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Second Place
David Caraviello, NASCAR.com


Karen Farmer could feel the panic. It hadn't engulfed her yet, but it was there, stirring down in her gut, rising a little more with every minute that passed without word from her husband. Gary Farmer worked as a shop foreman at Gillett Evernham Motorsports, where he oversaw the No. 10 car, managed 10 employees, and kept all the records and schedules straight. It was one of the best jobs he'd had in NASCAR, and he'd been in the sport for nearly 30 years. But on this day, one week before Christmas, Gary wasn't at the shop. A co-worker called to ask why. And Karen began to sense anxiety's familiar grip.

She called his desk phone; no answer. She called his company-owned cell phone; no answer there, either. Her mind began to race with dark thoughts. Had her husband even made it to work? Had he been in an accident? She didn't know until later that Gary had indeed made it to work – but then had been tapped on the shoulder, summoned to an office, and told the organization was cutting back. His job was being eliminated.

Farmer said he was escorted out of the building under the watchful eye of sheriff's deputies, not even allowed to tell his now former co-workers goodbye.

"It's depressing," he said. "I was in a state of shock when I walked out of the building there, because it came completely as a surprise."

Farmer was one of more than 60 people let go at GEM, one of hundreds let go by NASCAR race teams since last November in the wake of the slumping economy. Ever since what's now known as "Black Monday," the day after the 2008 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the attrition has come in waves, with dozens and dozens of workers being displaced at a time. Nobody's sure of the real number; the North Carolina Motorsports Association estimates it at 700, industry experts at around 1,000, others say it's even more. Yet there's no doubt about the effect these layoffs have had on the suddenly unemployed, people who turned wrenches and welded bodies, who toiled in an industry that was inherently unstable, but one where there was always more work. In NASCAR, layoffs are nothing new. Crewmen simply packed their tool boxes and found another position at the next shop down the road.
No more. Now the contraction is so severe, there are many more workers than there are available jobs. Now there are people with children or pregnant wives, living without health insurance or choosing between the steep cost of a continuation policy or a mortgage payment. Now men who have spent a career in racing are searching for jobs at a warehouse or a power plant. Now there are former mechanics and fabricators who made good money out of high school, bought a boat and a motorcycle and a souped-up car, and have a garage full of toys they suddenly can't afford. Now there are former crewmen with specialized skills that don't necessarily translate outside of a race shop, worried about what the future holds.

"There's a little depression in that this is all I'm trained to do," said Troy Phillips, a former mechanic at Dale Earnhardt Inc., who is married and with his first child on the way. "I'm not like a lot of the engineers and guys like that. They can get jobs in other places, because they're trained in other things. I've got a high school diploma and that's it. I've got 12 years experience working on race cars, and that don't help me a whole lot on anything else. I've got no certifications in anything. I'm just Troy, a guy who works on race cars."

It hasn't been an easy process for management, either.

"It is absolutely gut-wrenching, and something everybody hates to do," said Tom Reddin, CEO of a GEM team since rebranded as Richard Petty Motorsports. "Fortunately, the vast majority of people are still on staff. But any one person, it wrenches your gut. We treat people with respect. We were as generous as possible on the severance. That's now behind us and we're moving forward. We are looking at belt-tightening whenever we can. I'm really proud of the people back at the shop. People are looking at everything. No stone is left unturned. These are very different times than it was two or three years ago."

Those who still have jobs are descending on Daytona International Speedway this week, as engines prepare to fire and the opening of the 2009 season looms. For those who lost jobs, difficult decisions are at hand. It's right about now, two months removed from Black Monday, when severance money is beginning to run low or savings accounts are starting to dwindle and money is starting to get tight. Proud men who have never shied away from an honest day's work are filing for unemployment and trying hard not to feel ashamed for doing it.

Displaced workers are flooding Tommy Baldwin's new team with resumes, working contacts to see if anyone going to Daytona needs anybody, and hoping something comes up before the money runs out.

