(Diabetes Forecast editor Kelly Rawlings recounts her pre-race prep experience from Ryan Reed’s race on Saturday, August 1st)
I drove past lush cornfields for miles and then, there it was: Iowa Speedway, poised for the qualifying rounds of the NASCAR XFINITY U.S. Cellular 250 race. I was there to meet the Roush Fenway Racing No. 16 team, including driver Ryan Reed, and the American Diabetes Association Drive to Stop Diabetes car presented by Lilly Diabetes.
I was curious about the team that makes it possible for Reed to strap himself into a hand-built vehicle—sheet-metal skin around steel tubing—and go really fast on an oval track 7/8ths of a mile in length.
Team member and truck driver Jay Maybry, lovingly known as team “mom,” safely guided the hauler carrying the car and tons of gear over the many miles from North Carolina to Newton, Iowa. Before race day, members of the A-team unloaded the car and ushered it through inspections (which are now done with a fancy laser set up—NASCAR officials used to hold up templates to the cars to make sure they were in spec).
Inside the mercifully air-conditioned hauler, the walls are lined with cabinet doors. Open one and you’ll see rolling carts bedecked with orderly rows of tools—everything shiny clean and in its place. Pit crew coach Rodney Fetters takes time to give me the inside scoop. He immediately notices that I’m wearing a Lilly Diabetes Journey medal representing 25 years of living with diabetes and mentions that a crewmember’s wife has one, too.
These folks aren’t just spokespeople—they take their role of representing Drive to Stop Diabetes seriously. Fetters tells me he’s worked with lots of different race car sponsors during his years in the sport, but the focus on diabetes is special—people of all ages share their stories with the team about what it means to live with diabetes.
Fetters explains that the team had to get special approval from NASCAR to add an extra piece of electronic equipment to No. 16: the receiver for Reed’s Dexcom continuous glucose monitor. While Reed’s in the car, crew chief Seth Barbour will ask him how the car is performing, noting any problems that need a fix during the next pit stop. Barbour also asks another important question: How are you? That’s Reed’s opportunity to note his blood glucose level. Two hydration bottles stand ready—one with water and the other with glucose, just in case. There’s a silk target on the thigh of Reed’s fire suit—the can’t-miss-spot should he ever need insulin or glucagon during a race.
Outside, in preparation for qualifying rounds, A-team members gather around the shiny red pit cart. Engineer Katelyn Bernasconi peers at computer screens. Occasionally, a team member adds a bag of ice to keep the generator cool; the temperature is in the 90s. Driver Ryan Reed seems relaxed yet ready, sitting on the concrete wall in his fire suit and sunglasses, chatting to crew chief Barbour.
The No. 16 car, proudly emblazoned with Drive to Stop Diabetes decals, is poised for action. Just above the passenger door, Youth Ambassador Kolsie Bixler from Lisbon, Iowa, has her name on a decal. The 8-year-old has raised more than $2,000 in Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes®. Like Reed, she lives with type 1 diabetes.
Fans line up behind the barricades. Team members decked out in team caps and suits crisscrossed the pavement. Gas men roll fuel cans on carts. Fat tires wait in soldierly rows. The engines rev and it’s time to put in earplugs if you haven’t already.
The cars pull out for the first qualifying run. Reed is in position 20 and advances to round two. He communicates to his team that the car is tight on entry and he’ll make another run before the second session ends. Team members gaze at the tall tower that announces places, noting how the competition lines up. After round two, Reed is 21st on the speed charts. That’s where he’ll start tonight’s race.
To reach that point, there’s been an incredible amount of teamwork. Each team member has a specific role and knows how to do it very well. They train intensively. Like any other athletes, after an event the pit crewmembers review tapes of the pit stops and analyze their performance.
All the prep work, the painstaking attention to detail, the back-up supplies (my personal back-up supplies include the glucose tables and insulin I brought to the race) really do remind me of life with diabetes. Behind every driver is a great team. Seeing that teamwork come together to raise diabetes awareness makes me proud. And that’s even before the solid green flag signals the start of the race.
My Diabetes Pit Crew Sweepstakes
Acknowledge the people who have supported your diabetes. Visit the My Diabetes Pit Crew Sweepstakes sponsored by Lilly Diabetes. Winners can choose to have their names displayed on the fire suit worn by a member of Reed’s racing pit crew during the three NASCAR XFINITY Series races in November. Visit drivetostopdiabetes.org for more information.
Kelly Rawlings is the Editorial Director for Diabetes Forecast magazine and a PWD type 1.