CONCORD, N.C. -- Once again, Andy Papathanassiou needs your help. The former pit crew athlete and current Hendrick Motorsports director of human performance now is in the fourth round of "North Jersey's Greatest Male Athlete," which is being put on by his hometown New Jersey newspaper, "The Bergen Record."
Papathanassiou got his start on the NASCAR circuit in 1993 when he joined then-rookie Jeff Gordon's team as a member of the pit crew. He saw this as an opportunity to reinvent how pit crews operate and make it more of an athletic team process instead of individual exercises. The techniques worked and Gordon saw himself dominating the NASCAR circuit.
Papathanassiou stressed the need to focus on the details and practice and repetition of the small details are what makes a team cohesive and strong. He said practicing the little motions while working on a car during a pit stop is the equivalent of a basketball player practicing foul shots – the only way to get better is to focus on the little details.
“I used that athletic mentality that I learned with being part of great, successful high school teams," Papathanassiou said. "Being a part of Division I athletics with Stanford, I brought that mentality into racing. I used the success I had stemming back from high school sports and I brought that athletic idea into NASCAR.”
Papathanassiou said the transition into this team mindset wasn’t easy at first. The pit crew had to understand the athletic culture and not get frustrated with the continual practices. He added that the group had to be open to adapting if certain techniques didn’t work as the season went on.
“It only gets complicated when you’re trying to do it better than everyone on earth,” Papathanassiou said. “That’s where the repetition of those very small details – to the extent of hundreds of thousands of times – makes the biggest difference.”
The team didn’t rely on individual skill or individual activity but had to work together as a unit. Papathanassiou said the team was only as good as its slowest person, which made teamwork and practice essential.
“The stopwatch only records the weakest link, so you have to constantly identify and shore up and elevate your weakest link,” he said.
Before he joined Hendrick Motorsports in North Carolina, Papathanassiou was a prolific track and football athlete. He was the New Jersey shot put record holder for over a decade, played football at Stanford and still holds the Bergen County shot put record.
To vote for Papathanassiou in the "North Jersey's Greatest Male Athlete" challenge and see the field of competitors, click here. Voting in the fourth round starts May 21 and goes through May 22 at 7 p.m. ET.