"My deadline is going to come when my finances get to the point where I can't pick up any consulting work, I can't pick up any side work that's going to help me, and I'm going to have to plain 'ol make the move to work two jobs and make things happen. For me, it's not too far out," said Bill Henderson, a former testing car chief at Hall of Fame Racing and father of six children, four of whom still live at home. "We thought we were really smart and really used up a lot of our savings to pay down a lot of things and pay off credit cards and put ourselves in a position where maybe in a year or two from now, when this kind of thing would happen, there wouldn't be any problems. But it was a well-laid plan. This happened too soon."

Henderson, though, is one of the lucky ones. Last week he secured the position of crew chief with Prism Motorsports, the Phil Parsons-owned team that will attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 with Terry Labonte and run the remainder of the season with Dave Blaney. It's a buyer's market, and startup teams looking for personnel are able to hire at a fraction of the salaries they would have paid even a year ago. Still, Henderson has a job. Not everyone is as fortunate.

Writing on the wall

Dave Chenette always wanted to work for Dale Earnhardt Inc. Growing up outside of Albany, N.Y., in a family of racers, he idolized the Intimidator. When he moved south to seek a job in NASCAR, there was only one team he wanted to work for – DEI. While he never got the chance to work with Earnhardt in person, he worked for his team for seven years, doing everything from installing suspension systems to running the catch can for Martin Truex Jr. on race day.

He was there from June of 2003 until Nov. 12 of last year, the Wednesday before Homestead, when the sponsor-strapped DEI program merged with Chip Ganassi's team and eliminated 120 jobs in the process. Chenette's was one of them. "Having the passion I did for that company," he said, "I was incredibly heartbroken."

The men and women who work for NASCAR teams are not immune to layoffs. Work in the industry long enough, they'll tell you, and at some point the fickle nature of sponsorship or the unrelenting standards of performance will leave you without a job. For many of the displaced workers affected by the Black Monday firings, this was their second, third or even fourth layoff. But they've never experienced anything quite like this, with the economy so deep in recession, so many teams without sponsorship, and so many people on the street looking for work.

"I knew this was a possibility. At the end of every season, if you're on a race team, there's a possibility," said Greg Case, a former engineer at Petty Enterprises, who had also been through a layoff when working in IndyCars. "I know every year some people get laid off, but for the most part NASCAR has been immune to something like this."

With the economy reeling, the rules have changed. Corporations, many of them suffering through their own mass layoffs, have become reticent to part with the kind of marketing dollars that race teams need to fund their programs. Some race organizations were left with little to no sponsorship money at all, and faced a serious shortage of operating funds. Combine that with the fact that the new Sprint Cup car, because of its consistency from track to track, theoretically requires less manpower to build, and something had to give.

That something was people. No team was hit harder than DEI, which had been a four-car operation until two primary sponsors left for other organizations, necessitating the merger with Ganassi. Management at DEI had learned difficult lessons from the absorption of Ginn Racing in 2007, a move that cost 124 people their jobs. Former employees still fume about the way that layoff was handled; former Ginn general manager Jay Frye, forced to play the heavy, summoned his people to the shop floor and read a list of names. If you were on it, you still had a job. If you weren't, you didn't. The process was public and degrading and left bad memories behind.

This time, DEI did it differently. Former employees say that on the Wednesday before Homestead, the team called not one meeting but two. The first was held at the back of the shop; those people were told they still had jobs, but to go home immediately. A second, later meeting was held at the front of the shop. Even team owner Teresa Earnhardt was in attendance. The assembled crowd was told that sponsorship money simply wasn't there, and they were being let go as a result. The team set up meetings with career counselors, provided each displaced employee with eight hours of outplacement training, and paid severance through the end of the year.

Even people who lost jobs praise the way it was handled.

"It wasn't anything hateful or hurtful or anything like that," Phillips said. "They were real respectful of the whole deal, the best you can be when you're firing a whole mass of people."

