Business travel can be routine, but for NASCAR drivers and racing teams who are on the road for 36 races a year, travel is unavoidable.
If these teams had to rely on commercial airline schedules, travel would be a nightmare, if not a logistical impossibility. That’s why most top-tier drivers own private jets, and racing teams operate fleets of small planes to transport pit crew members and team executives to the racetrack each week.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. owns a LearJet 60, which is the top of the LearJet line, and his largest aircraft. It is a business jet with capacity for 10 passengers.
Thanks to the jet, Earnhardt can leave his home in North Carolina and be at the Daytona or Texas racetrack a couple of hours later – about the time it would take to drive to a major airport and get through security.
NASCAR rookie and former Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya also owns a LearJet 60. 2006 champion Jimmie Johnson owns a Learjet 31A, and Jeff Gordon owns a British Aerospace Hawker 800.
Most drivers leave the flight to professional pilots, but Mark Martin is a licensed pilot who often flies his own Cessna Citation. Martin lives in a unique community near Daytona Beach called Spruce Creek. It is a fly in community with its own airport. Residents have airplane hangars in the yard where most of us have garages. Martin can literally park his jet in the garage.
Race crews operate larger aircraft to transport pit crews and team executives to the track. Roush Racing operates a fleet of aircraft, including a Boeing 737 and several smaller commercial jets. Dale Earnhardt ,, Inc. flies to his pit crew in an Embraer 120, a 30-passenger mid-size turboprop.
While cars have vanity plates, NASCAR teams have vanity aircraft registration numbers. Dale Jr’s Learjet is N8JR and Jeff Gordon’s Hawker is N24JG. The Embraer company in Dale Earnhardt, Inc. is N500DE.
NASCAR has come to rely so heavily on private jet travel that many runways are right next to airports. Daytona International Speedway is located right next to the Daytona Beach International Airport, where private jets and commercial flights arrive daily.
While most runways are not that close to a major international airport, some runways have built their own airports. Right next to the Atlanta Motor Speedway is Tara Field, a small general aviation airstrip that sees little traffic until race week, when more than 600 planes descend on this tiny airfield.
However, some tracks are not that convenient, but when that happens, hope that NASCAR drivers will find a solution. When NASCAR descends on a track like Dover Delaware, some drivers like Dale Earnhardt avoid racing traffic by flying from the airport to the race track in a rented helicopter, landing directly on the infield.
Some people consider private air travel a luxury, but with today’s hectic schedule for drivers, it’s a necessity. After a Sunday afternoon race, a driver can jump into his jet and be home on Sunday night. This means they can meet with team leaders and team owners on Monday morning to review the previous race and develop a strategy for the next race. During the week, drivers are often on the jet again, meeting with sponsors, filming TV commercials, making public appearances, and testing. Without a jet this schedule would be impossible. Most drivers agree that having a private jet gives them one or two days a week of productive time, or simply allows them an occasional day off.
You can view images of these aircraft on JetJit.com and get more detailed information on each aircraft.