If you happen to drop by any pit area this weekend at the O’Reilly Spring Nationals, you will see specialists at work. In less time that it takes to cook, eat, and clean up supper, these guys can tear down and rebuild an 8,000 horsepower motor, and best of all, when they’re done there are no nuts and bolts left over.
The key to their success? Specialization. On every team you’ll find a guy who works exclusively on a specific area of the car, such as clutches, blowers, or another area of expertise.
Team Schumacher is no different. You’ll find employees hard at work, whether polishing the car bodies, fine tuning the motors, or dishing up heaping helpings of chicken fried steaks.
Wait a minute. Chicken fried wha…?
Yep, at any NHRA tour stop, as many as 2,000 folks, including sponsors, family, and invited guests will visit the hospitality area of Schumacher Racing, and all show up hungry. Thanks to executive chef Malcolm Clark, those same people will leave in much better shape than they arrived, all full from the good eats that Chef Clark creates.
A native of Mitchell, Indiana, Clark has spent his life in the Midwest, but thanks to his training at the International Culinary Institute at the Art Institute of Indianapolis, he is now well-versed in foods from all over the world and travels the United States sharing his culinary skills with appreciative folks at each NHRA event.
Clark’s interest in cooking runs as deep as his Indiana roots, thanks to kitchen skills learned in a school boasting a 24/7 teacher. “My mom was a big influence on me going into cooking,” said Clark. “She was a stay-at-home mom, so she cooked dinner every night. We didn’t eat fast food, because she wanted to cook good meals for us at home. I’d come home from school, go into the kitchen, and help her. I grew up with five sisters, but the weird thing was that none of my sisters cooked. If I were to go home tonight and have my mom cook my very favorite meal of hers, it would have to be stuffed green bell peppers.”
Recognizing as a freshman in high school that he wanted to make food his career, Clark continued to hone his kitchen skills by observing chefs, working in a few fast food restaurants, and continuing to pay close attention to his mother’s efforts. After completing his culinary training, Indianapolis became Clark’s home base, and he quickly established himself in the local food scene by working with highly-visible clients. “I was working at Centerplate Catering for the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium,” said Clark. “One of the chefs there had done it all, including working at the Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway for years. After the football season, he took me out to work at some of his facilities, such as the Verizon Wireless Music Center to do backstage catering and VIP catering for concerts. I also worked in the L.S. Ayres Tea Room, (An Indianapolis landmark that opened in 1905) which is located in the Indiana State Museum, and we had a traditional menu. We did catering and a lot of weddings in the museum, which was on the canal in Indianapolis. Later, I worked for another company, providing catering for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for such events as the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. From there I went to O’Reilly Raceway Park, the dragstrip in Indianapolis where they hold the U.S. Nationals, and that’s where I was introduced to Dustin, the chef for Al-Anabi. “(A rival race team that promotes the country of Qatar)
Not long after, Clark learned from Dustin of an opening on the Schumacher team and jumped at the opportunity. Now armed with kitchen tools and a Commercial Drivers’ License, he spends over 200 days a year sharing his skills with his own appreciative fans. “There are four chefs on the circuit, but I’m the only chef that drives a semi,” said Clark. After arriving as early as Tuesday for an event, Clark spends his days cleaning his kitchen, ordering, picking up, and checking in food from local warehouse stores, and making food platters for team members that arrive on Thursday.
However, much like the 300-plus-mile-per-hour land rockets sitting just a few feet from his hospitality tent, Clark’s weekends travel at warp speed, concluding late Sunday evening when he prepares to head out for the next race. Beginning Friday around 9 a.m., Clark hits the pavement and never looks back. “I have one guy that helps me with the actual prep,” he said. “We have three girls that serve the food and make the salads and tray up the desserts. We have seven hospitality employees that manage the tent, put the food out, clean tables, pick up trash, and they come to the kitchen when it’s close to service to help put everything in the hot boxes. Then they put the hot boxes on each side to get ready for service. When the race is over on Sunday we’re usually there until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. We tear down all the hospitality tents, pack up the semis, and get them ready to roll the next morning. On Monday we pull out.”
Unlike other Schumacher team members, Clark’s efforts cannot be seen on the track, however, his talents are regularly noticed by others. “I’ve heard from sponsors that will tell me that they’ve had one of the best meals that they’ve had at the track in years,” said Clark, who also provides meals for crew members with special dietary needs and religious requirements.
Occasionally, Clark contributes to the team by simply meeting the need that arises from a good old-fashioned craving. “Last week at Charlotte, Spencer Massey (driver of the Fram/Prestone Top Fuel dragster) told me he wanted Sloppy Joes,” said Clark. “So, I told him that if he won the race I’d make them this week for him.”
Massey must have wanted his childhood favorite in a big way. Not only did he win the race, he also set a new national speed record for the Top Fuel category in the final round, blistering the zMax Dragway enroute to a 332.18 mile-per-hour effort. Needless to say, Clark was more than pleased. “This week,” he grinned, “We’re having Sloppy Joes.”
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