From Hobby To Career, Working On Race Cars Takes Commitment


Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports

Guest Columnist

Toby Mellott is a tire specialist working for Robert Yates Racing.

The Royal: Won the King’s Royal while working with Sammy Swindell.

Married: Toby is married to NSSN Staffer Liz Mellott.

The question I get asked most frequently is how I got started working in motorsports and NASCAR specifically. My career path probably isn’t typical because I didn’t enroll in a motorsports-based college program like many people do. I started my career by working on sprint cars as a weekend hobby. It wasn’t long before I was spending the majority of my free time at the race track, and using all my vacation days from my “real job” to travel to races.

After a while, I decided if I was going to spend all my time at the race track, I might as well get paid for it. So, I quit my full-time job and hit the road.

My next five years were spent as a mechanic traveling on the World of Outlaws tour with drivers including Greg Hodnett, Jac Haudenschild and Sammy Swindell. I enjoyed the time on the WoO circuit, but eventually it was time for a change. After a lot of prodding, I took the advice of some of the engineers from Goodyear we worked with on WoO tire tests to try my hand in NASCAR.

I already knew about Bill Wilburn, who was employed as the tire changer for Rusty Wallace’s NASCAR Miller Lite car, but spent his time off driving sprint cars. One weekend at Devil’s Bowl Speedway, I saw him in the pits, so I walked over to him and introduced myself. A short time after, with a resume prepared by Hodnett, I packed my bags, hopped in the car and drove with Bill to North Carolina.

Bill let me crash on his couch while he helped me find a job in NASCAR. He called teams to set up interviews and personally vouched for me. After a couple of weeks, I landed a job at Hendrick Motorsports working on the Jerry Nadeau-driven UAW Delphi car. The week before the 2001 Daytona 500, we lost our tire specialist, and the crew chief, Tony Furr, decided to give me a shot at the job. From there, I guess you could say, the rest is history.

In 2002, I moved over to Penske Racing to become the tire specialist on Wallace’s Miller Lite car. I stayed for two years and then left to accept my current job with crew chief Todd Parrott as the tire specialist on the No. 38 M&M’s Ford.

I would advise anyone interested in a job in NASCAR that no matter how hard you prepare, your life may not take you on the career path you planned. You must be flexible and willing to start in a position that isn’t your first choice. Always work toward your goal and position yourself to be in the right spot to have the ability to move to the ideal job when it is available. If you wait for the job you really want, you may never get started.

Second, while some may think that the idea of traveling with a race team is exciting, it’s definitely not the type of travel you think of when you see a schedule that includes dates in Las Vegas, California and Miami. It’s all work and not much play. After a 12-hour or longer day that starts at 5 a.m., you really aren’t up to sightseeing when you get back to the hotel.

Also, if you have a family, you will miss out on all the important days. You may never be home for a birthday, anniversary or Little League game. Or, in my case, to rush my wife to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.

Yes, we know the schedule when we take the job, but there are times when weather makes a difficult schedule even worse. A Mother’s Day spent at the track is a day that you can never possibly make up to your wife or mother. Everyone thinks you have it easy because you are gone and don’t have to deal with responsibilities at home, but standing in the rain in Michigan for three days is not exactly a picnic.

Also, travel doesn’t stop with just the races themselves. Teams spend an enormous amount of Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays away from home testing. Some, like Kentucky Speedway, we fly up and back in one day, but others require us to be gone overnight. There are times when we literally are gone seven days a week.

If someone seriously thinks this is what they want to do with their life, they really need to be sure they enjoy it. A career in racing will consume you and your family’s whole life. Be prepared that if you start on a career path in motorsports it is difficult to turn back.

(Original Print Date: October 3, 2007)