CONCORD, N.C. -- Rowdy Harrell has an ext rings 보다 Liberace, sufficient to cover every one of his fingers, both thumbs and also a far-reaching portion the his skin.

You are watching: Dale earnhardt jr pit crew members

"I can"t stay them every at once, for this reason I in reality have all of them tattooed under here," the said, thumping the very large chest in ~ his black color Hendrick Motorsports sweatshirt.

As because that the really rings? "They"re in a safe," the said.

There room 10 in all, eight earned on university football fields from Tuscaloosa to Pasadena, bookended by one Alabama state championship ring from Hale ar High and another much bigger piece inscribed through "2014 Daytona 500 champions."

"Yeah," the former Crimson tide linebacker said, shiver his head with a little of disbelief. "It"s quite a distinct collection."

The same can be stated for Harrell and also his present teammates. The guys who walk over the wall to service Dale Earnhardt Jr."s Chevy top top Sunday afternoons have a decidedly Saturday afternoon flavor. It"s a pit crew packed v veterans of top-shelf university football programs. Harrell, who won three national championships with Alabama, is the behind tire carrier, slinging about 75-pound wheels, do on-the-fly chassis adjustments to the car and also serving together the de facto quarterback the the crew. The front tire carrier is Dustin Lineback, who won a pair that Conference USA rings together a linebacker at eastern Carolina, famously forcing a couple of turnovers as the Pirates uncomfortable archrival NC State and also Russell Wilson in 2010. Serving as the facility for the crew is jackman Nick Covey, responsible for lifting the 3,500-pound stock auto off the concrete therefore his teammates have the right to go to work. Native 2005-09, the patrolled Nebraska"s Memorial Stadium together a linebacker, his potential mainly unfulfilled thanks to five surgeries in four years.

"Now we"ve every been provided something all athletes dream of, right?" Covey said. "We"ve been provided a second chance. A opportunity to compete for championships. Simply not perhaps the championships we believed of as soon as we were cultivation up."

They"ve every played in few of the biggest games in your school"s history, arguably several of the biggest games in the history of the sport. Their job this weekend is every little as large, together they will certainly be ~ above the last crew come execute the last pit stop of NASCAR"s undisputed biggest superstar. After Sunday"s season finale in ~ Homestead-Miami Speedway, Dale Jr. Is retiring from permanent Cup collection racing.

There space 14 former FBS/FCS college football players on pit crews for Hendrick Motorsports gyeongju teams.Peter Casey/USA today Sports"It will be an emotionally time, ns think, for everyone at Homestead, however the fact of it for Dale has actually really started to show up over the last few weeks, knowing the end is coming," said Lineback, who flourished up in Greensboro, phibìc Carolina, appropriate smack in the heart of Earnhardt Country. "We every know exactly how that feels. We"ve all gone with it before. We"ve every played our last football game. It"s a tiny scary, that moment when you realize that, "Man, this is yes, really it." however I"d tell the there"s an additional chapter to come. Ns mean, there to be for all of us."

Yes, over there was, because they all taken place to come along at just the right time. It wasn"t so long ago, once Earnhardt"s legendary father was still alive and Junior"s career was just gaining started, the NASCAR pit crews to be still comprised mechanics from around the race shop. The same male who built engines or shaped sheet metal during the week could be tasked with leaping over the wall surface and transforming tires during the weekend, regardless of just how fat he can be or how plenty of cigarettes he burned down on one hourly basis.

That started to change in the 1990s, and also it readjusted at Hendrick Motorsports. Seeking an edge end the competition, Jeff Gordon"s visionary crew chief beam Evernham carried in NASCAR"s very first "pit crew coach," former Stanford offensive guard Andy Papathanassiou. "Andy Papa" began running Gordon"s "Rainbow Warriors" crew through football-style workouts and also drills behind the shop. Climate he started mounting video cameras ~ above a pole above the pit stall, recording every in-race stop and also every rehearsal stop, so the the team might sit in a conference room and also do movie study, specifically like he"d excellent at Stanford.

In the beginning, rival groups laughed in ~ Gordon"s crew, consisting of other teams on the Hendrick Motorsports campus. It just took a couple of seasons of Gordon whipping them all for the remainder of the sport to begin copying Papa"s football playbook.

A decade later, pit stops took their next giant evolutionary step. When again, Hendrick Motorsports led the way. And also once again, it to be football that drew up the route.

"Hendrick Motorsports was trying to find a developmental coach at the time, who had actually a expert experience background in athletics scouting, things like that," explained Chris Burkey, head pit crew coach for Earnhardt"s teammates, Washington Huskies fan Kasey Kahne and also Georgia Bulldogs devotee follow Elliott. Burkey played vast receiver at division II Wingate University, just down the roadway from Hendrick headquarters. When the race team called, the previous college assistant coach was functioning as one NFL scouting assistant. The bulk of that time to be spent assessing talent and also helping run techniques for then-Miami dolphins head coach Nick Saban.

"I learned a the majority of things native Coach Saban, not simply from football aspect of it but how you end up being a leader, how you perform things daily, just how you operation your operations, because he"s yes, really hands-on," Burkey stated of the day-to-day work ethic we have involved know together The Process. "He"s gained a direct means he likes carry out it. He"s very businesslike. ... You know he"s every football. When it"s all football and he"s tough and he"s hard, but as long as you do your job and you have actually conviction about what you perform he really he likes that sort of stuff." Burkey take it what that learned native Saban, as well as his other football experiences, and totally reconstructed exactly how Hendrick Motorsports went around looking because that pit crew talent. He functioned the phones, phone call on friends and also former coworkers sprinkled throughout university football programs across the nation, asking for names and film that those an excellent athletes who were just a little too little to draw any type of interest from the NFL. That"s how he learned about Harrell, a walk-on who"d earn his place on the nation"s best football team v sweat and also pain. Alabama stamin coach Scott Cochran was a girlfriend of Burkey"s.

