Richard Childress Racing
May 26, 2012
Five On, Five Off...
"It was a pretty neat deal, you get a chance to show what you can do and it proves to some people that you can do the job."
Author: Mike Petteway
Date: May 23, 2012
You’ve heard that said by the TV announcers when they are talking about an important pit stop during a NASCAR race. They are referring to the five lug nuts that hold a tire on the car.
Pit stops can make or break a team’s chances of winning a race. Pit crews are also the “forgotten” ones at the race track, that is until something goes wrong with a pit stop.
Without the pressure of winning or losing a points race, NASCAR brings together the top pit crews from the Sprint Cup Series each year to compete for big dollars, and for bragging rights among their peers.
This year’s event, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Pit Crew Challenge was held on Thursday night May 17th at the Bobcats Arena in Charlotte.
I recently attended a pit practice session at RCR to see two winners from the competition in action, the front tire carrier/changer duo of Tim “Poptart” Sheets and J. D. Holcomb, members of the pit crew for the #31 RCR Chevrolet driven by Jeff Burton. Sheets and Holcomb took home the prize in the special skills category and with that they each received a commemorative ring and $10K. Their winning time of 13.615 seconds was tops among the front tire changers.
“It was a pretty neat deal, you get a chance to show what you can do and it proves to some people that you can do the job,” said Sheets. “It was neat to showcase our talent against the other 24 pit crews in the series,” added Holcomb.
Both agreed that it was a time to “shine” and they certainly stepped up when it was their time in the spotlight. Holcomb said that sometimes during a race when you are running mid-pack, a great pit stop probably goes unnoticed by the fans, so being able to put on a great performance at this event was very special.
Sheets and Holcomb work really well together as a team. Sheets said that when he came to RCR and met J.D. they clicked right off the bat. Everything happens so fast on a pit stop, coordination and timing among the crew is vital to getting their car on and off of pit road as quickly as possible.
They both have years of experience, working with various teams and pit crews over the years. Sheets said he changed his first tire at a race track when he was about 16, some 19 years ago. “I started in Late Model and ASA as well as some All-Pro races, I gradually moved up to ARCA and Busch ( Nationwide ) working for Andy Petree,” Sheets said. His first full time job in the Cup Series was in 2001 as a tire changer for Michael Waltrip’s DEI car. “That was probably my most memorable race when we won the Daytona 500 in Dale’s (Earnhardt) car, I will never forget that,” said Sheets. Sheets has mainly been a tire changer throughout his racing career and for at least this year, he can claim the title of the fastest in the business.
Holcomb got his start in 2000 and spent the next ten years at Hendick’s, mainly working with the #5 car and driver Terry Labonte. He was also on Jack Sprague’s truck team in 2001. “My most memorable race was when I was on Sprague’s truck team and we won in Texas, it was my first NASCAR win and my dad was able to be there with me, that was pretty cool,” said Holcomb. J.D. also recalls his first Cup win, the last Southern 500 at Darlington in 2003 with Terry Labonte, “what stands out about that is we came in for the last pit stop running third, we were able to get him out in first and he held on for the next 33 laps to get the win, and that was pretty special.”
Being a pit crew member on any NASCAR team, regardless of the series, brings with it a lot of pressure. Sheets and Holcomb understand that and accept the challenge head on . “Every crew member wants to be in a situation of being able to make a difference in a race, you want to get your driver out first and help him win the race, just as we did last year at Richmond with Kevin Harvick,” Holcomb said.
Sheets says that the importance of team work on a pit crew can not be under estimated. “You can have the best tire changer and the best tire carrier in the world, but if they don’t work together they won’t be very good,” said Sheets.
While they are not at the track on the weekends they are both full time employees at Richard Childress Racing. Sheets works in the finish fab shop building the duct work and grill screens for the Cup cars. The Indiana native is married to Betty Jean and they have two children, Tyler, age 10, and a seven year old Carter.
Holcomb works in the fabrication shop and builds parts for the body hangers. J.D. hails from the great State of Kentucky and is married to Diana. They are the proud parents of Jacey and Weston, ages 2 and 4.
Tim and J.D. are among the many unsung heroes of NASCAR that work behind the scenes to make sure that their driver has a chance to taste vicrory.
The next time you are watching a Sprint Cup race on TV look for Poptart and J.D. as they help the #31 car gain spots on pit road.
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