CONCORD, N.C. – Hendrick Motorsports recently sat down with pit crew coach, and Tennessee native, Chris Burkey to talk his home-track race this weekend at Bristol.
Burkey, who hails from Greeneville, Tennessee, has an extensive background in coaching, especially in football. He coached college football from 1992 to 2005. In 2005, he joined the NFL's Miami Dolphins as a scout. In 2009, he made the transition from football to NASCAR when he was hired as a developmental pit crew coach for Hendrick Motorsports. He moved up to the head coach position for the then-Nos. 5 and 24 teams in 2015, and he now oversees the No. 9 and No. 24 team pit crews of drivers Chase Elliott and William Byron.
This weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway marks a special one for Burkey. His hometown of Greeneville is a short hour from the track. Burkey remembers visiting the track with his family when he was younger.
“I used to go there with my dad way back when, gosh, watching Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough and all those guys, and (Dale) Earnhardt,” the coach said. “When it was just 25,000 concrete bleachers on one side and the mountain behind it, which is now the back stretch, it was all nestled into this mountain with guardrails all around. It was pretty cool.”
Now that Burkey is a Hendrick Motorsports team member, going back to the track twice a year is a chance for him to reunite with his family and friends.
“I typically go early, just to see family and friends,” Burkey said. “I also recruit some schools in the area, too. I go talk to coaches about some athletes. It just gives me a chance to go back because I don’t get to do that very often because we're gone so many weekends of the year and working during the week. It gives me a chance to go back and see people I haven’t seen in a while and reconnect. My family will come to the race occasionally. My mom, my dad, sister and brother, sometimes they will come and hang out and kind of see what I do.”
Burkey's job got an interested twist entering last season when NASCAR’s rules on pit crews changed, forcing the structure of the teams to change, and as a result, the choreography of pit stops had to be tweaked.
“For us eliminating a player, it has just opened up what we could do different, the choreography aspect of it,” Burley said. “What can we do with our athletes, what are they capable of doing, and then what are we asking them to do? So, we just changed choreography. Realistically for me, it hasn’t changed a whole lot, but we have tried to redefine how we do pit stops just because of the choreography we’ve tried, and a lot of teams have just followed suit.”
The biggest challenge was getting rid of a member, as it added new roles to the crew to compensate for one less man on the car.
“It was a little harder in that the jackman is now the carrier, so he is having to now do multiple jobs,” Burkey explained. “We had to really fine-tune and get our jackman up to speed to be carriers. So, we were pretty athletic at that position and we have evolved really, really nicely in that position, ahead of the game, I think, actually.”
Burkey's family has seen him in action at the track many times, but this weekend, his family won't make it to the race itself. With that in mind, the coach is heading to Tennessee early to make sure he gets a visit, since his family and friends normally come to the Bristol race later in the season in the fall.
“A lot of my family is still in Greeneville," he said. "I have a sister that lives in Knoxville, she went to the University of Tennessee. I've got a lot of family and friends in the East Tennessee area.”
After seeing his family, Burkey and the pit crews will take on Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. Be sure to keep an eye out for him at the track this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on FS1.