? Is it new drivers?
People who switch positions a lot cause the most trouble. I make it a point to talk to new drivers and encourage them to hold their line and let the faster cars and more experienced driver go around them. You know, we want the sport to continue, so we try to help the younger drivers.

Do you consider it a sport?
People will sometimes say that drivers aren’t athletes, but I get a workout driving. There are so many times that I get out of the car and my whole body hurts from being tensed and my shoulders and arms are toasted from steering. It’s nothing like regular driving.

I’ll bet you have no problem driving in big city traffic?
Nope, doesn’t phase me. Neither does construction on the highway, like when you’re driving 70 miles an hour with concrete dividers on one side and tractor-trailers on the other. My wife will get nervous and I’m laughing, like, don’t worry, we’ve got tons of room. I’m used to guys being inches away from me.

How much does a racecar cost?
You could spend a fortune, of course, but I’d say most spend about $4,000-$5,000 on the chassis and another $5,000-$10,000 on a motor. I keep costs down by doing all my own work and buying parts at swap meets or from other racers.

What other expenses are involved?
Racing oil is expensive, $6 a quart, and we have to change the oil every three races, if not more. Tires are another big expense. I go to the track with twelve tires and can usually get three to four races out of them. It’s important to buy the right tires, though. If you buy the wrong ones, they’ll melt right off after one race. I can usually get two seasons out of an engine, which is another big ticket item.

Do you have to spend time finding sponsors?
I have a few, but they are mostly in-kind or trade sponsorships where the sponsors give me something (like car inspections or racing oil) in exchange for advertising on my car. When I started working at Penn State, I added the Penn State athletics logo and it earns me a lot of “We are!” and thumbs up from spectators, especially during football season. I always take time to talk to them about Penn State Behrend.

Do you race every weekend at Eriez? Are you required to?
I race every Sunday, unless it rains. We can’t race in the rain or on a wet track. The racing season is eighteen weeks long from May to September and you don’t have to race every week, but it helps you in the seasonal points race if you do.

What has been your best finish or moment in racing?
When I switched to street stock, I was named rookie of the year and finished in the top five for the season.

the Crandalls

Brent Crandall and his wife, Carol (you may have seen her in Dobbin’s Dining Hall or Bruno’s Café. Carol works for Penn State Housing and Food Services). The two met in high school and have three children. Two of them, Ben and Nick, graduated from Behrend and their daughter, Olivia, is a junior majoring in Marketing. Pictured above, from left, Brent, Carol, Nick, Olivia, Ben and his wife, Courtney.

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