"It was done as well as it could be under the circumstances," added Don Gemmell, a former DEI production scheduler and founder of dontcheckup.com, a Web site that's become a clearinghouse for resumes and a support group for NASCAR workers who have been laid off. "And that's one of the things we have to get out, this isn't a company thing. This isn't a worker thing. All this is taking place because of economic situations. It's not a performance issue."

Similar scenes, albeit on a smaller scale, played out in shops across the greater Charlotte area. At Petty Enterprises, which had two cars but no sponsorship before its merger with Gillett Evernham, Case said small groups of eight to 10 people were summoned into a conference room the Tuesday after Homestead and given the bad news. At Hall of Fame, which essentially sold all its equipment and was absorbed by Yates Racing, Henderson said employees were warned months beforehand that the team wouldn't make it if sponsorship wasn't secured. The second week of November, they were told that the worst-case scenario had become reality, and that employees would be paid through the end of the month. Team co-owner Tom Garfinkel apologized personally in the break room for not being able to put something together in time.

"Anybody who's pissed off about it really hasn't been paying attention, because we all see what's going on," Henderson told his boss that day. "Everybody's hoping. Everybody wanted it to happen. But it just didn't."

And so it went, over and over, from one team to the next. At GEM, employees like Gary Farmer were tapped on the shoulder and escorted out, with sheriff's deputies on hand to keep the peace.

"Anytime you see any kind of law enforcement or security enforcement, you'd better look out," Farmer said, "because somebody is going to get the hatchet."

On the Wednesday before Homestead, Bill Davis Racing employees like engineer Michael Orthman were called into the mechanic's area by competition director Tommy Baldwin, who told them in an emotional voice that Davis had used his own money to try and keep the organization afloat. It wasn't working. That week would be the last week.

"We all knew it was coming, we just didn't know when," Orthman said. "We were hoping it wasn't coming. A lot of us chose to stay there. At the middle of the year a lot of us had a feeling, we really didn't know. So a lot of us went on interviews, and more than half chose to stay and be loyal to [Davis]. We just rode it out."

Crewmen weren't blind to economic reality. They could see their teams were in trouble. The sponsorship announcements needed to keep the cars running into 2009 weren't coming. In the waning months of the 2008 season, the work they were doing was more tear-down than preparatory. Everyone knew it was coming. The only question was, how bad would it be?

"Definitely the writing was on the wall," Phillips said. "If you've been doing this long enough, and everybody at DEI has been doing this long enough, at the end of the season when you're not taking cars apart and getting them blasted and getting ready to put them together for the next season, or when all you're doing is taking the cars apart that you get from the track, pulling the motors out of them and cleaning them up, when you're not building for the next year, you know something's going on. And every time you see one of the higher-ups in the company and you say, 'Hey, what's going on, we got any sponsors?' 'No, we're working on it real hard.' It gets to a point where when you get into November, and you don't have any sponsors lined up for the next year, then everybody starts worrying. We weren't blindsided, I wouldn't say."

At some shops, as the final days counted down and the inevitable loomed, workers were warned – if you get another opportunity, take it. At others, employees debated staying or leaving among themselves. Most decided to stay, despite the economic storm swirling around them. Maybe it was because they knew they wouldn't find work anywhere else. Maybe it was because they were loyal to the people who had hired them. Maybe it was because they hoped against hope that sponsorship would materialize. Maybe it was because they loved the work they did and just didn't want to let go.

"Everybody at DEI knew things didn't look very good," said former engineer Heath Lockard. "We were a four-car team, we were down to one sponsor at the end of the year, and I think everybody kind of expected something was going to happen. Everybody just hoped it wouldn't be them, is what it boiled down to. I talked to a lot of my co-workers in the months leading up to when the layoffs finally took place, and they were like, 'Do we start looking for jobs? What do we do? We kind of like it here and don't want to leave.' I think the majority of the people, including myself, were of the opinion that we were going to ride it out and see what happened."

