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Patton and crew eyeing another Sprint Cup title PDF Print E-mail
Friday, January 24, 2014 9:31 PM

By JIM METCALFE

Staff Writer

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CONCORD, N.C. — As the Midwest has been locked into a cold spurt for pretty much all of January, all thoughts turn to warmer weather.

For most, that means spring training in Florida or Arizona for baseball season.

For others, including Delphos native Ryan Patton, that means Daytona and the opening race of the 2014 Sprint Cup season.

The rear-tire carrier for the No. 48 car of Jimmie Johnson — one of four cars in the Hendrick Motorsports stable on the main circuit (along with the No. 24 Jeff Gordon, the No. 5 Kasey Kahne and the No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.) — didn’t have much time off from the end of a very successful 2013 season; the sixth Sprint Cup title for Johnson; and the start of a hoped-for lucky number 7.

 

“I’m looking forward to the new season, getting used to the changes in the cars and what that means for the shop and getting started. I like what I am doing and have no plans to change or go anywhere,” the son of Pat and Sherry Patton began. “I enjoy what I do and I work for a great organization and with a great group of individuals; I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Delphos native Ryan Patton (right), a rear-tire carrier for the No. 48 Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Motorsports team, follows the tire changer during a pit stop at Darlington Raceway in the 2013 season. “I had some time off during Christmas break and had a chance to come home. Before that, even though the racing was done, our job was still not done. We finished the season but still had our film review and still needed to stay in shape, plus receive any treatment for nagging injuries or whatever we needed. It’s a hard season on the body. We looked at all the equipment and made sure everything was in proper order; it’s a long season and it’s hard on the equipment as well. That was before we could take time off.”

His present job wasn’t necessarily what he envisioned when he completed his formal education.

After graduating from The Ohio State University with a master’s degree in 2010, Patton remained in the strength and conditioning program as a graduate assistant.

After about a year, he heard of a movement in NASCAR, especially in the Hendrick team, to bring in former college football players as new trainees and potential members of pit crews and he was intrigued with this — how the training might be similar, for example — so he visited the strength and conditioning staff at their Performance Training Complex in Concord, North Carolina, in early spring of 2011.

“That’s when Chris Burkey (coach of scouting and recruiting for Hendricks and pit coach for the Nos. 5/24 teams) saw me working out and invited me to attend their Combine. This is where they invite 70-75 guys to come in to their complex and see what they can do. I went through mine in April of 2011. They pick 45 or 50 to move on to a 3-day mini-camp in August of that year and after finishing that, I was hired then, around the same time Coach (Jim) Tressel resigned at Ohio State.

“I was in the Hendrick farm system for 2012, working wherever needed and learning everything I could along the way, and I came on board the 48 team as a backup tire carrier at the start of 2013. About five or six races into the season, I became full time and here I am.”

Burkey explained the process.

“We have a developmental program in our organization. We are looking for talented individuals that may not necessarily be racing fans but they are people we feel can help us and they are interested,” he began. “For example, Ryan played sports throughout high school and was involved in football at Ohio State; we are looking for athletic guys like him. He may not have been looking to make a move but he’s the type of guy we like: the athletic body type, a guy who was very coachable and learns quickly.

“Once a year, we bring in those former standout college athletes to come here and compete for a spot within the program that ultimately could lead to a position on a NASCAR pit crew. We run them through a process similar to the NFL Combine; those we like more move on to a more strenuous session. We push them hard in that time to see if they can move quickly, think on their feet and the like, just as they would do in a game — to see if they have the basic building blocks. We further decrease that number and they become part of our farm system.”

There’s a reasoning to the why of this development program, according to Burkey. Part of that had to do with two family members once having been behind the wheel of a race car.

“I followed along but I was more interested in the pit crew segment, of how athleticism could play into a successful pit crew. After my college-football playing days, I eventually got into some coaching and then into pro scouting,” he continued. “Once I got hired here at Hendrick, I saw even more a similarity between the two sports and wanted to bring that athletic mindset to the pit crew; that is what we focus on in our developmental program. We nurture talent once we feel we have the right people. We get a lot of them from schools like Arizona, Arizona State and Northern Arizona but not exclusively.”

