Brad Banker grew up a sports fan outside Green Bay, Wis., but auto racing was not high on his list of passions. His father was a longtime employee of the Packers and Banker, who somehow became a fan of the rival Minnesota Vikings, wound up playing football and lacrosse at Moorhead State in Minnesota.
Banker taught for a year after getting his master’s, but went into commercial real estate to make a little more money. But it wasn't until Banker got his commercial trucking license and found a job working for Andretti Racing that he finally found his dream job.
Starting off driving the team’s haulers from stop to stop, Banker eventually got a part-time gig changing tires on pit road and wound up overseeing the team’s logistical issues for everything from corporate tents to Port-o-Johns. He still moonlights as a tire changer for Indy Car driver E.J. Viso.
“If they let me sit around and play with million-dollar cars, it’s pretty hard to go back to work in a school,” said Banker, who went to graduate school in order to become a teacher, coach and eventually a high school athletic director.
Banker, 33, has the kind of job that many race car fans would covet: being part of the week-to-week IndyCar Series caravan that crisscrosses the country – and the world – for one of the longest seasons in sports. Last week it was Sonoma, Calif., and this week it’s been the Grand Prix of Baltimore.
Though he arrived by airplane ahead of the haulers, which set up shop in the parking lot of Oriole Park on Thursday after driving cross country, Banker knows he and others have a busy week ahead in feeding the crews for five different drivers as well as many of the team’s four dozen sponsors and their guests.
It’s somewhat of a homecoming for Banker, who also spent a year managing apartments at UMES.
“It was interesting coming from Green Bay to a historically black college,” Banker said. “Coming from a little town in Wisconsin, you don’t really understand the scope of the world. Traveling around the world with Andretti Racing is also pretty interesting.”
Now settled in Indianapolis with his wife, Banker is only one of the key behind-the-scenes employees for the Andretti Racing team, which takes upwards of 150 people on the road each week. Feeding them alone costs $10,000 a week, according to Banker.
“Some weekends it’s bigger because it’s in-market [for the sponsors],” Banker said.
There is also the cost of hotels, rental cars and planes – as well as maintaining the race cars so they’re in peak condition come race day. Given the nomadic nature of the IndyCar series itself, most of those not driving rarely have a day off.
E.J. Viso, a 28-year-old Venezuelan who drives in the IndyCar Series for Andretti Autosport, said that “pretty much this job [driving] is what happens behind the scenes, what you see in a race weekend is pretty much the result of what you see behind the scenes.
“Many people think that racing is cool, it’s simple and that’s it. You come and race on the weekend and that’s it. But actually the only fun part of being a race car driving is that race on the weekend.
"Everything behind it is what is reallly tough and probably makes the difference between drivers, between teams. The difference between a winning driver and team is the amount of preparation behind the scenes.”
Erwin Brecher, Andretti’s Austrian-born, Seattle-based chef, joined Andretti Autosport around the same time as Banker. He has been working with the Andretti family for more than 30 years, initially through the team’s association with Texaco.
Brecher cooks up more than 600 meals each weekend, including a filet mignon dinner on Sunday. For the race at Mid-Ohio last month, Brecher said that he prepared more than a dozen seven-pound filets, 50 pounds of fish, 30 pounds of bacon, a couple cases of potatoes and vegetables.
The day starts around 4 a.m.
“In my position, if you are a race fan, it won’t work,” Brecher said. “By the time the race starts, you have to clean everything up and break everything down. Watch it on TV or read it in the papers the next day. After so many years, it’s like everything else.”
Not that Brecher is much of a race fan.
“I take the Fifth,” he said with a laugh.