The same thing happened at Bill Davis Racing.

"Bill gave me my opportunity to get into racing, so I chose to remain loyal," Orthman said. "I said, 'I'm going to stay until the doors shut,' unless something ended up on my lap. I just had a mindset that, I know I'm supposed to be here and do the best I can. That's my job. He hired me to do my job, and that's what I'll do."

At Hall of Fame, Henderson and a few other employees pitched the idea of running the team on a smaller scale and with a smaller budget, a proposal nixed partially because the new sponsor coming on board for the No. 96 car, Ask.com, preferred the option of aligning with Yates. At GEM, Farmer and other employees who were being let go offered to give up part of their salaries, part of their benefits, anything to keep more people working. "Most of these guys are racers," Farmer said, referring to his former co-workers, "and it's the only thing they know."

They were selfless gestures, but they came too late. Decisions had been made. Irreversible courses of action had been taken. The layoffs went on.

"More than one is hard to do," said Steve Lauletta, president of the merged Earnhardt Ganassi operation. "Everybody over there [at the shop] is really good at what they do, so it's been difficult to have the conversations we've had to have, but it's been necessary because of the situation we're in. We hope everybody's going to land on their feet, and when we get to the point where we can be four full-time cars, we hope we can get some of those people back."

Fear of the unknown

In an attempt to help its displaced employees find work, DEI offered each person eight hours of outplacement training, which included pointers on resume building, networking and interview skills. Of the roughly 120 people let go on the Wednesday before Homestead, only about 40 took advantage.

One of them was Don Gemmell, a former production scheduler who with the help of a Web-savvy neighbor created dontcheckup.com. It was originally intended as a site where former DEI employees could post resumes, seek job training or employment opportunities, and keep in touch with one another. Gemmell soon realized that the unemployment crisis was much bigger than DEI, and opened the site to any displaced worker from any team.

As of last week, Gemmell had about 400 resumes posted on the site, and more coming in every day. In tandem with the unemployment task force set up by former Lowe's Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler and the North Carolina Motorsports Association, Gemmell's site hosted an event earlier this month in Kannapolis, N.C., where displaced workers could get help filing for unemployment or speak to representatives of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College about continuing education. Last week there was another meeting at a Mooresville restaurant. For nearly three hours, a local real estate agent met one-on-one with displaced workers, dispensing advice on how to possibly save their homes.

Gemmell and his Web site have become needed touchstones for a community of former race team employees that feels as if it's wandering in the dark. That role hasn't come without a price.

"I started this with a few people, really to handle a much smaller number than we have now," said Gemmell, who is dealing with the same issues as every other out-of-work race team employee. "It is taxing getting calls and e-mails from people in distress. I don't have a 'Psychiatry, 5 cents' shingle on my door. I get calls and e-mails, my wife reads them all the time, just because, what do I do with all that? We're going through challenges we haven't had to go through before. People are asking 'What do I do?' I don't have an answer for them. It's not like we have 400 people in depression, but there's a percentage of people that reached that threshold earlier than others. We're the pivot point for a lot of assistance. That's a challenge."

Like everyone else laid off after last season, Gemmell is coping. It's not an easy process. Men capable of building 180 mph race cars admit to lying awake at night, struggling with the fear and anxiety that go along with losing a job. They're worried about wives, children, health care, mortgages, futures, careers. They're hoping that the economy will turn around, that the sponsors will return, that race teams will get a few weeks into the 2009 campaign and realize they need a few more people. But until that happens – if it ever does – all they can do is wait. And the waiting, the staring straight into the unknown, is the worst part.

"The fear of the unknown was there," said Michael Orthman, the former engineer at Bill Davis Racing. "If I looked at just my emotions and let them run wild, I would get worried to provide for my family. I knew we had unemployment, but that just barely got the ends to meet."

