hen Jeff Wettengel was in high school, he had one goal:
to wrestle competitively in college. Instead, the front-
tire ch...
of 1


Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Source: www.slideshare.net

Transcripts - nascarjeff

  • 1. W hen Jeff Wettengel was in high school, he had one goal: to wrestle competitively in college. Instead, the front- tire changer for Michael Waltrip Racing ended up out- wrestling adversity. As a junior, the Belpre, Ohio, native already had a verbal scholarship offer from Ohio University. As a senior, Wettengel, a three-sport athlete, planned to forego football to focus on wrestling. But, he yielded to pressure from a close family friend, and went back to the gridiron. But, the decision to play football backfired. He broke the scaphoid bone in his wrist, an injury that eventually sidelined his wrestling scholarship. The decision of what to do after graduation came thanks to a movie, Tears of the Sun, about a U.S. Navy SEAL team. The movie, starring Bruce Willis, so inspired Wettengel that he joined the Navy with the goal of becoming a SEAL. A self-proclaimed “hillbilly,” Wettengel grew up hunting, fishing and immersed in athletics. That active lifestyle proved a bonus during rigorous Navy SEAL training, with its more-than-90-percent average dropout rate. “I never once thought of quitting,” Wettengel said. “Many times I thought, ‘How can it possibly get any worse?’ and shortly after, it did. Quitting wasn’t an option. I wouldn’t have been able to face my family.” Wettengel graduated and realized the difficult part was only beginning. He spent the next two years traveling the world and learning different jobs and skills. As a sniper, he planned to be a career SEAL, but history repeated itself and an injury forced him to take a medical discharge. Again faced with the what-now question, Wettengel contemplated his next challenge. The answer arrived immediately after his discharge. While visiting a friend from SEAL Team 10 in October 2012, Wettengel tagged along as his friend met up with a childhood buddy, Kyle Turner, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. A veteran tire changer for Michael Waltrip Racing, Turner also took the visitors through the MWR shop, where they sampled the pit tools. A competition ensued and Wettengel impressed Turner enough to be invited back for a December tryout. Wettengel excelled at his audition and was hired. He has spent the past two seasons as the front-tire changer for several teams in all three series, while also studying film, maintaining his conditioning and learning from veteran teammates. “When you are the new guy (as a Navy SEAL), it’s like drinking through a fire hose — the amount of info that is thrown at you,” Wettengel said. “It’s kind of the same thing with a pit stop. You think you’re good with your drills and then comes the time to do your first pit stop, and you just fall apart. But, you just build on it from there and one day it just all clicks.” The injury bug hasn’t forgotten him. Wettengel ruptured his Achilles tendon four races into the 2014 season, during a NASCAR Nationwide Series pit stop at Bristol Motor Speedway in March. It’s usually a season-ending injury with a quickest return estimated at seven months. But, Wettengel was determined to return at a record pace. He succeeded by returning to pit road in September — five months following his surgery — for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series events at Richmond International Raceway. “It’s no secret injuries suck,” Wettengel said. “They can bring out negativity, hardships and cause people to doubt. But, you have two choices. Feel sorry for yourself and let it defeat you, or defy the odds and make the doubters choke on their words. Either choice will show everyone something about your true character.” Wettengel is considered a NASCAR rarity when it comes to his former profession. Although a small contingent of military veterans work for various teams, Wettengel has been told he was the first former special-operations veteran to serve on a pit crew. Now, there is a second — Ganassi Racing jackman Graham Molatch, also a former Navy SEAL. Wettengel draws comparisons between his SEAL teams and his MWR teams, citing trust, cohesion, precision, focus and the philosophy that a team is as strong as its weakest link. “If everyone is not clicking, not getting along, you’re never going to be good,” he said. “You might do some good stops, but you’re never going to be successful. Same thing in SEAL teams. If we get a new guy, we just don’t (say), ‘Sorry, bud. You’ve made it this far. Good for you, but you are going back to the fleet.’ “I think that’s why I think it was such an easy transition. It’s like leaving one brotherhood and coming to a different one. It’s not life and death, per se, that it used to be, but it’s livelihoods.” From the U.S. Navy to NASCAR Michael Waltrip Racing’s Jeff Wettengel a ‘Special Ops’ on Pit Road BY NICOLE KELLEY “It’s like leaving one brotherhood and coming to a different one.” — JEFF WETTENGEL, FRONT-TIRE CHANGER FOR MICHAEL WALTRIP RACING AND FORMER U.S NAVY SEAL Front-tire changer Jeff Wettengel in action on the No. 66 BlueDEF/AAA Toyota at Daytona International Speedway during the 2014 Daytona 500. Getty Images Michael Waltrip Racing front-tire changer Jeff Wettengel during his U.S. Navy SEAL days. Jeff Wettengel Michael Waltrip Racing front-tire changer Jeff Wettengel served as a U.S. Navy SEAL sniper. Jeff Wettengel Front-tire changer Jeff Wettengel (white helmet) and his Michael Waltrip Racing teammates during pit practice. Nicole Kelley OVER THE WALL 104 >> PHOE NIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY PHOEN IX IN TERN ATION AL RAC EWAY >> 105 14D844 Over the Wall.indd All Pages 10/10/14 8:40 AM

Related Documents