Like a lot of kids born and raised right outside of Kannapolis, N.C., Justin Edgell always wanted to be involved in the sport of racing.
“Everybody knew somebody or had a cousin related to Dale Earnhardt,” joked Edgell. “Loud fast cars – oh yeah, you wanted to be part of it.”
As a teen, Edgell earned his racing stripes helping friends make their go carts go fast at nearby dirt ovals Woodleaf and Millbridge Speedways. Growing up in the heart of NASCAR race country helped to foster Edgell’s need for speed.
“We’d always go to Charlotte Motor Speedway every year in May for the NASCAR races,” remembered Edgell. “I loved every minute of it.”
Not long after graduating West Rowan High School in Salisbury, N.C., Edgell attended 5 Off 5 On Performance Instruction & Training in Mooresville, N.C. and soon landed a spot on a Hooters Pro Cup late model stockcar team performing pit stops on Saturday nights.
In 2007, when Roush Fenway Racing held open pit crew tryouts, twenty-one year old Edgell got an opportunity to get in the door and took it.
“I attended tryouts and did a bunch of pit stops over several weeks,” recalled Edgell. “Finally, I landed a position on the No. 6 Nationwide team.”
Five years later, Edgell, now 26, is the rear tire carrier on Greg Biffle’s championship contending No. 16 3M Ford Fusion. Nicknamed the “Pit Bulls,” Edgell and teammates are turning their fair share of heads on pit road, recently earning third-quarter Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew honors – an award voted on quarterly by each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief with an overall year-end award going to the season’s top-performing pit crew.
“We strive to be the best on pit road,” said Edgell. “This award is not something you luck up and win; it’s something you earn. It’s pretty neat they’re paying attention to us.”
In addition to Edgell, crew chief Matt Puccia’s over-the-wall pit crew consists of Sean Meckelson (jackman), Kevin Novak (front tire changer), Bryan Huitt (front tire carrier), Curtis Thompson (rear tire changer), and Justin Reissmann (gas man).
The 16 crew’s consistency says Roush Fenway Racing pit crew coach Andy Ward, is the reason they pass a lot of cars on pit road and deserve recognition.
“Very thankful to Mechanix Wear for recognizing these guys because they really do sacrifice everything to do this,” explained Ward. “The pride point for me is that it’s a peer award and other crew chiefs recognized this group for their performance.”
“It’s not a popularity contest,” added Ward. “Everybody knows who’s doing a good job, and to be recognized by your peers is the ultimate accolade.
For Edgell and company, a lot of effort – and plain hard work – goes into pulling off fast pit stops.
The 16 group goes through a grueling four-day conditioning, cardio and weight training regimen, in addition to meetings and daily two-hour pit stop practices.
Edgell says having a state-of-the-art pit practice infrastructure that’s covered and complete with video analysis systems, goes a long way in helping the team train week in and out.
“We have an awesome facility for practicing pit stops,” said Edgell. “There are no excuses. Whether it’s raining or snowing, we can go practice anytime.”
During pit stops, Edgell’s role is to make all the adjustments – right side wedge, left side wedge, track bar and so forth. Donning his specially-designed “Pit Bull” helmet with painted horns, Edgell is the guy with the wrench in the window. And there’s a lot riding on those adjustments, as well as a lot of pressure to make sure he gets it just right.
“Could be your greatest week, could be your last week,” quipped Edgell. “We [the 16 crew] have been together a few years now, so we understand what everyone is going to do during the stop. We just go out there and do our job.”
The No. 16 crew’s performance this season helped to cement Biffle’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup bid with two Coors Light Poles, two wins, 10 top-fives and 15 top-10s. Currently, Biffle and the No. 16 team sit in ninth position with eight races to go in the 2012 season, 33 points out of the top spot.
“Every week there’s pressure,” said Edgell. “But I couldn’t choose five other guys I’d rather jump the wall with every Sunday.”