“Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.”
This is the motto to live by if you want to succeed as a motorsport mechanic. Just ask Kris “Gooey” Goos, Jamie’s number one.
You may not see their faces, but their fire suit-clad backs and personalised Red Bull helmets grace your TV screen at every race event. They’re the guys who hold the drivers’ lives in their hands every time the car goes out on track and who dictate whether a race is won or lost when it comes down to a pit stop.
It’s a high pressure job with long hours that demands complete dedication, but even higher is that feeling when everything goes right, from car build all the way through to the final pit stop. It’s the love of cars that attracts people to the job, but it’s that strive for perfection that separates the best from the rest.
Aspiring mechanics are lucky enough today that there are a few routes into motorsport, but like everything else, it’s best to start early. If you’re better at working in the garage than in the classroom this may not be what you want to hear, but Gooey recommends maths and science as a good place to start with school subjects. As he says, they’re “subjects that can give you a balance between being head smart and having good hand skills” so these can be accompanied by something like metal work.
Number one mechanic on the 888 Holden, Matty Cook (or you may know him as Justin…), points out that “after school there are tertiary classes you can now take that solely revolve around motorsport. These types of classes give the student the opportunity to gain work experience with a race team, and also give them a taste of what it’s like to work in a pressure cooker environment.”
Both number ones completed apprenticeships, which included a certificate three in automotive engineering. From there it was into the working world.
For every mechanic at Red Bull Racing Australia, it’s more than a job. If this is what you aspire to do, but aren’t spending your free time with your head under a bonnet of some sort then you’d better go buy a tool kit and get cracking.
“My work experience and love for my job started with growing up on a grain farm, racing motocross and doing athletics from a young age,” says Gooey.
“My farm days taught me to do the best with what I had, no matter what the circumstances. Motocross started my love affair with motor racing, athletics my passion for competition and fitness. I started racing my own car, and working on it to make it quicker. This all lead to my desire for employment as a V8 Supercar mechanic.”
He highlights a crucial aspect on the job that can be overlooked – the importance of fitness. It’s an extremely physical job and here at RBRA HQ we hold weekly training sessions for all pit crew members. So don’t slack on the gym!
You need to be able to sell yourself as best as you possibly can in as few words as possible on the little piece of paper that is your CV and when it comes to work experience for building that up, showing passion for all things automotive is a must. If you’ve rebuilt a car from scratch or worked on your own motorbike to race, include a few details. Make sure it’s clear that this is more than just a job to you – it’s a hobby and a lifestyle.
Don’t forget that you need to be able to walk before you can run. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with aiming high and shooting for work experience with one of the top teams, but chances are you’ll find more success applying with support category teams who are likely to be in more need of an extra pair of hands. Being able to demonstrate your ability on a smaller scale will not only give you a good base knowledge of the industry, but will also show future employers that you’re willing to do whatever is asked of you.
Getting a job
For Matty it was about setting a goal, his being to work in Formula One. After 10 years as a V8 Supercar mechanic and engine builder, he went to the UK to pursue it, working in the now defunct A1GP before stepping up to F1 where he worked for three years as a front end mechanic.
A strong base of contacts will take you far in motorsport, which is where it again comes back to starting at the bottom and working up. Many positions are filled by word of mouth and getting to know a few people here and there within the industry can prove invaluable.
Landing that initial job to get your foot on the ladder is often a case of persistence though. “I sent my CV to every Supercar and Development team,” recalls Gooey. “I called each of them to see that they got it and if I could do anything that would help my chances.
“I got my first motorsport job with a Development Series team and after a few months one of the level one Supercar teams approached me with a position.
“And here we are today having got 1-2 in the last three championships. ‘The dictionary is the only place success comes before work’.”
Between the two of them, Matty and Gooey make it clear that what’s on your CV is just the first step and being able to demonstrate certain qualities and skills is essential. Among them are being good at working in a team, able to cope with stress and make quick decisions under pressure, having good communication and problem solving skills and being mentally tough enough to maintain composure and focus during adverse conditions. Not much then!
Now what about bagging a spot on the holy grail of motor racing that is the pit crew? Well, the bottom line is you’ve got to be quick and while some are gifted with the natural ability and coordination to change a tyre faster than Ricky Bobby can shout “shake and bake”, physical fitness plays a huge role.
“For me it was either sink or swim,” says Matty. “I was given 10 attempts to do my quickest pit stop and I was lucky enough to make it in.
“As the years have evolved and pit stop times become even more crucial, this position isn’t always guaranteed. The pit stop is only as quick as the slowest man. You may be able to do a stop in 2.5 or 3.0 seconds, but if the slowest guy is doing his stop in 4.0 seconds then that’s how long it’s going to take, so it can be a revolving door. For the good of the team the quickest four guys get the gig.”
Pearls of wisdom
Working in motorsport is like working in a family. The cars are the children and every single employee is a parent and, even though like with all parents there are sometimes bumps in the road and differences of opinion, you’re all working towards the same goal – to get the very best out of the creations you spend your life dedicated to. It requires utter commitment and in truth those not willing to give it simply won’t make the cut.
Gooey is full of wise words, but when it comes to making it as a mechanic few ring truer than “if it was easy everyone would be doing it”. Amen sister!