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Winds of change: Childers' eventful path to NASCAR

April 10, 2014, Kenny Bruce,

Hurricane, near-death experience turned Childers to racing

Judging by his background, there doesn't seem to be anything unusual about Rodney Childers' career path in NASCAR.

The crew chief for Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team raced go-karts as a youngster, progressed up the ranks through late model stock cars and even had one start in what's now the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

When he moved up to Cup in 2003, it was to work as a crewman instead of a driver. Through the years, he worked for a handful of teams in several different capacities: interior, front-end mechanic, car chief.

His first crew chief role came in 2005 with MB2/MBV Motorsports and driver Scott Riggs. In 2009, he earned his first win atop the pit box, with David Reutimann and Michael Waltrip Racing in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He and Reutimann won again the following year at Chicago, then at New Hampshire while paired with Brian Vickers in 2013.

Childers and Harvick scored their first win together in just their second outing when Harvick captured The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway earlier this year.

His story is familiar; he was just another former racer who worked on his own equipment and gained a tremendous amount of knowledge while doing so.

But then Childers mentions the hurricane, and you realize his story isn't quite like the others after all.

• • •

"I probably had no business with a chainsaw," Childers said.

It was days after Hurricane Hugo had made its way up the East Coast in 1989. Although downgraded to a tropical storm when it hit Charlotte, Hugo packed plenty of punch as it roared across the region on Sept. 22. Reports say the storm did $1 billion in damage to Charlotte and surrounding areas.

Schools were closed. Trees and power lines were down. Buildings were damaged.

"We were actually stuck at our house for about six days, I think," Childers said. "It was bad."

Clean-up efforts eventually began and Childers, who was 13 at the time, was offered the opportunity to make a little spending money. A friend of the family needed help clearing debris from her yard.

"So my mom took me down there and dropped me off; she was going to run some errands and come back," Childers said. "When she got back I was sitting there waiting because I needed to jack the limb up to get the chainsaw out."

The saw had gotten stuck in a tree limb. Childers knew he could use the jack from the car to lift the limb and free the blade of his saw, and that's just what he did once his mom returned.

But while walking across the yard to return the jack, a limb from one of two huge oak trees in the front yard fell, just as Childers was passing underneath. The limb struck him squarely on top of his head.

"It knocked me out; I wasn't breathing or anything," he said. "My mom started doing CPR on me, got me breathing. I stayed unconscious until the ambulance got there."

Before the emergency workers could depart, Childers took a turn for the worse.

"I started having what they call grand mal seizures," he said. "They actually jerked me back out of the ambulance and put me back on the road right there and tried to get me to breath. My dad said I turned black; he said it wasn't 20 seconds and I was completely black."

Two days later, Childers woke up in a hospital bed. And that, he said, was when he got scared.

"They come in there and tell me everything that's going on and what happened," he said. "They're sitting there explaining seizures to a 13-year-old. I don't know what they're talking about."

Later that day, a doctor showed up and gave Childers two options. He could write Childers a prescription for medication he would have to take the rest of his life and he wouldn't be able to get his driver's license when he turned 16, or he could release him from the hospital, "pray you never have another (seizure), and you can get your license when you're 16 just like everybody else," Childers said. "For somebody that's 13 years old that had been driving since they were 7, getting your license was a big deal."

Childers chose the latter.

• • •

It was after the hurricane, after the accident and shortly after leaving the hospital that Childers first broached the subject of racing to his parents.

Even today, he said, he has no idea why.

"We were driving down the interstate, had just left the hospital when out of the blue … I said 'I want a racing go-kart for Christmas,' "he said. "My mom and dad were like 'Where did you come up with this?' "

Three months later, Rodney Childers got a racing go-kart for Christmas.

Was Childers, who grew up in Mooresville, N.C., destined to work in the sport, growing up in an area already teeming with NASCAR teams and other racing-related industries?

Or did those other outside factors shape his future?

Childers admits he isn't sure.

He only knows one thing -- the hurricane was when it all began.


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