How former athletes are fueling NASCAR’s high-speed pit crews

July 11, 2024
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With only six races left in NASCAR‘s regular season before the playoffs, drivers are gearing up. 

Behind every driver is a pit crew team ensuring the car is fueled and tires are changed in seconds. The secret behind the crew includes many former college and professional athletes making the leap to this high-speed sport.

NASCAR pit crews, like the one at Trackhouse Racing, operate at breakneck speed. Jeremy Kimbrough, a tire carrier for Trackhouse Racing, said at times crew members are changing four tires in eight to nine seconds and dumping at least 16 gallons of fuel in the car.

Kimbrough was part of driver Shane Van Gisbergen’s big victory last month in California. He played two years with the NFL’s Washington Commanders before he found his way to NASCAR unexpectedly eight years ago.

“You can plan out your life and it can go out completely different,” he said.

After his time in the NFL, he was unsure about his next steps until the opportunity in NASCAR arose. Kimbrough had never even attended a race and admitted he never expected to end up in the sport. 

He’s not alone. Many NASCAR pit crew members are former college or professional athletes. Kimbrough noted that while the NFL is fast-paced, NASCAR is even faster, and it took him about four years for him to get used to the sport’s pace.

For Team Trackhouse, practice occurs three days a week, including watching film to perfect their performance. Kimbrough’s opportunity arose through NASCAR’s “Drive for Diversity” program. Coach Phillip Horton, a former athletic trainer, now trains men and women from diverse backgrounds interested in motorsports. He has brought in 175 athletes, making up nearly 10% of NASCAR’s pit crews.

“What they didn’t have was the ability to perform under pressure because they weren’t used to doing that. And that’s the separation. So we found it easier to train athletes, to learn a little bit of the mechanical side of it than have mechanics become athletes to become performers,” said Horton.

Breaking barriers

Brehanna Daniels, a former point guard at Norfolk State University, joined the program in 2016. Coach Horton recognized her potential early on, telling her she could make history in the sport — and she did.

Daniels became the first African American female tire changer to pit a cup car. Despite never having watched NASCAR a day in her life, she embraced the new challenge. Daniels is now committed to paving the way for more women in NASCAR.

“I’m going to continue being a voice of the sport … hopefully more opportunities open up for women,” said Daniels.

Both Daniels and Kimbrough express a deep love for their new roles. For these athletes, the transition from football to NASCAR has been a new adventure and now it’s full speed ahead in their new careers.

“It gives me the adrenaline rush, you know. I’m still an athlete being able to compete at a high level with my teammates, you know, just running and jumping in front of moving cars,” said Daniels.

Asked to compare his love for football and NASCAR, Kimbrough replied, “It’s still the same. It’s just a different kind of love.”

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