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NFL Kicker Gets Shot at Racing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (April 16, 2003) – Carolina Panthers kicker Shayne Graham came to Hendrick Motorsports last month to perform each pit-crew skill and learn more about racing.

Graham never paid attention to NASCAR until he spent time with cousin Caleb Hurd, catch-can man for the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet of four-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.

“I was recruited to play for the Panthers and I love it down here,” the Dublin, Va., native said. “But I pretty much figured that in order to fit in I kind of have to become accustomed to all the NASCAR stuff.”

In mid-March, Graham received a tour of the Hendrick Motorsports complex and had the opportunity to take a few laps around the museum.

“I got to take (a pit car) across the parking lot and back,” the 25-year-old joked. “That was dangerous when I got in my car to go back to the highway because I felt like I was in the middle of Days of Thunder.”

Having the opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes at Hendrick showed Graham that more hard work goes into racing than most people realize.

“When you compare (racing) to professional sports, a lot of guys say that it’s not an athletic sport,” Graham said. “But when I came here, I saw that these guys have a weight room and a sprint coach just like the football team would.”

Graham learned the pit-crew members work out three to four times a week under the guidance of strength and conditioning coaches. They also review film of their pit stops after each race, enabling them to improve their skills just as a football team does.

“They teach themselves to do things just like we do for our games,” he said. “But there are also other responsibilities they have as far as being engineers, whether they are working in the shops or on computers. So much goes into it.”

Hurd, who was Graham’s teammate at Virginia Tech, showed his cousin what goes on in the pits and even gave him the opportunity to try each skill.

“They showed me all the things with jacking, taking the bolts off, putting them on, carrying a tire, hanging a tire, using the gas can, the crank and all kinds of different stuff,” Graham said.

When asked which job he enjoyed the most Graham stated he liked using the pressure gun on the lug nuts. The most difficult job for the kicker was performing the job of tire changer.

“I couldn’t get it to always go on straight,” he said. “You have to line up the lug nut holes to get the tire to slide on perfect. I had to slide it on then twist it a little to get it on there right. I was using too much arms and not enough legs so I was just all over the place.”

Graham learned the skills are not as easy as they appear on television. There is a technique that must be learned to perform the pit crew jobs successfully.

“The jack took me a while to learn because I was trying to do it with my arms,” Graham said. “It’s just a technique of using your body weight and your shoulders. I was like a weakling. I weigh 200 pounds and I can’t get this thing to work and there are guys out there that are 160 pounds and they do it with ease. I was like, what’s going on here? It took me a while to get the hang of it.”

Graham learned racing is a sport that demands hard work and dedication and that the crew members must all work together as a team to accomplish one goal.

“You are competing with your team against other people who are doing the same thing you are doing at the same time,” Graham said. “And it’s all under pressure because you’ve only got 13 or 14 seconds to get it all done with precision. You are all doing it to win.”

Just like all other professional sports, there is risk involved. There is always chance that all the hard work and training will result in a loss.

“Every day you put all that work into it and you don’t know what the finished product is going to be,” he said. You’re kind of doing it all on faith. That’s to me what a sport is. You put hard work into it and it pays off or someone else worked harder or the breaks just went their way.”

In the end, Graham believes racing is not just entertainment. Racing is a sport.

“It’s definitely much more than a little entertainment thing you go to,” he said. “You could compare it to a concert where somebody performed and that’s really all there was, but it’s a lot more than that.”

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