My face felt hot and I could hear my heart beat inside my head. I'd exhale slowly trying to keep my shield from fogging up. I peered down pit road.
"Car in. Shut off. Plug up. The count! Don't forget the count! Car in. Shut off. Plug up. COUNT."
I continued repeating to myself. With every second I grew more anxious. I was out here early for this pit stop because I thought it would help me calm my nerves. It didn't. I take a quick gaze inside the garage, Mr. Ford, Mr. Ganassi, guys in white button downs, they're important, my team.
:exhale: "Car In. Shut off. Plug up. Count!" :exhale:
"Pit lane. Pit lane." in a German accent, I hear come across my radio.
"This is it. Don't mess up. Car off! COUNT"
The beautiful Ford GT slams in to her service area. This is the final pit stop. The last one. Number 25 I think, who knows at this point. After 24 hours, even my name is a blur. Coffee, my name is Coffee and I'm fueling a race car.
"A gas and go? That's it? All the dramatics for a gas and go?" I know what you're thinking!
Ok, Let me back up. Dover Speedway, Richmond Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Road America, you can stack these along with several others as metaphorical cinder blocks on my shoulders of near perfect races that ended in a disheartening non-victory. My career as a mechanic to this day, 12 years in the making, was an endless saga of second place or worse as a mechanic. Many great race cars built only to be over shadowed by an ugly empty trophy case. On this day, this one, whew, this was no ordinary race day. This was the 50th Anniversary of the return of the Ford GT to the 24 hours of LeMans. Ford and my boss, Chip Ganassi, put all the money on blue and we were here to put Ford back on the top step of the podium. Pressure? No more pressure than asking me to safely land a plane full of children. Ford, Ganassi, Roush, Joey, Dirk, Sebastian, some Ford fan working the hot dog stand, they all needed this to happen perfectly.
Prior to this final stop and sometime between my 18th and 19th cup of coffee, our mostly dominant smooth race went all to shit. With sleep in our eyes we felt certain we were watching our race unravel before us. The electronics in the car became "possessed" and Sebastian Bourdais endured the "Stint from hell". Somehow through some quick gadget changes and some long stressful hours we had found ourselves back out front of our rival, Ferrari.
Got the gist now? I hope so. So yes, simple gas and go. No way! With the Ferrari just seconds back we HAD to be perfect. No missteps. The car had to be shut-off, the other fueler and myself had to plug up as fast as possible and I had to remember that this wasn't a fill up, this was a count! For the first time in nearly 24 hours I wouldn't be waiting for the car to be full, I would be counting the seconds of fuel dumped in the car and getting unplugged soDirk could re-fire the car and leave pit road. Imagine being awake for 36 hours and someone asking you every hour your favorite color. On hour 37 they ask you what's your favorite food, you say "blue". That's the pea soup brain we are dealing with in this part of the race.
The car sped off pit road and I attempted to hold back tears. It was in that moment that I knew we were going to win the 24 Hours of LeMans, For the first time in my career, I knew that I wouldn't go home without a win. I kept my shield closed as I returned to the garage to measure fuel in the dump can. I knelt down and realized, Hey Dummy. There is no excess fuel in the dump can, WE DID A FUEL COUNT! So I did forget the count! But I forgot after the car left! (This is the best glimpse I can give you in to the brain of an endurance race mechanic). Thank you, Jesus I thought to myself.
I shed my helmet. I leaned up against the toolbox and tried to act like everyone else looked, calm. My crew chief squeezed my shoulder. He knew how important that fuel stop was and he knew how much that stop meant to me.
My teammates and I stood together smashed in the corner and watched our beautiful 68 take her final lap. All at once we darted out the door of the garage, jumped up on pit wall and slammed our fists in the air. We were Chip Ganassi Racing, We were Multimatic, We were Roush Yates. WE were Ford's dominant return to the 24 Hour of LeMans.
I learned a very important lesson through all of my losses..sometimes the smallest detail can mean victory or another heartbreaking defeat. Remember the count.