Football alumni describe transition to motorsport

For two former ASU football players, walking out of the stadium tunnel on Senior Day signaled the end of a football career.

But for Brett Nenaber, a safety and special teams member who graduated in 2007, and Wes Evans, a defensive end and linebacker who transitioned to offense before graduating in 2008, it was not the end of a dream in professional sports.  Their opportunity came in an unlikely manner— as NASCAR pit crew members.

Nenaber and Evans said they were not ready for desk jobs, but could not realistically see themselves playing football after college.

Less than 2 percent of college football players go on to play professionally, according to the NCAA.

“I didn’t see a future in it for myself,” Evans said.  “I was really looking past football, and I kind of got to a point where I didn’t like being beat up and sore and stuff all the time.”

After graduation, Nenaber and Evans transitioned from a contact sport to the precision of NASCAR’s pit road, where pit crew members change tires, add fuel and make adjustments on cars in seconds.  One pit stop can affect race standings, allowing a driver to gain or lose his or her position.

Nenaber and Evans first met with the Red Bull Racing Team after team members came to use the ASU weight room before the 2006 April race at Phoenix International Raceway.

The racing team was looking to recruit experienced athletes who were willing to work hard and put the team before themselves—qualities that would help a pit crew perform successfully.

“By taking former collegiate athletes or former athletes in that regard, those people know what it takes to compete, and they can perform under pressure,” Nenaber said.

Nenaber and Evans both graduated with degrees in business and moved to North Carolina to join the Red Bull Racing Team, which fields two cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

Mark Zimmer, athletic equipment manager for ASU, said Nenaber and Evans were both hard workers during their time with ASU football.

“If they weren’t athletic, if they weren’t in such good shape, if they didn’t have the great work ethic and they didn’t have the ability to understand how fast and how quick things move, I don’t think they would have been able to do so,” Zimmer said of Nenaber and Evans’ transition to NASCAR.

When members of the Red Bull team returned for the November race, Nenaber and Evans were invited to the racetrack to see the pit crew in action.

“I never saw a race before these guys came out,” Evans said.  “I didn’t even know…they did pit stops.”

Nenaber said his first year with Red Bull was a big learning experience.  Evans, who joined the team a year later, said the transition was easier for him with Nenaber already on the team.

Nenaber was a tire changer during his two seasons with Red Bull, and Evans has held the positions of jack man—the person who lifts the car with a jack—and catch can—the person who catches fuel that overflows as the car is filled.

Nenaber said a pit stop is like a choreographed dance in which crew members complete the same job each time and do not have to think about reacting like they do in football.

On the field, Nenaber and Evans played to the attention of the crowd.  But they said NASCAR fans come to watch the drivers and cars, and it is best when the pit crew members do their job and go unnoticed behind the pit wall, which separates the cars’ pit stalls from the infield.

“We just kind of help make up the bigger picture here,” Nenaber said.

Nenaber, who left the Red Bull team after last season, has since returned to ASU as a graduate assistant strength and conditioning coach, and is working toward his master’s degree in exercise and wellness.

Evans, who has been with Red Bull for more than 70 races, said he will start a part-time position in the company’s marketing department when he is not training for the pit crew.

“I want to do this while I’m young and active and still able to do it and able to compete,” Evans said.  “Ride it out for as long as I like it before I move on to the next step.”

Reach the reporter at hshore@asu.edu