Thanks to his engineering degree, Orthman was able to find a temporary job in Alabama. It's a two-year-stint, and although it will pay the bills, it doesn't come with health insurance, a huge concern for many displaced workers. It also means the 38-year-old will be separated from the rest of his family in North Carolina. "I had to trade one thing for another, the fear of not having money coming in or having food on the table, or to be away from the family," he said. "I chose to provide."

Others have had to make similarly difficult choices. Many displaced workers didn't receive their usual end-of-the-year race bonuses for 2008, simply because teams didn't have the money to pay them. For some, their heath insurance ended the day they walked out the front door the last time. COBRA, the government-provided continuation coverage, is often exorbitantly expensive. So some are deciding to go without.

"We're looking at $1,000 a month to insure myself and my wife. We can't afford that," said Gary Farmer, the former GEM shop foreman, who is 60 years old. "So we're uninsured right now, hoping that nothing happens, hoping that neither one of us gets sick."

They're not alone. Troy Phillips, the former DEI mechanic, is going without health coverage for himself and paying for COBRA for his pregnant wife, who expects to be laid off from her job when she goes on maternity leave in May. Chris Meyers, a former mechanic at Hall of Fame Racing, is filing for Medicaid coverage for his two children, while he and his wife go without. "They'll probably have more problems than we will," he said.

Case, the former Petty engineer, knew his insurance would run out after he was let go, so he made sure to squeeze in a last-minute dentist appointment. Another former DEI mechanic, Dave Chenette, said his health insurance will lapse at the end of this month.

"The COBRA policy they offer you to cover your own health insurance is quite expensive. It's another bill added to your normal expenses you pay anyway. Being unemployed, you're putting another bill on top of it," he said. "So it obviously causes you concern, and yes, I have a mortgage to make. I always did my best to save money, but that money is for my old-age years. You don't want to dig into that right now. But obviously you're facing spending the money you tried to save to stay afloat."

Others are more fortunate, and able to switch to their spouse's insurance coverage. But that alone doesn't dispel the fears about where the next job will come from, or how long the money will hold out.

"I'm just now getting to the point where it doesn't bother me so much, but for probably the first month, it was pretty gut-wrenching," said Heath Lockard, the former DEI engineer, whose wife will give birth to their first child in May. "It was like, 'Oh my God, I don't have a job, I don't have income, what am I going to do now, I have a baby on the way.' But once I got to looking around, looked at the career search Web sites, saw what other jobs were available for engineers ... that took some of the load off and made me feel like I'd be able to find something eventually, even if it's not in motorsports, to be able to support myself and keep my house and not have to relocate."

These are the mechanics of a layoff – the search for health coverage, the scouring of the want ads, the counting of savings and the filing for unemployment benefits. "You almost feel somewhat degraded having to do that," Lockard said of the latter. Arching over all of it is the unseen and the intangible, the mental strain heavier than a Sprint Cup stock car.

Before he landed the position with Prism, Henderson said he stared at the clock until 4 in the morning, and was up to take his kids to school at 6. "I don't sleep," he said earlier this month, before one of those rare, sought-after industry jobs came along. Others can relate.

"It's tough. And you just wonder, what are these people going to do?" said Karen Farmer, Gary's wife. "I've managed the money and I've got properties I could sell if desperation came down to it. But the last time he was out of work was when he did the Ginn thing, and 100-and-something guys got laid off, and it took like five months for him to find another job. Now mind you, the job he found was the best job he ever had in his life. But that's gone now. It's gone. And the depression that goes with it, the 'Why me?'"

"It's tough to have to weather this stuff," Case added. "If I get another good job doing something other than racing, it would be hard to leave it for something you can never count on. Petty was the oldest team in NASCAR, and if you can't count on that, then who can you count on? Hendrick had layoffs. Roush had layoffs. Those are the two best teams right now. Even Gibbs had layoffs. If even the top teams are all having layoffs ... but that's the way this business is. It's so driven by the economy. When the economy goes up, there'll be more and more sponsors and money in the sport and it grows. But it never stays up forever."

