Ex-ASU football player thrives in NASCAR pit row

Posted at 12:40 PM, Mar 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-14 15:46:21-04

You don't have to be a die-hard NASCAR fan to know: If you want to work on a pit crew, you've got to be fast.

But more than that, you have to be physically fit and mentally tough.

So, it only makes sense that one of the fastest growing trends in NASCAR is the hiring of former Division I athletes -- and throwing them right into the action.

"This sport is the most high-pressure with the smallest room for error"

"From when I started until now, it's probably jumped up 30, 40 percent, the amount of athletes that are on pit row," said Wes Evans, a former tight end on Arizona State's football team and pit crew member for Aric Almirola's #43 car.

"This sport is the most high-pressure with the smallest room for error. We're fighting for tenths of a second."

Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said it's no coincidence that former athletes fit in well with the pressure-packed environment of pit row.

"We've learned that when you pull down pit lane and when you're crewing Dale Jr.'s car, Jimmie Johnson's car, the pressure that comes with that is pretty high," he said.

"What we're finding is these athletes coming out of college that have been there in those pressure moments can handle those situations better."

Former UNLV offensive lineman and Tucson native John Gianninoto, jackman for Chase Elliott's #24 car, is proof of that.

"The mindset of being able to perform a pit stop with two laps to go like we did today, it's just a different breed of person that it takes," he said.

"It's just a different breed of person that it takes"

"But there's a lot of people out there that can do it, and that's why we look for the athletes."

Giannioto said the NASCAR environment provides the same kind of camaraderie that team sports provide.

"We're with each other seven days a week. We're on the plane with each other. We're in the van together coming to the racetracks. It's a feeling you don't really want to ever lose as an athlete," he said.

Johnson said racing has always been about a group of people who all love the sport and find ways to work together for a common goal.

"The locker-room environment that I know our 48 team is bringing is something special," he said. "They're creating a bond and a relationship internally that I don't think would have existed otherwise."

The nickname that Evans' team gave itself shows just how true Johnson's statement is.

"We call ourselves 'Hairy-Chested Beast Men,'" he said. "We're 10 foot tall in our minds and just animals at heart."