CONCORD, N.C. – Tuesday’s triumph in the Pit Stop Challenge for the 24 Hours of Le Mans was the result of months of hard work by the Garage 56 pit crew and their coaches.
Performing a NASCAR-style pit stop in 10.364 seconds, the crew of Dawson Backus (front-tire changer), Cody French (front-tire carrier), Jarius Morehead (rear-tire carrier), Mike Moss (rear-tire changer) and Donovan Williams (jackman) topped 16 squads in the GTE class (where the team was classified for this event). In the overall competition, the team placed fifth, just 0.3 seconds behind the top team.
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There was no fueler for the event as the fuel comes from an overhead tank. The Garage 56 crew was the only one to have a jackman as opposed to the in-car jack system that the other Le Mans entries carry. Le Mans officials wanted the No. 24 team to use a jack to stay authentic to a NASCAR-style pit stop.
"It’s huge," Williams said of the Pit Stop Challenge win in the GTE class. "From the work that we put in as a team, to the coaches, to the mechanics behind the scenes. Two guys I want to shout out are Jamie Frady and Scott Honan. They were at every practice with us. They are in charge of fuel, so they didn’t compete with us in the pit challenge.
"Everyone back at home at the shop, coach Flynn, coach (Jon) Carvin, coach (Jacob) Claborn, Evan (Kureczka) and all the coaches that had a hand in this and organized this whole thing. It is huge to be able to represent not only Hendrick Motorsports but NASCAR and our families. It is a huge personal goal for us."
The five members of the Garage 56 pit crew were assembled last year, with their first at-track reps together coming during the January test at Daytona International Speedway. That same test marked the first sessions for the full driver lineup of Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller and backup driver/coach Jordan Taylor. Button and Johnson even acted as "security" in guiding the group to the podium as the entire Garage 56 group cheered them on.
"They stand out compared to everybody else on pit lane, which is impressive," Johnson said during a media availability on Thursday. "To see them perform during the pit stop competition with a traditional jack is spectacular. We were all so proud."
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Backus (front-tire changer) has been with Hendrick Motorsports since 2019 and is a rear-tire changer on the No. 77 Spire Motorsports entry in the NASCAR Cup Series. French (front-tire carrier) has been at the organization for a little over two years and is a jackman on the No. 77 Spire Motorsports entry in the Cup Series. He also has experience as a tire carrier. Hendrick Motorsports supplies pit crews to the Spire Motorsports organization.
Morehead (rear-tire carrier), Moss (rear-tire changer) and Williams (jackman) all played collegiate football prior to becoming pit crew members. Morehead was a safety for North Carolina State University, from 2015 to 2019. He has been a tire changer for different teams in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and CRAFTSMAN Truck Series. Moss joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2022. He was a wide receiver and also played basketball in college. Williams was a tight end at the University of Connecticut and Elon University from 2016 to 2021. He also joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2022 and has experience as a jackman and fueler for several teams in the Xfinity and Truck Series.
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"We’ve been doing two-a-days for the past three-to-four months, so that got us ready for the pit crew challenge," Backus said. "We were looking forward to it and we were able to come out here and show them what we had."
Moss added, "We’ve been grinding on this for a very long time. It became muscle memory. We had fun with it and we put on a show. … We definitely put our best foot forward and it felt good to be able to put that hard work to use."
Even on the day of the Pit Stop Challenge, the crew was hard at work trying to find that extra little bit that could make a difference.
"Leading up to it, we had several practices earlier in the morning," Kureczka, pit development manager at Hendrick Motorsports, said. "Through those practices we kept finding things we could improve on and kept finding time. Gradually, knocking time off and knocking time off. Even up to the actual Pit Stop Challenge, we ran three pit stops within five minutes of the challenge starting. I feel like we were able to keep making up time there and the guys knocked off their fastest stop for the actual challenge, which was awesome."
While there is still a race to run, the Pit Stop Challenge victory is something that will stay with this group forever.
"It was humbling and very exciting to walk up there and shake champagne bottles here in France," French said. "It is something that I will take home with me and cherish for the rest of my life. It was great to do it with people I love being around."
"I feel like that’s history," Morehead said. "This is our first opportunity to be at Le Mans and Hendrick Motorsports has shown what NASCAR can do. Glad to take it back home."
Contributing: Isaiah Robinson