News & Media

Menzer: No. 48 crewman goes from second string to big time

May 20, 2011, Joe Menzer,

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two years ago, Camron Waugh's limited exposure to NASCAR came when he went over to his buddy's college dormitory room and that week's Sprint Cup race was on television.

Even then, knowing next to nothing about the sport, he was drawn to pit stops.

A crew cut above

Denny Hamlin's No. 11 team beat Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 team to become the first back-to-back winner of the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge.

Fast forward to Thursday night at Time Warner Cable Arena and the 2011 Sprint Pit Crew Challenge -- and there was Waugh right in the middle of all the fast and furious action. Waugh now serves as the front-tire changer on the No. 48 Chevrolet driven on race days by five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. He had been on that job for the whopping total of 10 days before competing in his first Pit Crew Challenge.

And even though the 48 crew fell just short Thursday -- losing in the finals of the competition to the defending champion No. 11 Toyota crew of driver Denny Hamlin -- Waugh did well.

That's exactly what 48 car chief Ron Malec expected when he and crew chief Chad Knaus made the call after the May 8 race at Darlington to plug Waugh in as the crew's new front-tire changer.

It's not like they weren't familiar with him. He had worked the three previous weeks as the rear-tire changer for the No. 88 team of Dale Earnhardt Jr., subbing for the injured Joe Slingerland. And prior to this season, the 88 team moved into the same shop as the 48 at Hendrick Motorsports.

"He's been working with the 88, so he's been with us all along," was as simply as Knaus could put it. He and 88 crew chief Steve Letarte count the two teams as one.

Malec added: "We've got a second-string system, you know? We put the guy in who was the backup, who filled in on the 88 for three weeks when someone else got hurt. Basically you keep in line and if somebody needs to refocus or do more in practice or if they're fighting an injury and not quite able to do their job as well as they could, you put that second-string guy in there and he might become the first-string guy and the other guy might become the backup. It's like a pitcher in baseball. When he's struggling, they pull him out of the game and go with someone else."

Brutally honest

Malec admitted that might sound brutal, but it's also honest. He said this is a performance-based business and that's what happens when performance is lacking.

And that's when guys like Waugh get their chance.

Waugh admitted he's still somewhat shocked to be where he is professionally. Two years ago, he had just finished his career as a wide receiver and kick-return specialist for Central College, a Division III school in Pella, Iowa.

His buddy and college football teammate, Matt Ver Meer, was the race fan. Waugh knew next to nothing about it, but they decided to go together to a Hendrick Motorsports tryout for pit crews after seeing a flyer about it on campus. That was in March 2009.

Waugh went and worked out with a bunch of other guys who likely were dreaming of their shot in big-time racing a whole lot more fervently than he was. Then he went home to Fort Collins, Colo., where he had two jobs lined up -- as a strength and conditioning coach for a high school and as personal trainer at a local health club.

"That's kind of what I went to school for," he said.

Then the guys from Hendrick called him back. They called back Ver Meer, too, and flew them into Charlotte, N.C., for a mini-camp of sorts.

Next thing they knew, they were in the Hendrick developmental pit-crew program. They were loaned out to various Truck and Nationwide Series teams along with other Hendrick recruits late in 2009 and in '10, eventually working their way into the system as second-stringers one injury or one bad stop by someone else from the big time that is the Sprint Cup Series.

And Thursday night, they both competed in the Pit Crew Challenge.

Still pinching himself

Moments after being part of the crew that lost the final in Thursday's competition by the slimmest of margins, Waugh slumped against the back of the bleachers at Time Warner Cable Arena, sweat pouring from his face.

"I need to sit down," he said.

That's how it works in his new job. He works in 12- and 14-second bursts and then sits down until the next challenge arises. But he knows what is at stake every time as he helps pit the car of the five-time defending Cup champion who hopes to make it six in a row.

He helped pit the No. 09 part-time Cup car for Phoenix Racing last year, but that was only for a few races and was totally different.

"Last year was awesome with the 09 car," Waugh said. "There were a lot of cool guys and you weren't with a top team, so you were kind of just there and hanging out. But this year, working with Junior and now Jimmie, it's a lot different. It's awesome, but in a completely different way. You get that same rush getting up on the wall before a stop that you get before making a big play in football."

His college buddy, Ver Meer, is grabbing the same Sunday rush as Earnhardt's rear-tire carrier. They seem to be a long, long way from Central College in tiny Pella, Iowa, where the town's entire population numbered 9,832 in the last census.

And Waugh seems a lifetime removed from the guy who used to bust into Ver Meer's dorm room and ask what he was watching when a race was on.

"Honestly, Matt was a lifelong Jeff Gordon fan. And he actually got to carry for him last year, so that was a dream come true," Waugh said. "But the only time I ever watched any races or anything was when I came over to his dorm room -- and the only time I was ever interested was when they were making pit stops.

"So it's kind of crazy -- going from that and not knowing a whole lot -- to now it's my whole life."