Which is why last week, after 14 years in the racing business, Case took an engineering job outside of motorsports. He didn't look back. Others will undoubtedly follow.

Denial, anger, acceptance

Phillip Sipe broke into racing 22 years ago with Tommy Houston Motorsports, and in a decade there he did a little of everything – building parts, stripping engines, assembling cars, driving the transporter, even working the jack on race day. Since then he's bounced around, from Bill Elliott's old team, to Cal Wells' organization, to Ray Evernham's outfit. In May of 2008 he landed at Germain Racing, where he assembled vehicles for a championship-contending team in the Truck Series.

But Truck teams aren't immune to economic reality, either. With sponsorship for the upcoming season uncertain, Germain held two rounds of layoffs. Sipe survived the first one, and thought his job was safe until general manager Mike Hillman Sr. summoned about 15 people to the shop's break room to deliver the bad news.

Sipe is 49 with two children, and fortunate that his wife has a good job that can cover the house payment. He's a racer at heart, his garage bursting with about $50,000 worth of tools accumulated over the years. But he's been in the motorsports racket a long time. After he was laid off, he sent resumes to several racing teams. He also filled out applications at a local Duke Power office and at Target, which is opening a warehouse in his area. If the right opportunity arises, he'll walk away.

"Racing is getting so big, that I'm almost getting burned out on it and about ready to get out of it and find a job making decent money outside of racing," Sipe said. "It changes so much from one time to the next. Sometimes I want to say it's the buddy system. To me it's gotten so much it's not what you know, it's who you know."

Racers are a hardy bunch, well aware of the volatility within their industry, cognizant of the fact that at some point in their careers, they're probably going to be laid off. The upside, though, has historically been worth it. In better times, it wasn't uncommon for crewmen with only high school diplomas to make big paychecks that would allow them to buy a boat and live near Lake Norman. If they were fired, then they simply found a job somewhere else. NASCAR was a big industry, and there were always more jobs than there were people to fill them.

This recession, and the ensuing bite it's taken out of the NASCAR work force, has changed all that, perhaps for good. With the new car, teams don't need as many people. With the sponsorship shortage, teams can't afford as many. Wood Brothers co-owner Eddie Wood believes the trend is swinging away from specialization, and back toward the way it used to be, with one crewman able to do several things.

"You have people come into your shop and say, 'Well, I just make crush panels.' That's all you can do? 'Yeah.' OK. Now, you're going to be looking at the guy who can make crush panels and maybe change tires and maybe weld and do several things," Wood said. "I may be wrong, but sometimes now it takes two or three guys to do what one guy used to be able to do. Those were people who worked on race cars, who grew up racing, doing that kind of thing. The reason things probably got out of hand, with so many people and budgets and salaries, was so many teams. Everybody was needing people to work. That guy can do that? I need that done, and you hire the guy. Now things are different, and owners are going to be looking for people who can do more than one thing. I know we are."

The result is potentially a long-term correction in the NASCAR job market.

"It will be an 'L' and not a 'V.' It won't bounce back immediately," said Richard Petty Motorsports CEO Tom Reddin. Which means there may be hundreds of people, some of whom have never worked outside of motorsports, who might never find another job in motorsports again. Engineers like Case, Orthman and Lockard can use their degrees to help them find a position in the outside world. Young, physically fit, former over-the-wall guys have options like the U.S. Border Patrol. But what about people with only high school diplomas, who know only race cars? What about older workers who have toiled in NASCAR for decades, and because of their age and race-specific skill sets will have a hard time finding work somewhere else?

"Maybe the tougher part is the older guys, the guys who racing has been their life," Gemmell said. "We had one guy let go from an engine shop, and two weeks after he was let go, he had a contact made. He was told they liked what they saw, liked what they heard, they wanted to get him started, let's bring him up to the shop. He walked in and when they saw he was 57 years old, they said, 'We'll give you a call back.' Those are the guys that I'm worried about. The younger guys will bounce back in some way, they're a little more resilient. But the guys who have given this sport their lives, who have nowhere else to go to, and even if they were to be hired, the economic history says I can hire three inexperienced guys for the price of one of these experienced guys. That's a tough choice for them to deal with."

