NASCAR: Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, Sunday, 2 p.m. (NBCSN). Life in the pits
When NASCAR’s top racing series makes its annual trip to New England this weekend, a couple of Connecticut natives won’t be behind the wheel, but they’ll be behind the drivers.
Former Trumbull resident Jamie Turski saw his first race at Loudon, N.H., at what’s now New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Some 22 years later, he’s now the tire specialist for Joe Gibbs Racing on the car driven by Daniel Suarez.
“It’s pretty cool, pretty special for me,” Turski said. “My first NASCAR race was there, 1996, I think it was. It kind of got me started, got me excited. At the time, I never thought I’d be working in it.”
Norwalk native Scott Honan grew up in Sharon and made a few trips to Stafford Motor Speedway before he really got into racing. It’s still nice to come back north.
“It’s a lot of memories for me,” said Honan, now interior mechanic for Hendrick Motorsports on the car driven by Chase Elliott.
The two Nutmeg natives worked their way up through the sport, both packing up their lives in Connecticut and taking a chance on a move to North Carolina around the same time nearly two decades ago.
This year’s return to the northeast comes with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, Sunday at 2 p.m. (NBCSN).
Turski analyzes the compounds used to seal each track and how to set up the tires on each to optimize performance. He’ll analyze wear and tear during races and adjust the tires on the fly.
“They’re the four things that actually touch the racetrack. If I screw something up, it doesn’t matter if the car is perfect,” Turski said. “I take a lot of pride in doing what I do.”
Honan handles the interiors for Elliott’s car after joining Hendrick Motorsports — Immaculate High School Hall of Famer Doug Riepe, a former NASCAR pit-crew member, once called them “kind of the New York Yankees of NASCAR” — earlier this year after seven and a half years with Richard Childress Racing.
Though Honan is back on the road now, the new job ironically gives him more quality time at home with wife Katey and new baby girl Hayden.
“The guys at Hendrick Motorsports push hard,” Honan said. “They work as a team, work as a company as a whole. It really motivates you, makes you excited to get to the racetrack every week.”
It’s a bit of a dream job for him, he said, the result of a career that began, in a way, while he was in high school, playing baseball and football at Housatonic Valley Regional in the early 1990s.
When he got older, his competitiveness got him even more into racing; his mother’s family raced late models and modifieds at Stafford. A high school trip to the Skip Barber Racing School at Lime Rock Park led to him getting a job assembling cars there. After a year in the shop, he became a road mechanic, traveling to other school sites. He learned the business, saw the country, learned communications skills.
And then friends, father and son Gary and Brett Roubinek, asked him to help out with a stock car. They soon hired him for their racing team.
“At the time, the learning curve was steep, but it was a lot of fun,” Honan said. “We had a lot of great equipment and good intentions. ... We had a lot of great help. Everybody worked as a volunteer aside from us.
“It wasn’t due to lack of effort. We just could never really get it.”
An interview in North Carolina led to an unexpected job offer in NASCAR, though. At Thanksgiving 1999, he packed up and left Connecticut.
Not long after that, Turski, who grew up in Trumbull, made a similar trip.
“I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do in 2000,” Turski said earlier this week from North Carolina. “I moved here to see if I could get into racing. I packed everything I had in the back of my pickup.”
He got himself in the door sweeping floors and doing whatever he could. He got a job then with Lewis Motorsports for four years. Their tire specialist left, and he hopped in on an aspect of racing that always interested him.
“I really enjoy it, because it’s kind of my own deal,” Turski said. “Mechanics work directly on the car. I’ve got my own little deal. Every single year, it changes. ... Every single track is different, a different compound.”
He went from there to Joe Gibbs Racing, where he has worked for 14 years.
Turski said he feels lucky to be part of many race wins. His firsts were memorable, with Denny Hamlin in the in Mexico City in 2006 in what’s now the Xfinity Series, his first Cup Series win with Kyle Busch in Richmond.
“I got a chance to work with (Southington’s) Joey Logano when he got his first win,” Turski said. “Tony Stewart, we won a race in Daytona with him in the 20 Car. A lot of cool names I grew up watching. Tony, that was pretty cool.”
Honan said he appreciates being part of teams that won the Daytona 500 and the Coca Cola 600, sure. But there’s something else that he would put with his top accomplishments: His time with Robby Gordon about a decade ago.
“I’m not the biggest person in the world,” Honan said. “If I told you I’m a jackman, you’d think I was bigger. I’m like 5-11, 200 pounds, but I made a career jacking racecars. The reason is, somebody told me I wasn’t big enough to do it. Somebody told me ‘you can’t do it,’ and I said, ‘watch me.’
“There’s only 43 people in the world that jack a racecar. To be a kid from Smalltown USA, the northwest corner of Connecticut: I’m always proud of that.”
Honan joined Richard Childress Racing in 2010. He made friendships with people like driver Brendan Gaughan, whom he still helps out when he can on Gaughan’s Cup car. He worked with Katey; they got married in December 2015.
He thought he’d be content with a job in the shop for RCR, but Hendrick called earlier this year.
“One of these days it’s going to click, and Chase will get his first win. I’ll be thrilled to be a part of that,” Honan said. “(Team owner Rick) Hendrick’s next victory will be his 250th. (It’ll be special) because of how much he cares for his employees, people who have been there 10, 15 years.”