CONCORD, N.C. – College football and NASCAR – two very different sports, but for a coach, they can also seem very alike.
Head pit crew coach for the Nos. 5 and 24 teams, Chris Burkey has filled the coaching role for football as well as the Hendrick Motorsports pit crews.
Burkey grew up in east Tennessee and played football for Wingate University, where he eventually started his coaching career. After leaving Wingate, he coached football at East Tennessee and then the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. From there, he went on to the Miami Dolphins.
In 2008, Burkey says, he needed a change from football and was interested in the high level of athleticism NASCAR pit crews showed.
“I always had in my mind how I would train guys, bringing the athlete in and seeing what he can bring to the table as far as the athleticism.” Burkey said. “Hendrick Motorsports called me up one day and asked if I would be interested, and it kind of just fell in my lap.”
And looking back on his college football coaching career, he said what he enjoyed more than anything were the kids.
“Watching young kids and young men develop and the camaraderie that you have in college and the pageantry of college football is always something that I really enjoyed,” Burkey said. “And the competition side, everybody enjoys.”
Like with every sport, NASCAR is also very competitive, but for the pit crews the competition is a little bit different.
A stop watch – that is what Burkey said is the biggest competition for members of the pit crew.
“We don’t encourage and say, 'Hey, we have to have 10-second stops.' We encourage developing at speed where they are comfortable,” Burkey said. “And if you can focus the guys in on doing their job as cleanly as possible, the dance is probably going to be pretty smooth.”
And that is the same with football – if the play is executed cleanly, it is more likely to be successful.
Burkey said that the one thing most valuable to him in the transition from coaching football to coaching the pit crews is knowing how to really communicate with each individual.
“I don’t think you can collectively talk to everybody the same because they all come from different backgrounds,” Burkey said. “It is how I can talk to that jackman or whoever to get everybody to work as a team and collectively as a group.”
Although Burkey still loves the sport of football, he feels right at home doing his job at Hendrick Motorsports.
“I watch (football) and I follow it and I talk to a lot of friends that are in the sport still,” Burkey said. “And that is enough for me.”