CONCORD, N.C. -- He’s back! Andy Papathanassiou has made it all the way to the final round of his hometown newspaper’s bracket challenge.
“The Bergen Record,” based in New Jersey, has been running the "North Jersey's Greatest Male Athlete” challenge of the past two months. Papathanassiou has won round after round and now is in the title stage of the men’s bracket.
“You see the 15 people in uniform in the pit, but there’s really 100 people behind those teams,” he said. “So the bottom line for this is people need to be inspired to vote and make a decision. Votes are my stats.”
The former pit crew coach and current Hendrick Motorsports director of human performance has been part of the NASCAR world for 30 years. He got his start out in Sonoma, California, in 1990 after he volunteered to help a racing team behind the pit crew scenes. Papathanassiou said he was recovering from back surgery when he stumbled across a NASCAR race on TV and his curiosity was piqued.
“It was always my goal to be a professional athlete,” he said. “When it turned out that I wasn’t going to go pro in (football), I looked for something and I started to find out about NASCAR and pit crews. That’s how I started in the direction I’m currently in 30 years later.
Papathanassiou joked that he “broke the law” to get his start after he snuck into the NASCAR race at Sonoma. He was thrilled when he joined that team for a couple of years.
Papathanassiou said it was late in the 1992 season when he got the opportunity to work with Ray Evernham, who would become Jeff Gordon’s crew chief. Evernham gave Papathanassiou full permission to create a more athletic approach to how pit crews operated.
He said he used his experience as a rugby player to create drills for the pit crew since Hendrick Motorsports didn’t have the proper equipment to work out like athletes normally do.
“Those rugby guys were used to using their body strength for a lot of things like carrying a teammate on your back and running, then dropping and doing push-ups,” Papathanassiou said. “That’s what we did early on with Jeff’s pit crew teams because we didn’t have a weight room.”
Before Papathanassiou got on the NASCAR circuit, he was a high school football player, wrestler and track star. 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 final round of the men’s bracket starts June 3 and goes through June 4 at 7 p.m. ET.