Keeping a Pirelli World Challenge Team Moving, Eating a Full-Time Job
If an army marches on its stomach, then Mel Alexander and Mark McCarthy with Phoenix American Motorsports are pulling double duty.
McCarthy and Alexander might not have the most glamorous jobs, but the Pennsylvania-based team couldn’t get anywhere without them: Both men drive the big rigs that take cars and equipment from race to race, and they also prepare all of the food and hospitality for the team and its guests.
“We pull in, we set it up and then we break into the hospitality,” McCarthy said. “When it’s over, we fold it up and take it back on the road with us.”
On Saturday evening, Mel and Mark were preparing dinner in the back of the team’s setup in Circuit of The Americas’ paddock. While Mark was working the grill — marinated chicken breasts and beef tips — Mel was cutting tomatoes to put in a spinach salad. The completed meal also included mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and some dinner rolls.
The pair’s mobile kitchen consists of a propane grill with a side burner, a couple of coolers and a few tables set up behind the team’s haulers. With that, they prepare two to three meals for up to three dozen people each day at a race, McCarthy said.
“It’s primitive, but you know what, it works,” McCarthy said. “The thing is you have to be real careful sanitation-wise because as truck drivers
and cooks we can put the team out of commission two ways: By not getting the equipment here and food poisoning. So far, so good.”
The team pulled into Circuit of The Americas on Tuesday night and will be gone by Monday morning. Mark and Mel will have prepared different meals each day.
“It’s kind of like cooking on a ship: There’s the moral factor as well as nutrition,” McCarthy said.
On Friday, dinner included a lightly floured lemon chicken over white rice. Mel had made chili earlier Saturday that was gone by the evening.
Both men have worked in racing for a long time: Mark, from Las Vegas, has worked for Phoenix for about 10 years. Mel, who is from Maine, has joined on full-time with the team this season, though he worked previously for other teams.
Both men said it’s not uncommon for team truck drivers to also provide hospitality.
“That’s kinda how I got into racing, I came in through the hospitality end,” McCarthy said. “Whenever the economy went bad, the hospitality guys were the first guys to get let go. But every time I came back I noticed the truck drivers were always the same guys so I got my CDL 15 years ago, and it’s been straight employment ever since.”
Before heading out for a race, Mel and Mark load up at Sam’s Club and then source fresh ingredients at local grocery stores – including about 20 pounds of meat for each meal.
“Everything goes in boxes, we live out of coolers,” McCarthy said. “We don’t have refrigerators so we have to be very careful.”
Wash stations and bleach ensure that everything is sanitary. “We can take out the whole team all at once,” McCarthy said.
When the week is over, the men break it all down, load it all up and prepare to do it all over again at the next race.
“It’s all part of the package — driving and cooking,” Mel said. “This is a lot of work coming up here, driving 6- 650 miles a day to get here in three days, but it’s a lot of fun, too.”