BROOKLYN, Mich. - Rick Machcinski's infatuation with automobiles and the power plants that make them hustle down the highway was never in doubt. And he had the knowledge, and the aptitude that allowed him to excel when internal combustion was the dragon he intended to harness.
What Machcinski needed 30 years ago to propel him in the direction of competitive racing, where he would become a highly successful dalai lama of engine diagnostics at stock car powerhouse Roush Fenway Racing, came from a teacher, and it did not involve push rods, cam shafts, or rocker arms.
"Andy Toth was my auto mechanics instructor, and he was probably one of the biggest influences I had. He was both a good guy, and a good teacher, and he cared about you as a person," Machcinski said.
"He taught me everything I needed to know, and when the time came, he gave me a little bit of a kick in the butt. He said 'here's the door, now walk through it', and I got my first job. That led to another, and another, and here I am today, working in NASCAR."
Machcinski, a Toledo native who later graduated from Central Catholic in 1981, spent part of his days in high school at the skills center at Woodward where he learned about engines. He left with a cranial tool box much in demand in racing.
"Andy wanted you to be able to do anything to a car," Machcinski said. "If you showed an interest in learning, he taught you everything you needed to know. He taught me a lot, and then he stood up for me, he stuck his neck out for me, and he helped me get started."
Machcinski first went to work at Seaport Automotive, specializing in drag racing engines, and then an acquaintance he had made through that field lured him to the
Roush Racing shop in the Detroit suburb of Livonia. The Roush facility was run by the former Ford engine guru Jack Roush, who had a burgeoning racing operation.
"When the call came, it was just another place to work at the time," Machcinski said. "I knew about stock car racing, but I had been working mostly on drag engines to that point. I wasn't that interested in stock cars."
After about a year and a half in Michigan, Machcinski had the opportunity to move to North Carolina and work on one of the Roush Winston Cup teams. He is still with Roush and still based in the Tar Heel State, but chasing the Sprint Cup Series schedule has Machcinski on the road on weekends from February through November.
He will be here for the next three days, nursing every speck of power out of the new FR-9 engine that summons nearly 900 horsepower to push David Ragan's No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion around that fast, two-mile Michigan International Speedway oval.
In the past, Machcinski has worked on the race cars of Ted Musgrave, Johnny Benson, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, and Jamie McMurray.
"I wasn't in awe of all this when I first started with Roush," Machcinski said. "I didn't tie the two together - that I would have a chance to work where I am now. I had no idea how big of an opportunity was in front of me. I also had no idea how big stock car racing would become - no idea how much it meant to people."
A regular work week finds Machcinski in the shop in North Carolina on Mondays, tearing down the car used in the previous weekend's race and sending the engine back to the engine shop. Anything that has to do with the engine, Machcinski is involved.
Tuesdays are spent in the shop, compiling notes and data for the coming weekend's race, and taking care of the engine preparation work. Wednesday is usually an off day, while the crew at the shop loads the hauler and other trucks headed to the next race location.
Machcinski's normal travel day is Thursday, and once at the site of the race, he'll spend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the track, working on preparing the car, making adjustments, and constantly fine-tuning that engine. He also works on the pit crew on race day.
Sunday night Machcinski and the rest of the crew fly home to North Carolina on one of the customized 727 jets Roush owns, which have been converted to accommodate 137 people very comfortably.
"At some point, this became 'oh my gosh' for me. There was no way I could be so involved in something this big," Machcinski said. "I didn't realize how many doors that would open, just because I had a great teacher and some friends to give me an opportunity. I think I am one of the luckiest people around."
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Rick Machcinski's infatuation with automobiles and the power plants that make them hustle down the highway was never in doubt. And he had the knowledge, and the aptitude that allowed him to excel when internal combustion was the dragon he intended to harness.