NAME: William (Rowdy) Harrell
JOB: Rear-tire carrier for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Sprint Cup team
WHAT YOU DO: Lug a tire over the wall; place it on the car for the rear-tire changer to secure; swap old tire for a fresh one for the other side. Place it on the car. Make adjustments as necessary.
William Harrell figured his life as a competitor was through when he graduated from college in 2013. A standout linebacker at Hale County High in Alabama, Harrell — better known as Rowdy — had walked on at the University of Alabama, where he was a situational player and a scout team ace. Most NFL scouts considered Harrell (at 6-feet, 221 pounds) too small to survive in the league, so he hoped to be a Bama strength-and-conditioning assistant.
Through football connections he met Chris Burkey, a pit crew coach at Hendrick Motorsports, one of NASCAR's premier franchises. Burkey was holding an open tryout and thought Harrell should audition. So he did. He had barely turned a wrench, let alone tuned in a race, but what Harrell had was an athletic ability that translated well to a position that demands service in fewer than 15 seconds. He got the job. The rest, Burkey figured, Harrell could learn on the fly. "I wondered what I was doing here for the first three months. It was really tough," says Harrell, who tirelessly watches crew film. "That's what I've always known to do if I want to get better."
The gig is hectic, requiring 35 weeks of travel a year and almost constant training. But Harrell, who proved a quick study, is happy to have an athletic career in pro sports that, in some cases, can last for more than a decade.
Photos: Andrew Weber/USA Today Sports (pit stop), Courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports (Harrell), Gannet77/Getty Images (stop watch), Chris Trotman/Getty Images (sidebar pit stop), Scott Hunter/NASCAR (bodysuit)