One of the biggest storylines – and thrills – so far this season for NASCAR fans just might be the iconic No. 43 car’s resurgence in the NASCAR spotlight.
Behind the wheel of the legendary car that often still sports the famous Petty Blue shade, driver Aric Almirola currently finds himself ninth in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 317 points and is emerging as a real Chase contender.
Besides having a Hall of Fame team owner in Richard Petty and an experienced crew chief in Todd Parrott, Almirola has yet another advantage every time he wheels the 43 down pit road – an award-winning pit crew.
The No. 43 Smithfield Ford over-the-wall crew has been named the Quarter One Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew – an honor determined by a vote of each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief given quarterly to top-performing pit crews.
"It’s just awesome," said rear tire changer Dwayne Ogles. "Just the history of the 43 car in itself and us kind of being the underdogs, it’s pretty cool to bring the 43 back. Everybody’s looking at us and it’s cool for the spotlight to be back on the 43 team."
The No. 43 crew’s precise performance this season has helped to cement Almirola’s solid start to the 2013 campaign. The team’s four straight top-10s, accumulated from the April 13 race at Texas to May 5 at Talladega, marked the first time since 1996 that the storied Petty Enterprise’s No. 43 had finished in the top-10 in four straight races.
According to Ogles, being recognized by peers for their accomplishments is a huge honor for the entire team.
"It means a lot to me and to all of the guys," said Ogles, a nine-year pit road veteran who hails from Hoover, Ala. "Working out, practicing, building the cars in the shop – day in and day out, there’s a lot that goes into it. We put in a lot of long hours, so it’s nice to see the performance and results showing."
In addition to Ogles, the 43 over-the-wall pit crew consists of a combination of newcomers and experienced pit road veterans, including: Joe Karasinski (gas man), Jeremy Neeley (jackman), Greg Donlin (front tire changer), Lance Hanna (front tire carrier), and Eric Wallace (rear tire carrier). Andrew Carter is the team’s pit crew coach.
"I can remember as a kid watching Richard Petty race the 43 car," reminisced coach Carter, who trains both the No. 43 and No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports pit crews. "He [Petty] was one of my favorite drivers, so getting to work with these guys every day is pretty special."
Carter puts the crew through pit stop practice three days a week, and works with the strength and conditioning coach to oversee their weight training regime in the gym four days per week.
"We push these guys pretty hard," said Carter. "Between working on the cars, finding time to get to practice, and then going to the gym and pushing themselves even harder, they do a great job at it. The results have shown on the track the past couple of weeks in seeing the 43 running up in the top-10."
The Carter-coached No. 43 six-member team can change four tires, add fuel and make adjustments in as little as 11 or 12 seconds, thanks to rigorous training as well as technological advances by companies like Mechanix Wear, who supply 20 to 25 products from gloves to kneepads based on whatever the pit road warriors need.
Carter also maintains having a primary sponsor like Smithfield reaps its own competitive benefits, too.
"It always helps to be ‘fueled by bacon’ when you’re going over-the-wall," quips Carter. "That extra protein really helps give the guys that extra boost to perform at their best."
Benefitting from best-in-class gloves, bacon and some good old-fashioned blood, sweat and tears, Ogles and company wouldn’t have it any other way.
"All the hard work pays off," added Ogles. "It’s worth every bit of it."