CONCORD, N.C. – It’s been approximately three weeks since the Garage 56 pit crew won the Pit Stop Challenge at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The fulfillment in their accomplishment remains evident.
"The recognition is something that we all take pride in, in that we were able to do that," jackman Donovan Williams said. "You come here and to be recognized, even by our peers. I ran into guys like T.J. Semke (No. 9 jackman). One of the first things he said to me was, 'congratulations and you guys represented well.'
"I got a chance to run into Mr. Hendrick and he’s just ecstatic. He’s still smiling from ear to ear about it. Just the fact that the guy whose name is on everything, just knows our names personally, is exciting. That’s a great feeling."
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The crew of Dawson Backus (front-tire changer), Cody French (front-tire carrier), Jarius Morehead (rear-tire carrier), Mike Moss (rear-tire changer) and Williams (jackman) topped 16 squads In the GTE class (where the team was classified for the event) with a NASCAR-style pit stop of 10.364 seconds – their fastest time since coming to France. That time was good enough to place the team in fifth for the overall competition, just 0.3 seconds behind the top team. 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. The team’s pit stop was the talk of the competition and captured the attention of their fellow competitors.
"NASCAR is a big community. They are together every weekend. They look out for one another even if they are on different teams," pit crew coach Evan Kureczka said. "Over there, initially everybody is looking at us a little differently. Over time, we had the crew next to us say, ‘why don’t you try this in your pit stop or do this?’ They welcomed us, accepted us and we were a part of that community now. Even though we were different, there were people trying to help us and make us better. That was really cool to be a part of."
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That respect went both ways among the crews at Le Mans and for all the personnel amongst each other.
"They had admiration for what we do physically, but we have admiration for what they do in terms of working on the cars," Williams said. "I want to take the chance to highlight our mechanics, our engineers. To be able to watch what they were able to do in that short amount of time was incredible. Changing brakes. When we had the gear box issue, just to be able to get that car back on track and do what we had to finish the race. Just amazing."
It was more than just their fellow competitors that were intrigued. The fans at Le Mans had a curiosity about the Garage 56 team and the car comparative to the rest of the field at Circuit de la Sarthe.
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"It seemed like there was a million people around us giving us all this love," Morehead said. "It was like they had seen a transformer (when looking at the Garage 56 car). They accepted us and the love they were giving us, we definitely showed it back to them. It was crazy."
The work of the Le Mans crew, both in the Pit Stop Challenge and in the 24-hour race, is a testament to the organization’s scouting and combine process. All five crew members used their athletic backgrounds to earn positions on a pit crew. The win in the Pit Stop Challenge carried over to race day where the team was able to churn out consistent stops for the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro entry driven by Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.
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"It gave us a lot of confidence," Moss said. "From there, it was super smooth just transitioning to the 24-hour race and making sure we put together solid stops. To be able to capitalize on that type of stage, it took me to another level."
The victory is something that the team members will carry with them for a lifetime. French had previously been involved in IMSA racing but had not won.
"It was cool to win the Pit Stop Challenge with these guys, shake bottles with these guys and do it all in France," French said. "That is something that no matter what I do here at Hendrick (Motorsports), it’s going to be fresh in my mind. It is a good accomplishment and it will be high up for me when I am done with my career."