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Valley grad Sobecki making leap to NASCAR Sprint Cup pit crew

| Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, 10:21 p.m.
Valley High School grad Josh Sobecki (right, hand on tire) helps to change a tire for Austin Dillon.
Valley High School grad Josh Sobecki (right, hand on tire) helps to change a tire for Austin Dillon.

Josh Sobecki has been successful in his first two NASCAR stops. Now, the 2003 Valley High School graduate has taken a big step up in competition.

This past season, Sobecki was the rear-tire man for Austin Dillon's Nationwide Series championship campaign. In 2014 Sobecki will be reunited with Kevin Harvick as part of Stewart-Haas Racing.

For Sobecki, 28, the road to NASCAR's Sprint Cup has been swift and direct.

“It's been eight years now,” Sobecki said. “After high school, I went to Nashville Auto Diesel College in Tennessee and graduated there in 2005. After that, I landed with Bobby Hamilton Racing and was the front-tire carrier.

“This past year, I did bodies in the shop and was the rear-tire carrier. I actually had a contract sent to me from Stewart-Haas, and I will be doing the same job for Kevin Harvick next season.”

Harvick just made the move to Stewart-Haas where he joins Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick. After Dillon won his Nationwide championship, he has been moved to a full-time Sprint Cup ride with Richard Childress Racing.

Sobecki said his goal is to win championships, and he already has been part of some successful teams in addition to this season's championsip.

In 2008, Sobecki was part of Bill Davis Racing's team that won the Craftsman Truck Series championship with driver Johnny Benson. In 2011, he was with Kevin Harvick, Inc. and that team won the Owner's Championship in trucks.

“It's so awesome to win a championship,” Sobecki said. “I think the first time it was exciting, but this third one is the most memorable so far.”

So how do you go from New Kensington to Nashville and then to Kannapolis, N.C., where the Stewart-Haas facility is located?

“When I was 13 or 14, I worked at a guy's shop in Leechburg,” Sobecki said. “I worked for free. He kind of took me under his wing, and I learned to do everything there. And that's where I developed a passion for this, and that's what led me to the school in Nashville.

“I really like doing things with my hands and I love building cars, hanging the sheet metal and welding. Getting the cars ready for that one-day show is exciting. You have to put everything together. It's exciting to see them on the track and running, especially up front.”

Another exciting aspect of the job for Sobecki is the danger. When you have cars entering and leaving the pits and pit crews jumping over the wall, it's a hectic place.

“When you do pit stops, it's an adrenaline rush, for sure — even though I've been doing it for seven years now,” Sobecki said. “There's the added danger that you could be hit by a car (Sobecki was hit during a truck race in 2007 when he was grazed by the truck driven by Erik Darnell).

“I know on TV it definitely doesn't look too difficult, but it is, especially when we get to the small tracks like Martinsville when you can have 40 cars coming in at the same time,” Sobecki added. “My mom (Lynne), she likes it and watches it on TV, but like all mothers, she worries. But it is kind of exciting for her.”

Pit stops are not just for race day. Teams expect performance and consistency, thus they practice stops during the week.

“You just have to get your head mentally ready,” Sobecki said. “When we practice these stops during the week, it is like 10 to 15 plays that we run through for the different situations. It's like a playbook. It's hard to describe the feeling when your car comes in to the pits fifth or sixth and then you get the car out there in second, you know you dominated.”

The move from working with Dillon, who will be 24 in April, to a more mature team, with Stewart, Busch, Harvick and Patrick, is a change

“Austin is a really good friend, and we still hang out together,” Sobecki said. “With Kevin, it will be different. He still likes to have us out for team gatherings, but I don't think it will be the same as it was with Austin, where he'd just call up and see if we wanted to hang out.

“I guess that is what happens, too, when you move up to Sprint from Nationwide. It all gets a bit more serious. You have to realize that it will be a real mental job.”

Sobecki is proud of the championships, but he also spoke highly of his involvement with Pit Stops for Poverty, a program started with help from the RCR pit crews. All proceeds benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina. The crews sell used pit gear at the track, auction items and wager on the performance of the crews. And, even though Sobecki has moved on to Stewart-Haas, he will be included in the RCR Men of Pit Road Calendar.

Thomas Zuck is a freelance writer.

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