CONCORD, N.C. – The word on the street is that if you want to find Jay Fabian at the race track, don’t look in the NASCAR hauler. Fabian, the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Managing Director, likely won’t be there.
If you want to find Fabian, head for the garage. Look under a few hoods. Check out the underside of a few cars. Chances are, that’s where he’ll be found.
He’s here, it seems, to get his hands dirty. And to help keep the sport clean.
“The series director’s role now is definitely hands-on,” Fabian said from his office at the NASCAR Research & Development Center. “Out in the garage, 24/7.”
His focus, he said, “is being out in the garage when it’s open. I’ll literally be one of the inspectors.”
The 48-year-old has a pretty good eye and a strong background when it comes to cars and inspections. Prior to taking his new post earlier this year, he was managing director of technical integration for NASCAR.
In layman’s terms, Fabian said he “did all the suspension, steering and brakes rules for all three national series (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Gander Outdoors Truck Series) and I did the post-race inspections for whichever series brought their vehicles back here.”
Those Tuesday teardowns that were once a staple of NASCAR were his domain.
Teardowns still are, but these days they happen at the track, beginning as soon as the checkered flag has fallen.
Go back a bit further and Fabian was a shop foreman at Michael Waltrip Racing from the time it began competing full time in 2007 until it closed in 2015. He is a native of Everett, Pennsylvania, and he grew up racing go-karts and motorcycles, which in turn meant he had to learn to work on them as well.
“And that evolved into muscle cars and drag racing, some circle track stuff,” he said. “I worked at a garage that had a dirt car and I’d gone with them a little bit.”
He has served as an over-the-wall crewman as well, as a tire changer and occasionally as a jack man in the Xfinity Series.
“One of the things you hear in the garage often when you talk about people is that he or she ‘is a racer,’ ” said Steve O’Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer for NASCAR. “Jay is a racer. He grew up in racing; he’s been on all sides of racing.”
That background should help immediately, O’Donnell said, and as NASCAR officials plot a course for the future.
“He’s spent a lot of time over the last year and a half back at the R&D Center, looking at the cars, getting to know the trends and where we may want to go from a racing perspective, or maybe where we don’t want to go,” O’Donnell said. “He’s going to bring that knowledge of all the things he saw back at the R&D Center to the track.
“He’ll be intimately involved with the post-race teardown, so I don’t expect Jay to be the most well-liked person just because of some of the rulings he may have to make. But Jay is an extremely fair guy and an extremely confident guy and … we feel like he’ll be a great addition to the team at-track.”
There have been tweaks to the at-track inspection process, in addition to the full-blown post-race teardown, but Fabian said the average fan likely won’t notice much of a difference.
“The inspection lines going around the garages, that visual will still be there,” he said.
Competitors have noticed a more stringent process, one that begins as soon as the garage is opened. According to Fabian, teams could potentially find themselves in hot water as cars come off the haulers.
“Before, that kind of didn’t happen as much,” he said, “but this year we are pushing hard on the teams to show up right, show up legal. We’re going to be looking at it as it comes off the lift gate all through the inspections.
“We’re geared up to dig our heels in and give penalties before they even get to the inspection line if they show up with stuff that isn’t in compliance.”
Why the hard line? Perhaps because for the past couple of years, some teams have had to make several trips through the inspection process before passing. That in turn created backlogs in some areas and led to teams not making it to the grid for qualifying or delays on race day.
The inspection process, which shouldn’t be a story, became a story as officials found themselves grappling with teams who were pushing the limits of the rule book.
“You have to change the culture, right?” said Fabian. “There’s just this pride in being not legal, what you can get away with and it’s hard to get your head around all that. I’ve worked for teams that were going by the rule book. And other ones that were saying, ‘We’re going to push as much as we can, just like everybody else is.’
“On this (NASCAR) side, you see people working in areas that just aren’t helpful for their relationship with us getting through the inspection line, and it often doesn’t even match the teams they’re trying to compete with.”
NASCAR historically has been heavy-handed when infractions have involved the engine, tires or fuel. Fabian said he wants the garage to feel the same concern for the car going forward.
Aero is crucial, but horsepower still rules, he said, “and I think that anyone in racing would tell you they would take 10 more horsepower if they could get it. But they know that they’re not going to get away with it because we will react. And I think that’s what we’re looking to do with the car.”
Being hands-on and consistently involved keeps him attuned to the goings-on in the garage. That experience and knowledge provides a bit of comfort when dealing with teams.
“The one message I will continue to drive home all year is we are the only ones that know what everyone has,” Fabian said. “There is a perception of what people are racing against. But it gives me comfort looking at Truck and Xfinity cars and Cup cars when people say ‘Hey, they’re doing so-and-so’ and you can say ‘No, they’re not. That’s not what you’re chasing.’
“To have the confidence to look at the vehicles and be able to give that answer, it’s important to me to be able to do that. I don’t want to just say that and not know.”
Fabian knows. Because he’s out there. Under the hoods and beneath the cars.