Jimmy Watts - Gasman and fireman, Team Valvoline

Jimmy Watts doesn't dwell on danger. But danger is never far away. Monday through Saturday Watts is a captain with the Charlotte Fire Department. On Sunday he goes over pit wall just inches away from 43 swarming cars to gas Johnny Benson's ...

Jimmy Watts doesn't dwell on danger.
But danger is never far away.

Monday through Saturday Watts is a captain with the Charlotte Fire Department. On Sunday he goes over pit wall just inches away from 43 swarming cars to gas Johnny Benson's #10 Valvoline Pontiac.

"You can't dwell on the danger. If you dwell on the danger then you can't do your job," said the 30-year-old gasman. "You have to do both jobs with a clear mind. Any hesitation in either one of those jobs can get you hurt."

And he's seen people hurt.

Another pit crew was struck at Miami last year and Watts was alongside a 23-year-old firefighter burned to death in a Charlotte area fire last week.

"There are inherit dangers in both jobs, but you know what you are getting into when you sign up for both jobs," Watts said. "You practice pit stops, just as you train at the fire department, to keep sharp so you learn more about what you are doing and minimize the risks you encounter."

When something goes wrong there's a support group that stretches wider than just his immediate family of wife Jori and their twin infants Mitchell and Adam. NASCAR fans support their heroes while the public support for firefighters has never been greater.

"I've been around long enough to know how close-knit the NASCAR community is and firefighters are just as tight of a group. Firemen spend more time at the fire station with their firefighter family than they do with their real families. They eat together, sleep together, and they fight fire together."

The firefighter's funeral last week showed Watts the depth of the public's grief was even greater than he thought.

"To see the outpouring of support that came from all over the country was something I can't describe," Watts said. "There were guys from New York City who came down to help us bury one of our own. I have never experienced anything like what happened these past few days and I hope I never have to again. It's been some tough times."

Watts pauses a few seconds before beginning an explanation, in his soft-spoken southern drawl, of why he does what he does.

"I love what I do. Both jobs. I have always wanted to be a fireman since I was little and knew what the job was. I also always wanted to be involved in racing. All these guys who are mechanics grew up in the sport. They've done this since they were little boys. I never had that upbringing. I'm lucky to be in the position I'm in because I don't have the mechanical background that all these other guys have. I'm very fortunate because there are a lot of people who would want to take my place."

And a lot of those who would like to take his place are fellow firefighters.

"They think its cool. I can't tell you how many people ask me about it. I've created more fans of NASCAR among fireman. They watch us and keep up. Johnny has picked up a lot of fans among the firemen."

Watts's goal as a gasman is to win races. His driver hopes he can help his firefighter friend reach that goal.

"Yeah we'd like to get Jimmy to Victory Lane," Benson said. "What we do out here is a lot of fun and we take it very seriously because it is important to us and to a lot of people. But it doesn't compare to the importance of what Jimmy and the guys who work with him do during the week. There's almost nothing that compares to what they do."

While a checkered flag is Watt's goal on race day, his weekday goal is a bit broader.

"I guess going home in the morning is the goal in that job," said Watts. "This week has kind of driven that point home. There's nothing like fighting fires. That's the biggest rush in the world. But, if you can save a life that would probably be bigger than anything else I could ever imagine."

-tv-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Johnny Benson