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D4D pit crew combine opens eyes to new opportunities

June 14, 2014, George Winkler, NASCAR.com

Combine offers a taste of life as a pit-crew member

MADISON, Ill. -- Nick Peebles is a strong looking young man who at first glance might seem like a star football player. But thanks to the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program, Peebles, who is African-American, is now open to a career path as a NASCAR pit-crew member.

Peebles, along with Dedrick Perry and Joseph Peebles, were walking pit road before Saturday night's Drivin' for Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park, soaking in the atmosphere of their first NASCAR race. They were fresh off a pit crew combine they participated in a couple of days earlier, and they were getting revved up about the whole experience.

"This is amazing, especially being out here on the track and meeting some of the drivers and pit crew members," Nick Peebles said. "It's like a family. And I love the experience out here right now."

Nick was selected to take part in the combine, which took place on Thursday, by Demetrious Johnson, a former Detroit Lion and University of Missouri football player who runs summer sports camps and a charitable foundation in the St. Louis area. In choosing whom to take to the combine, Johnson was looking for special qualities.

"I looked at young men who are very responsible and work hard but just need an opportunity, and those are the guys I tried to bring to the combine," Johnson said. "They can try to be like pioneers, especially in the St. Louis area and the Missouri area, at being some of the first guys out of Missouri to be part of a NASCAR program who are African-American."

Johnson is a friend of Phil Horton of Rev Racing, who is the pit crew coach for the Drive for Diversity Crew Member Development program. With NASCAR returning to the St. Louis area for the first time since 2010, Horton and Johnson thought it was time to get the community not only excited about NASCAR, but also excited about the opportunities NASCAR can provide.

At the pit-crew combine, Horton coached up the young men, trying to match their skills with the various jobs on a pit crew (jackman, tire changers, tire carriers and gasman). Then, he and Johnson watched as more than a few eyes were opened.

"They didn't realize how much fun it is but how competitive it is at the same time," Johnson said. "Only thing they've been talking about is NASCAR, and how NASCAR is so special now, because it was an area and an opportunity they never thought they could be a part of."

And that's just the type of reaction Jim Cassidy, who is NASCAR's VP of racing operations overseeing NASCAR's multicultural development, likes to see.

"Exposing a lot of new not only potential fans but potential employees in our sport, I think it's obviously a good day when you can do that," Cassidy said.

And Cassidy has seen these combines produce results. He said the program has turned out about 60 new pit-crew members since 2009.

"The placement is almost 100 percent," Cassidy said. "So if they make the commitment to move to Charlotte and spend time training with coach and hone their skills there, it's almost a guarantee they'll find some level of placement among the national series."

Could Nick Peebles be one of those new pit-crew members someday?

At least now he knows it's a possibility and he has a newfound respect for the sport.

"I didn't know you had to be in such good shape to be a pit crew member," Nick Peebles said. "It's a real sport. Being a part of it opened my eyes to new avenues that I can possibly venture there later in life."

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