That athleticism isn’t allowed to rest on its laurels, according to Lance Munksgard, Patton’s pit crew coach, and is constantly put to the test.

“We’re particularly involved in conditioning, weight lifting, anything to make sure the guys are in tip-top shape; it’s about speed and reflexes and it’s hard work. We’re involved in sports medicine and nutrition; we want to prevent injuries whenever possible and keep everyone healthy,” he said.

It’s not just the physical part, either, that has to be improved.

“During the week at our headquarters, we’ll start at 6 a.m. with light stretching and warming up and then we will get into various drills; dependent on the day, we will also work on techniques,” he explained. “There is a lot of practice time during the week of a race. We study film of all the races and our practices to see if we can do things a little faster, which can mean the difference in a tight race. We have a schedule to work on everything we might encounter, whatever that might be, and even try to account for the unforeseen. We are always looking to be just a tenth of a second faster if possible. We go over all the equipment to make sure everything is in working order, particularly the race car.

“On Thursday, we get in a competition practice with all our cars, including the No. 7 Nationwide, just to make sure we have things in hand. Then we’re ready to go to wherever we need to for the race. There’s a lot of interaction going on within the team and outside. Jimmie Johnson has his input but we mostly get input from the crew chief, Chad Knaus, especially on race day.

The aim of the organization is to sharpen focus to do one thing and do it well, according to Munksgard.

“Ryan is the rear tire carrier; his job — his only job — during a stop is to make any adjustments that need to be made, whether it’s a new tire or any other adjustment that needs to be made,” he said. “It’s to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. We break things down so that our pit members have one thing to do and they can focus on doing that to the best of their ability.”

Both Burkey and Munksgard note how Patton fits into this whole scheme well.

“Ryan is a very positive person, which makes things easier when you consider the season is almost non-stop, especially from February through November. That’s a lot of time to spend together with one group constantly,” Burkey added. “He’s a team player, what you would expect with his high school success in team sports.

“He works extremely hard; he works out as a hobby. We work them hard in our fitness and conditioning program, anything we feel will help give us an edge, and he takes right to it.”

“It’s a long season; we race 38 weekends a year and there is very little off time. These guys spend a lot of time together on and off the track,” Munksgard added. “He works very well with the other guys; we’re almost like a family.

“I know Ryan likes to do extra conditioning on his own; it’s that background he has in sports to go the extra mile and get that extra edge.”

Patton credits that attitude to his coaches in high school.

“I played three sports in high school — football, basketball and baseball. I think I got a little bit of something from each of them: Todd Schulte, Brett Norris and Danny Metzger,” he explained. “They all went the extra mile to prepare us as players to be successful and they focused on how you do it as a family, everyone with their role to play. They also expected you to bring your ‘A’ game every time and to strive for perfection, a perfect training for the pressures we face here. I try to bring that attitude — put in the extra time and focus to do the best job I possibly can — to everything I do every day. I have a lot of great memories because of it.

“I don’t have a lot of hobbies outside of my work, partly because there isn’t a lot of time outside of it. I do play some basketball but not much and I get in extra lifting and cardio because I enjoy it. Outside of that, I spend a lot of time with the guys.”

His love of racing isn’t just recent, either.

“I always liked racing. My mom and dad were always fans and we’d go to races at Indianapolis, Daytona and Michigan,” he added.

Patton was part of an interview done by Showtime’s “60 Minutes Sports” to be shown 10 p.m. Feb. 5.

Last Updated on Tuesday, February 04, 2014 8:44 PM
 

Comments  

 
0 #1 2014-01-29 17:37
Jimmy,
Nice article on Ryan. Thanks for bringing in the experts that Ryan works for in the article. That gives more to the readers and for me to understand all that Ryan is involved in.
Thank you,
Jay Patton
Ryan's uncle who resides in Grand Rapids, MI
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