CHARLOTTE, N.C., (July 27, 2000) - So, you want to know how to get a job in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. It's simple. All you have to do is pack your bags, move approximately 583 miles to a strange town on a weekend's notice, break your thumb...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (July 27, 2000) - So, you want to know how to get a job in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. It's simple. All you have to do is pack your bags, move approximately 583 miles to a strange town on a weekend's notice, break your thumb and return home humbled. Then, you must wait three years, have the courage to try out a second time on another weekend's notice and this time impress your future employer without breaking your thumb again.
Confused? Well, if you thought you could get into the garage of the biggest show in motorsports by mailing your resume on pretty letter letterhead, you're wrong. It took Jason Sheets years of patience, oceans full of perseverance and even bodily harm to become a mechanic and rear tire changer for Kenny Wallace and the Square D/Cooper Lighting Chevrolet.
For the 24-year old toolman, the road to Winston Cup's seventh running of the Brickyard 400 has been as long as the winding highway that leads to the Andy Petree Racing (APR) shop in the mountains of Asheville, N.C. Sheets' trip began in 1996, when he abruptly left the security of his home in Carmel, Ind. under the guidance of a newspaper ad.
"I saw an ad in the paper for a tire changer on APR's No. 33 Skoal team driven by Robert Pressley," recalled Sheets. "I immediately packed my bags and went down to Charlotte for a couple of days. There were about 300 people trying out. During the tryouts, I slipped and broke my thumb. Needless to say, I didn't get the job and I couldn't hitch a ride home. But it all worked out for the best. A few years later, here I am, working for Andy."
Sheets' first taste of Winston Cup was a disappointment, but it didn't extinguish his enthusiasm for auto racing. Three years later, his brother Tim called and told him that APR was starting a second team. Tim mentioned that the appointed crew chief, Jimmy Elledge, was looking for mechanics to field the No. 55 Square D Racing Team. Just like a young actor or actress fresh off the farm leaving for Hollywood, Sheets once again put his toolbox in the back of his truck and left for Asheville without a moment's notice or a second thought.
"Last summer, my brother was working for APR," said Sheets. "Jimmy told Tim that they were looking for some people to start up a second team. At the time, I was working for an Indy driver named Jeff Ward. I liked the job, but it wasn't enough money to make a living. My brother informed me about the Winston Cup opportunity on a Friday. That weekend, I packed my bags and drove to his house. I called my boss back in Indianapolis to tell him that I had an opportunity to make a Winston Cup team, and that I wouldn't be in on Monday."
During the APR tryouts, Elledge's first impression was not to hire Sheets. But after seeing Sheets' work ethic and enthusiasm, he decided to give the Indiana boy a chance. Fortunately for the Square D Racing Team, Elledge did change his mind, because Sheets has turned out to be one of the most productive members on the squad.
"He impressed me with the way he showed up for work everyday," said Elledge. "He was there early every morning with his toolbox in the back of his truck. He really wanted to learn about Winston Cup racing, and he picked up everything on the fly. He was ready for work from day one."
"He's very valuable to the shop because he does a little bit of everything," added Elledge. "His primary responsibility is the race car's wiring. On top of that, he also does some fabrication work, general mechanics and helps us with the race car's setup. At the track, he's my right-hand man and he takes care of the suspension of the Square D/Cooper Lighting Chevy. You'll normally find him underneath the car. If someone wants to find Jason, I tell them to look for his shoes first."
To Sheets, the rigorous life of a Winston Cup crewman is a dream come true. Since the day he received his driver's license, Sheets knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. While most people were asking for the keys to their dad's car, Sheets was heading to the local tracks, looking to help out teams anyway he could.
"Ever since I was 16, I was going to race tracks," said Sheets. "I was volunteering to work on some figure eight cars. To me, I was just having fun on Saturday nights. I would work in the pits during the races, and help out a couple nights a week in the garage. It's something I've always wanted to do, and they didn't have to pay me to do it. Growing up in Carmel, which is north of Indianapolis, I tinkered with anything mechanical for fun. Before my license, I would play with radio-controlled cars and planes. I just enjoyed working with anything mechanical."
Hundreds of thousands of people would love to be in Sheets' racing shoes, but most of them don't know how. While the majority of people will say Sheets just knew somebody at the right place and the right time, it was really his passion for working on cars that drove him to the Winston Cup garage and earned him a spot on the Square D Racing Team. Not even 583 miles, losing a job on a snap decision nor a broken thumb could keep Sheets from fulfilling his Winston Cup dream.