Jeanie Moore has seen it before. As vice president of the continuing education program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, she's become something of a first responder in unemployment crises, events she's unfortunately had plenty of experience with. Whether it's a Pillowtex plant closing down, jobs at Philip Morris going away, or contraction in the banking, furniture, textile or racing industries, the goal is always the same – to help prepare displaced workers for the next phase in their careers, whatever that phase may be. A rapid response team from the college attended the dontcheckup.com event last month in Kannapolis, helping bewildered people take the first tentative steps toward a possible career change.

"What's particularly difficult in NASCAR is how many of these individuals are coming out of an industry where they were relatively well paid," Moore said. "They have unique skill sets from that industry that haven't been validated in any real sense. We hope we can assist these workers in cross-mapping these skills and finding sectors where those needs are unmet. At the meeting in early January, for instance, we asked, 'How many welders?' Twenty-five hands went up. We asked, 'How many certified welders?' No hands. They have a very valuable skill set, but unless it has some kind of certification attached to it so the next employer knows what they can do, it presents a unique challenge for them."

Gemmell's site, in conjunction with the college, is working on a program to help welders get certified. But there's no panacea. When the Pillowtex plant in Kannapolis closed three years ago, Moore said many displaced workers were routed into service-industry jobs that perhaps didn't pay as much, and perhaps didn't come with the best of benefits, but did provide steady work. Nearly half of the workers laid off in that instance didn't have a high school diploma. Among the displaced NASCAR workers, the levels of education run the gamut, from people with college degrees to those who started racing in high school and never finished.

There is, though, one common thread between the displaced NASCAR mechanic and the displaced textile worker: fear. "It's a pretty intimidating process, and our job at the college is to help people navigate the process and go through the steps they're going to have to go through," Moore said. "It's very much like the grief process. There's denial and anger and then acceptance. They have to get to readiness. When will they be ready to accept a new path?"

Many seem ready now. "Basically if I find anything, I'm going to take the job, no matter what, if it's in racing or not," said Chris Meyers, the former Hall of Fame mechanic. "Really, it doesn't matter to me right now. I'll do anything."

Farmer seems willing to walk away as well. "Right now, I've got such a bad taste in my mouth about that industry that I'm not even looking for anything in NASCAR anymore. I just feel like my talents are being wasted because nobody appreciated it," he said. "There are a lot of other guys now who feel the same way. I'm going to speak to a career counselor and find out what direction I want to go in. I've done all kinds of things in my career. I just want to find out what direction I want to go in. I'm even thinking maybe about some kind of a teaching job."

And yet, it's hard to give up a life in the fast lane, and all the competitiveness and camaraderie that culminates every Sunday afternoon. It's a life not without its sacrifices, 38 weeks on the road when the work is steady, long days of worry and anxiety when it's not. The over-reliance on corporate dollars means that when the economy goes south, everyone is at risk. There are few safety nets and no guarantees. From an employment standpoint, turning a wrench for a NASCAR team can be every bit as risky as diving 200 mph at Talladega Superspeedway without a head-and-neck restraint.

Yet they love it. They live for it. And they'd go back, risk enduring this all over again, if given the chance. Even in the aftermath of the largest mass layoff in NASCAR history, the roar of a Sprint Cup engine remains an irresistible siren's call.

"Oh yeah, I'd jump on it," Orthman said. "If they called me up today, I'd go. If I could, I'd go now."

"I would like to stay in the industry, and I'm sure everyone that was laid off from every team would like to stay in the industry, because everybody that worked there is passionate about it, and that's what we enjoy doing," Lockard added. "That's what we like to do. That's kind of what we live for."