VSU students audition for NASCAR pit crews

NASCAR representatives were wowed Wednesday during a pit stop at Virginia State University, part of a nationwide search for athletes talented enough to become pit crew members.

As it stands, NASCAR crews are predominantly white men, and NASCAR has been visiting several universities to attract talented racial minorities and women.

“I’m impressed," Phil Horton, director of athletic performance for Rev Racing, told about two dozen student-athletes at VSU, a historically black school in the Chesterfield County village of Ettrick.

Horton said the VSU competitors were some of the most talented prospects he has seen as part of the Drive for Diversity Crew Member Development program. He also praised the camaraderie of the students, who cheered for one other.

VSU football, track and field, basketball and volleyball athletes competed in timed drills that included jump-roping, agility tests, sit-ups and push-ups. Organizers said they saw record performances, including one student who did 100 jumps in 28 seconds during the jump-roping competition.

One impressive competitor was Andrew Clarke, a 21-year-old tight end for the VSU football team. He said strength is just part of what helps pit crew members change tires in astonishingly little time.

“The tires are only but so heavy. It’s more about being quick and getting in and out," Clarke said.

In addition to athleticism, pit crew members must have extreme “mental toughness," said competitor Darius Jones, a 21-year-old running back for VSU who said he has been watching NASCAR since he was a child and would love the chance to be a pit crew member.

The top-performing athletes from several universities will be invited to a national combine that will be held May 26-27 in Charlotte, N.C.

One of the pit crew members who oversaw the competitions Wednesday, Phillip Thomas, said immediately afterward that at least one person from VSU will be invited, and a few others probably will be as well.

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