Modesto stock car driver Mike David has often said his crew is special.
A core of 11 volunteers, with more pitching in as needed, make up his NASCAR Grand National West team. They're a big reason why David is poised to win his first title Saturday at Tracy's Altamont Motorsports Park.
"They all love it," David said. "The all love their jobs and are serious about it, but we have a good time. Some other teams, when it's a job, you don't want to be there. No one has nearly as much fun as we have."
The only people who see any money are crew chief Mario Isola of Roseville and builder Shawn Harris of Modesto.
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Harris is paid for 40 hours of work per week to set up the No. 2 Bennett Lane Winery Ford at David's shop in central Modesto. But he spends much more time there.
"There's probably 20 to 30 hours a week of volunteer hours," Harris said. "During a heavy weekend, if the car was torn up, we'll put in 60 to 70 hours of total volunteer time."
The faces have changed since David was the 2002 Rookie of the Year. The time commitment forced some to scale back or leave the team. David said he understands, and appreciates all the help he gets.
The crew also includes Modesto's Larry Ream, Todd Corral, Tom Van Artsdalen and Barney Walker, Oakdale's Doug Rocha, Ceres' Verg Beaty, Riverbank's Richard Odom, Livermore's Randy Lavring and Fresno's Scott Zelasko.
The Grand National West series is a regional tour that could vault drivers to NASCAR stardom. Nextel Cup star Kevin Harvick is the most notable alum. Many teams are backed by big money and professionally trained teams.
David's team is owned by Randy Lynch, a marketing executive and owner of Bennett Lane Winery in Napa. But no one gets rich in regional racing. This year the tour had 13 stops, including Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota and Oregon.
Sufficient manpower is a luxury not every team can afford. Crew members do everything, including setting up the car, making pit stop adjustments and driving the car hauler to races.
Harris said even David is a volunteer on race weekends.
"One hundred percent of his earnings go back to the race team," Harris said. "There's not many drivers out there that do that. He loves it. He knows how much it takes to run a race car. The $60,000 or whatever he earns, goes into tires and parts."
David has the benefit of long-time friends and race enthusiasts on his side. Odom worked for his father, Norman David, at Stockton 99 Speedway. He also worked for Riverbank driver Dan Reed, who won six track titles at Stockton.
Odom has known Mike David since the driver was 10. He remembers watching him race go-karts, and painted David's first stock car.
"I've watched him drive his heart out," Odom said. "He's like a little brother."
Last year was hard on the team. David finished second to Escalon's Eric Holmes, 83 points behind. David has led this season's standings since the second race.
He finished in the top 5 eight times, winning twice, including at Altamont on April 28. David leads two-time champ Mike Duncan of Bakersfield by 95 points heading into Saturday's finale. David would have to finish 22nd or worse to be overcome.
"The goal is to go win the race," David said. "That's always the goal. We're trying not to deviate from that. Then if we finish in the top 5, everything falls into place."
Duncan also finished second in the standings before winning titles in 2004 and 2005.
Harris said the dedication of David's crew will continue beyond this season, whether or not he claims the Grand National West title.
"A lot of guys love the driver and love the sport and the car owner basically," Harris said. "It shows this team has a lot of heart, a lot of resiliency."
Bee staff writer Kelly Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.