CONCORD, N.C. – Wednesday afternoon on the Hendrick Motorsports campus, five brand new pit crew recruits were introduced as part of the organization’s second annual Signing Day event.
The athletes joining the team come from a wide variety of backgrounds – from former collegiate football players to a former professional hockey player – and all are ready to embark on a new journey in a sport they might not have originally envisioned.
“Why Signing Day?” director of human performance Andy Papathanassiou said. “To me, the reason why we decided on a formal presentation of our pit crew recruits is that this really is the completion of a dream.”
He explained that for so many athletes – starting as early as grade school all the way through college – they envision one day playing professional sports.
But the vast majority of those athletes don’t ever see that dream come to fruition.
“And of all things, to have something like NASCAR come in – literally at the last moment – and say, ‘Hey, you can fulfill your dream of becoming a professional athlete,’” he continued. “These folks up here have fulfilled their dream.”
“This event is a formal acknowledgement of that accomplishment.”
“It isn’t just horsepower that propels Hendrick Motorsports. Our human performance department is just as important as the race cars we build."Doug Duchardt, general manager
The athletes were hand-picked from more than 100 candidates that visited the Hendrick Motorsports campus for tryouts.
Papathanassiou explained that while typically Hendrick Motorsports holds one pit crew combine every year to assess the athletes, “we needed two this year to evaluate everybody.”
“It isn’t just horsepower that propels Hendrick Motorsports,” general manager Doug Duchardt said. “Our human performance department is just as important as the race cars we build. Races can be won or lost on pit road so we continuously strive to find those individuals with the skill set to help drive the performance of our organization.”
Developmental pit crew coach Keith Flynn, who will work with the new recruits as they learn the ropes, said that each of the five athletes being introduced was specifically recommended to the organization.
“Over the years, we’ve developed a phenomenal network of coaches that make these recommendations to us,” Flynn explained. “We go and visit them as many times as we can when we’re in those race cities. That’s how we locate these guys.”
As for the athletes themselves, each said they were excited to take on a new challenge.
And the opportunity to continue to compete in a sport is not lost on any of them.
“It’s an opportunity where you can still try to compete in a physical way. It’s a cool feeling to have that door open and have some people believe in you to give you the opportunity.”Austin Holland, tire carrier
“At this point we’re all very excited and eager to learn more about this sport and get going in this sport,” said T.J. Semke, a former University of Kansas football player -- and prior to that, a part-time bounty hunter -- who will now train to be a jackman and fueler.
“I think a lot of us thought we were masters of our sport – football, hockey, whatever it was – we all thought that we knew everything about that. And it’s pretty humbling to come to a place like this where you really know nothing and to kind of start from the ground up, almost like you’re a 5-year-old kind playing football for the first time and learning the fundamentals of everything.”
Fellow pit crew signee Austin Holland, who was recruited as a tire changer, echoed those sentiments.
“I’m super excited and just really grateful,” he said. “It’s an opportunity where you can still try to compete in a physical way. It’s a cool feeling to have that door open and have some people believe in you to give you the opportunity.”
As anxious as the athletes are, the organization is just as ready to get them ready to contribute on race day.
“We are really happy with this class,” Flynn said. “Over 100 guys came through and five guys made it. So, congratulations to those guys and we look forward to you helping us win more championships here at Hendrick Motorsports.”
MEET THE ATHLETES:
Position: Tire carrier
College: Colorado College
Major: Mathematical economics
Background: Timmy Hall made his professional hockey debut with the Alaska Aces for the 2012-2013 season. Prior to turning pro, Hall played left wing in ice hockey for four years at Colorado College and received the Most Improved Player Award his sophomore year. Hall studied mathematical economics and was a two-time member of the All-WCHA Academic Team.
Position: Tire carrier
Hometown: Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia
College: University of South Carolina
Major: Hotel, retail and tourism management
Background: Mason Harris played four years of football at both defensive end and linebacker for the University of South Carolina while studying hotel, restaurant and tourism management. Following his Gamecock career, the Georgia native played a fifth year of football at Kennesaw State while attending graduate school.
Position: Tire changer
Hometown: Huntersville, North Carolina
College: Western Carolina University
Background: While at Western Carolina University, Austin Holland focused on his undergraduate studies in communications. After graduation, Holland researched the motor sports industry, studied the sport and landed a job as behind-the-wall support for Roush Fenway Racing’s pit crew for two months.
Hometown: Wake Forest, North Carolina
College: Wake Forest University
Major: Communications and sociology
Background: Dylan Intemann played football as an offensive lineman at Wake Forest University. He was team captain his senior year in 2015 and was a member of the ACC Academic Honor Roll. After college, Intemann was signed as an undrafted free agent and attended the New York Giants rookie minicamp.
Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
College: University of Kansas
Major: Health and physical education
Background: T.J. Semke was a part-time bounty hunter before stepping on the football field at the University of Kansas in 2012. Semke was a defensive lineman for the Jayhawks for three years, and in two of them, he earned Academic All-Big 12 Second Team honors.