CONCORD, N.C. – Brian Walsh was certainly surprised.

Walsh, who is the traveling network engineer for Hendrick Motorsports, had been led to believe he was setting up a marketing meeting on track technology in the Papa Joe Hendrick Room on the team's campus. However, it turned out, he was one of the guests of honor as he was presented with the 2021 Papa Joe Hendrick Award of Excellence. 

The award was presented to him last Wednesday with team owner Rick Hendrick, vice chairman Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Companies president Marshall Carlson each in attendance and speaking before those being honored. 

The Papa Joe Hendrick Award of Excellence was first started in 1995. Named after team owner Rick Hendrick’s father, it is the top honor given by the organization and recognizes the hard work and dedication to the company by one particular individual. The award is voted on by fellow employees. 

"That’s huge to me because that’s voted on by peers," Walsh said. "It’s everyone around me. More people said you than anyone else and that means a lot to me."

Walsh’s family even got in on the surprise with his wife Stephanie and two of their three children waiting to celebrate him at the event. Having his family there meant the world to Walsh, who is extremely appreciative of the support structure they provide him when he is on the road for much of the year. 

"The family was huge because obviously I spend a lot of time away," Walsh said. "Up until this past year, I not only did every race, but every test we did. Prior to that, my family hasn’t gotten to see me that often. And on my off days, as Jeff Gordon mentioned during the awards ceremony, this is payback for all the text messages and everything on your off days. I’m the point of contact for anything track related. During dinner, I’m stepping away to take a phone call or answer a text or reset somebody’s password or permissions. You name it. Having my family there was huge because they’ve lived in with me and seldom get recognized."

Walsh has worked for Hendrick Motorsports for five years. In his position as traveling network engineer, he is the point person for all information technology items related to the teams at the track. Prior to working for the company, he was in the U.S. Marine Corps for eight years before changing fields and going into IT. From there, he worked at a doctor’s office for six years in IT before coming to Hendrick Motorsports where he was a traveling network administrator prior to his current role.

What is a normal race weekend like for Walsh? He shared that perspective with fresh of the Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"We handle all the technology on the motor coaches to make sure they function, so I went to the track on Friday," Walsh said. "Then, practice and qualifying were on Saturday, so I show up early and fire up our entire network. We’ve got a medium-sized business enterprise environment. We’ve got a whole rack on the (No.) 48 hauler that connects the entire network infrastructure at whatever track we go to across the country back to campus. So we have full communication and data transfer basically through anywhere in the world."

Walsh’s IT duties at the track also put him in a unique position to help out on pit road during the COVID-19 pandemic. With crews limited in how much personnel could be at track, he would step in during pit stops to help with tasks. Some of those jobs included handing and receiving gas cans from the fueler, retrieving tires and throwing out the pit gun hose and then pulling the slack back to avoid the hose being run over by a car in a neighboring pit stall.

Whether it's helping out on pit road or making sure everything is good to go from an IT perspective, Walsh is happy to be a great teammate and help in whatever way he can.

"The people I work with are great," Walsh said. “It is a focused environment. There’s a lot more going on here than just success on the track, which I enjoy. It’s more success of people that I think is pretty cool.”

In addition to the Papa Joe Hendrick Award of Excellence that Walsh received, the following people were honored with Hendrick Motorsports Spirit Awards: Christine Brownlow, Sharee Carter, Jon Carvin, Matt Cochran, Alba Colon, Sam DesRocher, Kayla Donley, Diane Holl, Evan Kureczka, Heather Masterson, Allen Parks, Jesse Saunders, and Mark Whitten. Also honored were members of the Hendrick Motorsports Faith Committee: Donnie Floyd, DesRocher, Austin Dickey, David Kapp, Brandon Keller, Jo Knight, John Tretow, and Larry Zentmeyer.

Spirit Awards are presented to individuals or groups for extraordinary contributions to the performance of Hendrick Motorsports through clearly superior effort producing uncommon results.