"Coach Saban dubbed me right into his office and Coach Cochran to be there, too," Harrell recalled of a day soon after the Crimson Tide"s 2013 national title success over Notre Dame. "Coach Saban stated to me, "We"ve discovered a job possibility for you, and also I think you"d far better take it.""

When Burkey had actually harvested enough names and also information, he reached out come those athletes and invited castle to phibìc Carolina. Most knew small if anything around auto racing and also totally zero around the mechanics and also engineering behind NASCAR machines. Burkey didn"t care about that. He to be much much more interested in the mechanics and also engineering behind their physical abilities. He set up exercise equipment, video clip cameras and also stopwatches. That mailed out invitations and airplane tickets and also booked a block that rooms at a local prolonged stay motel. A couple of weeks later approximately 100 previous college athletes proved up in Concord, phibìc Carolina, and also found us standing on a practice field at Hendrick Motorsports.

It looked and felt and just favor a soccer talent combine. The was no accident.

"They test her strength, your athleticism, her height, weight and speed," Lineback explained. "The same specific drills as the NFL integrate they"ll put "em with in the pit crew combine."

After athleticism tests, it"s on to NASCAR"s version of impede sleds and also tackling dummies. There are practice pads to check hand-eye coordination. An wait wrench is put in your hands to see how conveniently they have the right to hit five lugnut posts. (The best NASCAR tire changers deserve to do the in less than one second.) They carry 75-pound tires about obstacles, sling 30-pound jacks approximately race cars and also see exactly how deftly they have the right to handle a sloshing, 100-pound deserve to of racing fuel.

After a mainly of evaluation, a handful space asked to stay. The rather are sent out home. Now there are 14 previous FBS/FCS college football football player going end the wall for Hendrick Motorsports race teams. Their teammates come from various other collegiate sports, native hockey come baseball. Other NASCAR teams have actually recruited similar athletic talent, and also as a an outcome pit times have plummeted in recent years, indigenous the 14-to-15 second range right into the 10s.

"These guys that come native those backgrounds, lock don"t know exactly how to perform something other than to work-related at that as tough as they possibly can," claimed Darius Dewberry, Hendrick"s strength and conditioning coach.

""You"ve obtained Dale Earnhardt Jr. Fans and also you"ve obtained Alabama soccer fans and you"ve got a bunch of human being who room both. That"s my team of people right there. That"s my guys ... They desire to know who that was the did other wrong and they"ll blast girlfriend on social media.""Rowdy Harrell

Georgia fans can recognize his name from his work on the roster in Athens as a linebacker. When Dawsonville native Elliott began driving for Hendrick, the was absolutely excited to have actually a other Dawg in the shop. And also in situation you to be wondering, yes, there is a ton that smack the goes earlier and forth between Dewberry and Harrell, especially with a Bama-Georgia SEC Championship potentially looming.

After trying to make pro rosters with no success, Dewberry was biding his time in between the hedges ~ above the Georgia grounds crew. Currently he provides his UGA degree to break crewmen right into a people he knew nothing about. Once he arrived and also found a weight room complete of college athletes, that felt how amazing familiar. Well, other than for the bit about jumping end a concrete wall.

"We do a lot of work through the ladders. We have some numerous hurdles and little mini hurdles. We have actually bigger mini hurdles," Dewberry said. "A lot of stuff similar to football and also a many footwork from soccer drills. I sort of take a lot of from football drills since they have actually the males with fast feet."

Burkey"s evaluation process has reached beyond Hendrick HQ to holding smaller sized combines on university campuses roughly the nation. That"s just how he recruited Covey, that saw a posting top top the locker room wall surface in Lincoln for a "NASCAR combine" and wowed Burkey in ~ a showcase hosted in Omaha.

He never expected to be sit in a movie room 10 years after his days as a Cornhusker, definitely not breaking under a different kind the lateral footwork. Currently the previous linebacker is basically a center. Rather of a snap, he twists the handle on his jack come drop Earnhardt"s an equipment to the ground with its fresh tires. Choose a center, it need to be timed out perfectly. Otherwise, it"s a busted play. In stock auto racing, that way a vehicle trying to take turn off without tires secured or a fuel nozzle still stuck in the rear quarter panel.

Over the last three seasons, the crew of former footballers has discovered itself empathizing with its driver in unanticipated ways. First came the celebration of to win the 2014 Daytona 500, providing Rowdy a new ring proper a year after ~ winning his final piece of jewelry at Alabama. Then came a series of concussions, sidelining Earnhardt twice and also ultimately sending out him right into retirement earlier than expected.

The racer admits he"s to be able to lean on his crew, emotionally and competitively. He has actually repeatedly said that he wishes he was as buttoned increase on his finish as they always are on theirs. Once they haven"t been, he hasn"t had actually to say anything. His legendarily passionate pan base takes care of that.

See more: Danny From New Kids On The Block, New Kids On The Block Members: Where Are They Now

"Junior nation is brutal, man," Harrell said, shower his head. His very first race in ~ Talladega Superspeedway -- not much from his hometown that Moundville, Alabama, and the funding city of Junior country -- a loose wheel on his watch cost the team a victory. It"s been three years and also he still hears about it. He calls lock Junior pan the "Finebaum callers of NASCAR."

"They"re asking, "Are friend going acquire all the lug nuts ~ above this time?"" Harrell jokes.