Weighed down by about 20 pounds of equipment and gear, Brooksville Fire Chief Tim Mossgrove will sit patiently for hours in an air-conditioned tool truck this afternoon. The truck will be parked at a far end of a racetrack, which means Mossgrove won't see much of the cars racing around the 2.66-mile tri-oval course at 180 mph, the celebrity drivers like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson or the more than 150,000 fans in the stands. Unless, of course, there's a serious problem.
Mossgrove will be one of 180 members of the fire crew working the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway today. This will be Mossgrove's seventh year working at the event, one of the largest and most important on the circuit.
"My wife calls it my 'working vacation,' " Mossgrove said, laughing. "And it is a lot of work. But it's not really a vacation."
Mossgrove will be joined in Alabama by a couple of fellow Brooksville firefighters, Mike Dow and Alan Regis.
The position certainly has its share of perks — a ticket to a coveted sporting event, a chance to network with old friends. And occasionally the family can come along to hang out. But the four-day stint in Alabama is far from a break.
Mossgrove was set to arrive in Talladega on Wednesday afternoon, and then immediately immerse himself in training and workshops in preparation for the race and preliminary events. The days often start before sunrise and last well into the night, sometimes as late as 9 p.m.
But every bit of the prep time is necessary at the Alabama track, which is generally known for its unusual speed factor — even in the world of auto racing — and some of the more notable crashes on the circuit.
"You just have to survive there," last year's winner Kyle Busch said at a NASCAR news conference this week, "and hope you somehow stay out of the inevitable big wreck."
That means the firefighters must always be prepared to spring into action — much like in their jobs back home. Once the trucks are arranged around the track for the race, members of the fire crew are readying themselves for the worst — fires and, of course, wrecks.
"We have to be on our game," Mossgrove said. "We're very disciplined in what we do."
Growing up as a racing fan in West Virginia, Mossgrove was dogged in his pursuit of a chance to work a NASCAR event. He first heard about the opportunity a decade ago from an instructor at Florida State Fire College. The instructor was working events at the Daytona International Speedway.
So, Mossgrove immediately went home and filled out an application. He didn't hear back from NASCAR for the next four years.
"I just thought it was a foregone conclusion" that he wasn't going to be accepted, Mossgrove said.
But in the spring of 2002, Mossgrove got a call from Talladega asking if he would be interested. He's been going back every year since.
Mossgrove said he's probably worked a total of 50 NASCAR events since then, including some at the Daytona track. During that time, Mossgrove has steadily worked his way up the chain of command. He started out on pit road and now works as crew chief on one of four tool trucks at Talladega.
The rapid rise is attributed not only to Mossgrove's diligence and experience, but to the grueling nature of the work.
"You've got to be a race fan to want to do it," said Randy Ballard, extrication supervisor and training officer for Talladega. "You'll work all week, and some folks come here and think it was going to be all rest and relaxation.
"Tim has been good for us. He's one of the guys and fits in here real well."
And even though Mossgrove won't see much of the race, or much of anything for that matter, he's happy to keep going back.
"Yeah, I might not move much the whole day while I'm there," Mossgrove said. "But to me, it's a release."
Joel Anderson can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6120.