Being a mechanic for a SuperUtes team may seem glamorous, but there’s plenty of hard work to get the glory.
For many mechanics, a job in motorsport is the dream position. Traveling the country, screaming fans, and hero drivers mixed with the sounds and smells of racing engines and race fuel. The reality? Not much sleep when problems with the car arise, immense pressure and a long time away from home.
Perhaps it’s the unpredictability of what each working day and race weekend may bring that makes it appealing. For Ben Syron, the mechanic at Ross Stone Racing on the Gold Coast, it’s something of a dream existence. His head isn’t turned by big-name drivers in the paddock, rather the engineers and mechanics who really make the show happen. And in Australia, names don’t come much bigger than Ross and Jim Stone.
As Stone Brothers Racing they secured three V8 Supercars championships and a Bathurst win, so working for Ross has been wildest dreams stuff for Ben. Ross Stone Racing runs an Isuzu D-Max in the ECB Superutes Series, and Ben’s the man on the tools for the bright blue racing ute, currently leading the championship race.
“The rewarding part is seeing your race car performing on the track,” said the 28-year-old. “If the camera captures your car going across the top of the mountain at Bathurst, it’s very cool and quite surreal. Winning’s good, but if you expect it, you put the mocker on yourself. It’s shivers down the spine when it crosses the line first; not quite tearing up, but pretty close. It makes all the hard work pay off.”
Hard work comes with the territory for race mechanics. “It’s a lot of dark and cold starts,” Ben said. “At somewhere like Bathurst, we may have an 8.30am session start, and we’ll be there three hours before. Up at 5am, at the track by 5.30am, but we do get a lovely cooked breakfast. During the day I’ll be on track checking things, ensuring things didn’t rattle loose mid-session, and tune things up if the driver’s not happy.”
As you’d expect, the team brings practically every spare part to cover all eventualities. And if something goes wrong, or if there’s a bump to the racing ute, Ben knows he’s got to get the racer back on track whenever possible. “I love the challenge of that,” he said. “It may not look pretty when it goes back on track, but it’ll be there for the driver and sponsors. If you pop an engine, then there’s a problem with the spare, there’s not much you can do, same if there’s anything affecting the structural integrity of the chassis.”
Ben’s very conscious the driver needs every faith in his race mechanic. “You don’t want to send out a car that’s dangerous,” he said. “You’re dealing with someone’s life. A clean racecar is safe on. You double check triple check, and communication is key. If something doesn’t look right, I won’t assume it’ll be okay. I’ll ask Ross (Stone) to come and look at it, and he decides if it needs a repair. After all, no-one has more experience than someone like him.”
Ben was an early starter in the game. His father was a mechanic, and the young Ben would often be tinkering in his workshop.
“Dad would give me things to pull apart, and I’d be pinching tools and building up to push bikes and changing skateboard wheels,” he said. He secured an apprenticeship with a local Ford dealer while still in Grade 10, but soon realized dealership work was too mundane. He moved to another mechanic, but still felt unsettled.
Two years as a carpenter meant long hours and job insecurity, so he fell back on his mechanic’s qualification and began working at an Ultratune, where the workplace camaraderie turned his head once more. “I fell in love with it again,” he said, illustrating how key workplace morale is.
After three years, and having worked weekends on the side in motorsport, he was picked up full time by Matt Stone Racing – led by the son of Jim Stone. “We were doing V8 Utes, Touring Car Masters, Kumho Series, Super2 and some GT stuff,” Ben said, showing how busy and varied his and his co-mechanics’ work was. One of the highlights was helping run a fearsome Aston Martin Vantage GT3 in the incident-packed 2017 Bathurst 12 Hour.
When Ross Stone was handed the task of building the first SuperUtes for the new series, Ben was asked to come across and work for one of his heroes. He jumped at the chance. Last year the team campaigned a Holden Colorado before the Isuzu D-Max was drafted in for 2019, driven by Tom Alexander. On my arrival at the workshop, the ute was up on a hoist with Ben busily checking a wheel hub after the Isuzu had taken a bash at the previous Winton round.
“We come back after a race meets, do a full panel and sticker list for what needs to happen, do a crack testing list, crack test main components under load and check the clutch every second round,” he said. “During race weekends if the driver’s getting faster I generally don’t need to touch it. I can do some anti-squat stuff to the rear, ride height and roll center adjustments, and tyre pressures.”
Any advice for a mechanic wanting to break into the motor sport? “Get work experience,” he said. “You have to nag people, show enthusiasm, and if you get there, don’t talk too much and keep your ears open. It’s usually not as glamorous as it seems, and you have to start from the bottom, but you do get to do and see some very cool things.”