You’ve rented your new apartment near Charlotte. You have unpacked all of your necessary belongings and boxed the rest up in storage. Your new resumes are fresh off the printer and they are bulging with years of short track and grassroots racing knowledge and experience. You are here to make the step up from minor league to major league in the world of NASCAR professional auto racing. You are ready to chase your dream.
If you want to make it in the world of country music, you move to Nashville. If you want to make it big as an actor you move to Los Angeles. If you dreamed of turning wrenches on professional NASCAR teams your address tends to be near Charlotte.
Be ready for a hard dose of reality. This sport is not kind, nor considerate. It certainly isn’t fair.
Knowing the right person will help get a job on a professional motorsports team quicker than knowing the right stuff.
Someone has to know and trust you. If you haven’t moved here already knowing a good connection that can definitely land you a job, you need to go out and network. I mean the Chad Knaus-is-your-brother connection.
Driving from shop to shop dropping off resumes to the front receptionist will make you feel better. But that will not get you hired. Or even earn you a return phone call.
If being a volunteer with sprint cars or late models is where your training came, then continuing that course is a better way to get your foot in the garage gate.
When I first relocated to the Lake Norman area, I volunteered with low-budget Cup teams. I got paid no money but was paid in big-time experience, and more importantly the opportunity to meet people.
My free time was given to Derrike Cope and Carl Long. Car owner points assign garage stall parking, so you tend to see familiar faces weekly. Getting to know the folks around me was part of the process. After two years of volunteering, my phone rang and Kevin Lepage’s Busch Series team was on the other end with my first job offering.
Hendrick and Gibbs level crew chiefs are trying to run championship teams. They don’t have the time to hear about somebody’s life long dream while he works on a modified in Iowa. But some crew chiefs do remember being that same guy.
If the man who works on the modified in Iowa, moves to Charlotte, volunteers all his spare time to an unsponsored team, gets hired on a full time team, gets to know a front running crew chief, and has the years to donate in pursuit of his dream, he might, just might, get a call from a Roush manager.
The lesson here is once you rise through your local racing ranks to be a top mechanic; you have to restart at the bottom here in the professional NASCAR world.
There are further hurdles to clear other than just the new-kid-in-town acceptance.
College athletes, and not racers, are being recruited for pit stop duty. To me, that is undeserved. Cup racing is the highest level of stock car competition. I believe everyone that has the privilege to work here should have to work their way up through the levels of racing. Nobody should start at a Cup level.
There are many good, quality people with many years of racing experience currently unemployed and on the outside looking in. What once were car chiefs are now appliance repairmen not because of choice but because of necessity. They and their children like to eat.
Right now a winning team can be assembled entirely with people who once had employment within the NSCAR garage.
The recession of 2008 where more than 1,000 of my co-workers were handed pink slips is not over. Some moved away. Some stayed. Those that remain still harbor thoughts of getting back to racing.
A friend of mine has a Cup championship on his resume and a ring to show for it. But he was mowing lawns last summer. Again, not because of choice but because of necessity.
My advice to everyone with a dream is to chase it. Your most important tools will be persistence and patience. The top levels of NASCAR can be very rewarding. However racing uses up many guys before they can master it.
My pit crew days are behind me. Now I broadcast and write about the sport. The racing path I took molded me and led me right here. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Mondays at 7pm ET/4pm PT. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com.)