By BRIAN WHITMORE, Sports Editor
Michael Lancaster is well known for serving up good food at The Bantam Chef. But you may not know that he also dishes out NASCAR law as a technical inspector.
Lancaster started working with NASCAR in 1993 with Scott Willard and Racing Radios Communications in the Goody’s Dash Series. One year later, he was an official with NASCAR. In 2003, he started working in the Camping World Truck Series.
“I use it as stress relief,” Lancaster said. “I really enjoy going to the race track. I guess a lot of people collect baseball cards or trains, or stuff of that nature, me I guess for my hobby — I go to the race track. I get paid to go to the race track, but I’d go even if I didn’t get paid. I love racing that much.”
As a part-time official, Lancaster has worked Nationwide and Sprint Cup events, but primarily works with the trucks. He does 10 to 12 races each year and travels all over the country.
“You meet a lot of new faces and see a lot of places that I would not have seen otherwise,” he said. “It is enjoyable.”
Lancaster also gets to interact with the drivers and crews, idolized by many fans.
“Everybody is just super nice,” he said. “They’re just like me and you. They are a race car driver, but they are still people.”
Last week, Lancaster worked the trucks at Daytona and his next race is at Atlanta in March. It’s not all fun and games — this is hard work.
“I put in 75 hours last week at Daytona,” he said. “We’re the first to get to the race track and the last to leave.”
NASCAR gives inspectors their assignments when they arrive at the track, but Lancaster has mainly focused on fuel cells through the years and recently truck templates. It takes about 50 officials to call one truck race and monitor about 36 teams.
Most teams stick to the rule book, but it’s not uncommon to catch someone trying to bend the rules. Minor problems are usually worked out at the race track, sending a team back through inspection. Every now and then a competitor shows a blatant disregard for the rules and gets a major penalty from NASCAR.
“It’s the crew chief’s job to get into the gray area of the rules and it’s our job to make sure they conform to the rules,” said Lancaster.
Technical officials also serve on pit road. At Daytona, Lancaster was responsible for the outside-pole truck of Matt Crafton. A new rule this year for the trucks is that only five crew members can be over the wall servicing a truck. Tire changes and refueling must be done on separate stops.
Lancaster has had to hold or penalize trucks and cars on pit road for infractions.
“You do have some crew chiefs that sometimes get a little irate, but when you go and tell them or show them (video) they understand,” he said. “You don’t take it personal; we’ve all got a job to do.”
Lancaster plans on continuing his NASCAR career. Every time the travel or hours start to weigh on him, he reminds himself, “A lot of people would love to have the job I have.”