This week’s NFL player draft and Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway are special events for Shannon Myers, the rear tire changer for Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 14 Haas Automation Demo Day Ford Fusion driven by Clint Bowyer.
The Miami Dolphins drafted Myers in the seventh round of the 1995 draft. After a professional football career hampered by injury, the speedy wide receiver out of NCAA Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina joined the NASCAR circuit in 2001 as a tire changer. Sunday afternoon, he’ll change tires for Bowyer as the veteran driver seeks his second win of the season and his third career NASCAR Cup Series win at Talladega.
The soft spoken Myers knows the importance this week holds for college football players and their families.
“All your life you worked and hoped that one day you would be drafted, and it all comes down to this day,” he said. “I didn’t care who took me. I just wanted to be drafted and get a shot to make the team. You have your family and friends around. They are probably even more excited for you than you are.”
Myers played American Legion baseball the day he was drafted, but after the game joined the well-wishers at his mother’s North Carolina home. With shot nerves from answering plenty of “false-alarm” calls from friends, Myers waited by the telephone and television.
“I went outside by myself so I could get some privacy and got a call from Tom Bratz of the Miami Dolphins,” Myers said. “He asked me, ‘How would you feel about playing for coach Don Shula?’ I said I would be honored. A few minutes later, he called back. He said, ‘Congratulations, son, we just drafted you. You are now a Miami Dolphin.’”
Myers walked back inside the house and gave everyone the thumbs up, cueing smiles and tears of joy. Within minutes, he gave interviews with the Miami media.
“You wait and wonder for so long that day and it’s agony,” said the now 44-year-old Myers, who was the final draft pick of Shula’s NFL Hall of Fame coaching career. “When you get that call, you go from deflated to winning the Super Bowl. It was an eruption.”
Myers learned the plays and caught passes thrown by quarterback Dan Marino. He even spent Thanksgiving at the Hall of Fame quarterback’s house. His tenure with the Dolphins ended with a kidney injury during minicamp, but perseverance led to stints in Oakland, Tampa, Seattle and the New York Jets, along with teams in Canada and Europe.
His travels enabled him to learn from some of the sport’s Super Bowl-winning coaches like Shula, Jimmy Johnson, Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren, Bill Parcells and Tony Dungy.
He brought lessons from those coaches to NASCAR after following a doctor’s suggestion to enter a pit crew developmental program at Petty Enterprises. He progressed through the NASCAR world changing tires on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2004 Daytona 500-winning pit crew and won two Xfinity Series titles with Martin Truex Jr. He also worked at Michael Waltrip Racing and Wood Brothers Racing in recent years.
“Obviously, you have to have the physical ability but, from those guys, I learned how to be a teammate,” Myers said. “It’s knowing when to speak up, when to take coaching, learning to succeed as a team.”
Myers feels the similarities between football and NASCAR are many.
“When you get to the top of any sport, everything gets faster,” he said. “Failure isn’t an option – you fight through failure, whether it’s in football or running in the top-three at a race. It’s the hours that lead up to kickoff or the drop of the green flag that are the most nerve-wracking. In football, once you take that first hit, it rings that bell inside and you are trained to do your job. In racing, once you hit that first lug nut, you know it’s game time and you get into a grind and training takes over.”
Myers said he expects more professional athletes to join over-the-wall NASCAR pit crews. A few tenths of a second saved in the pits can be the difference between winning and losing races.
“I have to admit I didn’t know what to think about pit-crew guys and NASCAR when I first considered the idea,” he said. “But these guys are the top of the line. To go over the wall and change a tire with 40 cars running inches from you takes incredible concentration. It’s all about training and performance, so it’s not really much different than the NFL.”
Myers and his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team know the risks and rewards of restrictor-plate racing at Talladega and its sister track Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, where the difference between victory and defeat is quite small.
“Talladega – it’s been good to us, but I know you have to respect these racetracks and you’ve got to get to the end of them,” said Bowyer, who won at the 2.66-mile oval in 2010 and 2011. “Obviously, you’ve got to have a little bit of luck not to get caught up in things and, more importantly, be careful not to cause them yourself.”
Bowyer plans to drive his No. 14 Haas Automation Demo Day Ford into the SHR history book this weekend. Talladega and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta are the only two active tracks where SHR has yet to win. History says Bowyer could change that Sunday. In addition to two victories at Talladega, he’s posted six top-five finishes and 12 top-10s.
He’s been part of a dominant four-driver SHR contingent that has won four of the season’s first nine races. Bowyer is third in points and coming off a ninth-place finish at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, where his No. 14 Ford led 45 laps. He has six top-10 finishes in the season’s nine races, including four consecutive top-10s. Those results include Bowyer’s first win at SHR and ninth career victory March 26 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Bowyer thinks a victory party at Talladega would surpass one at just about any other track.
“There are a hell of a lot of fans there,” said Bowyer about Talladega. “It is fun winning in front a packed house like that in the grandstand. When you do a burnout, it’s pretty cool. You look up and see all those fans. This is a track you want to win at.”
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Demo Day Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Is it difficult to hold back at Talladega?
“You get a little bit excited and antsy to get up into the pack, and even with 50, 60 laps to go because you’re like, ‘How am I going to get up there?’ They get three-wide and there’s just literally no place to go. At Talladega, you can go four-wide, and I’ve seen when it goes five-wide you get into a wreck. We see that quite a bit there – somebody attempting it – and that’s when it gets this place exciting. Looking forward to hopefully getting to the end and, more importantly, getting a win.”
Mike Bugarewicz, Crew Chief for Bowyer and the No. 14 Haas Automation Demo Day Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How important is qualifying at Talladega?
“Talladega qualifying boils down to just tenths of a second between a good run and a decent run. In October, we were only two tenths of a second off the pole and still started seventh. We think we can make that up this weekend. With times that close, even the smallest advantages help. At SHR, we know our Mobil 1 engine oil, chassis lubricants, gear oil – even power-steering fluid – can help get us a few tenths. That can be the difference between a pole and starting midpack. That’s the difference between picking a good pit stall and potentially missing an early-lap wreck.”