It’s been more than a half century since Wood Brothers Racing revolutionized pit stops with choreographed in-race vehicle service, and advances are still being made in an effort to minimize time spent on pit road to gain a competitive advantage.
One of the more-recent advances, at least in a historical context, is the addition of specialized crewmen recruited from the ranks of athletes in other sports.
“As the sport has evolved the past few seasons it’s become evident how important pit road is, and the transition of these really good athletes coming in and filling these roles has been one of the keys,” said Jeremy Bullins, crew chief of the Wood Brothers’ Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing team.
Wood Brothers Racing has a number of former professional and collegiate athletes tending to its iconic No. 21 Ford Fusion. Among them are rear tire changer Shannon Myers, jack man Chris Conklin and rear tire carrier Wade Moore. Myers and Conklin come from the football gridiron and Moore from the baseball diamond.
A wide receiver, Myers was legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula’s last draft pick in 1995 out of Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C.
He lacerated his kidney diving for a pass in his first training camp, sat out a half season and ultimately spent two years in Miami.
Myers moved north and spent two seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League where he scored his first professional touchdown against the Toronto Argonauts.
Over the next four autumns, Myers went to Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks training camps and played for the Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe.
“After the CFL, I came back to the NFL with Tony Dungy and the Buccaneers,” Myers recalls. “From there I went to Seattle with Mike Holmgren. Then from Seattle to New York where Bill Parcells was the general manager. It was kind of neat to work with those hall of fame coaches, be on their teams and see how they run them.”
Although he was reluctant at first to join a NASCAR team when his football playing days were behind him, Myers quickly changed his mind.
“I went to a tryout and they put us through the paces like it was a combine,” Myers recalled. “I wasn’t expecting that. Once I got in there and found out how athletic and challenging it was, and the team work it takes to do something like that, I was automatically drawn to it.”
In those days, however, he and other former athletes weren’t readily accepted into the pit crew fraternity.
“When I came in, it was difficult to break in because it was a close-knit group,” Myers remembered. “You had to turn wrenches and pit the car. The guys who were there before us didn’t want to give up those positions. Now it’s become much more specialized and it took quite a few years for everyone to understand that the team would benefit from a specialized pit crew and specialized car builders.”
He did get into the fraternity in 2002 with Petty Enterprises and Kyle Petty. In 2003-2004, Myers pitted Dale Earnhart, Jr.’s DEI entry and won the Daytona 500.
“I was fortunate to win the Daytona 500 with Dale Jr. in 2004,” Myers said. “You win a lot of races early and you think it’s just going to keep happening. As you get older you start to cherish those victories even more because you know how hard it is and how much work goes into them.”
From DEI, Myers moved on to Robert Yates Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing before joining the Wood Brothers two seasons ago.
“Shannon is a guy who has provided a ton of veteran leadership to our team,” Bullins said. “He’s got a lot of experience and has been a big help to us.”
Jack man Chris Conklin is another former footballer now on the Motorcraft/Quick Lane pit crew. He was a two-time all-conference and a second-team All American tight end at Wingate University in Wingate, N.C. During his senior season in 2007, Conklin led his league’s tight ends with 30 catches for 446 yards and 10 touchdowns. During his four years at Wingate, Conklin piled up 73 catches, 1,139 yards and 18 touchdowns.
When his days as a Bulldog were over he spent six months with the Carolina Panthers.
“That’s where I got connected to NASCAR,” Conklin explained. “The strength coach with the Panthers became the strength coach with Team Penske.”
Once he made the transition from the gridiron to the race track, Conklin made some observations about the differences and similarities between the sports.
“The difference between a pit crew and a football team is if someone on the pit crew doesn’t do their job or makes a mistake, it effects the whole thing where if a lineman misses a block it might not affect the whole play,” Conklin said. “If you have a great running back he might still make a play even if someone misses a block.”
In noting the similarities, he said, “You still have the locker room atmosphere and the good camaraderie between the team members. Both sports are kind of like roller coasters. You’re going to ride the high and ride the low. If you can find a way to stay at an even keel, and I think football prepared me for this, I think performance is improved.”
Of Conklin, Bullins said, “Chris is a very talented jack man, one of the best in the sport. I’m really glad he made the transition to racing and he’s been a real asset to our team over the years. He’s a great team player.”
Unlike Conklin and Myers, rear tire carrier Wade Moore started his athletic career as a baseball player. That sort of came naturally as he was named after Boston Red Sox great Wade Boggs.
“Wade is a really competitive guy and a very good athlete,” Bullins said. “He’s unselfish and a great team guy. He’s been a good addition to our team.”
That addition happened late last season when Moore joined the Motorcraft/Quick Lane pit crew.
Moore’s baseball career took him to North Carolina State University and then the Washington Nationals’ farm system.
“When baseball was over I had two business degrees but I wasn’t quite ready to step away from the competitiveness of sports,” said Moore who added that a friend got him a tryout at Team Penske and he impressed enough to be offered a contract.
“It has differences, that’s for sure,” Moore said when comparing sports. “One thing I was pleasantly surprised about (in racing), was it has the feel of a professional locker room. It’s easy to come to work every day when you’re surrounded by people chasing a common team goal, not an individual goal. It makes working out, putting in the extra work a lot easier because we all still want to win.”
Lending further credence to the importance the Wood Brothers placed on the work of pit crews 50 years ago and that of current crew chief Bullins, are the development programs that race teams have to train these former athletes to be pit crew members.
“One good thing about us at Wood Brothers Racing is our technical alliance with Team Penske and the program they have to develop these guys,” Bullins said. “It’s a big benefit to us.”
Ford Performance PR