By ANTHONY JONES
Making your debut in a sport in a venue with over 168,000 seats may sound like a nightmare to some — but that’s exactly what Triad High School graduate John McGee did earlier this year as part of a NASCAR pit crew at Daytona Speedway.
Long before he found himself changing tires in a matter of seconds, he starred in athletics for Triad as an outfielder on the baseball team and taking goal-tending duties for the soccer squad. He also took the football field as the school’s kicker and punter.
McGee, a 2017 graduate, has high praise for the Troy high school.
“I really appreciate Triad for helping to develop me both academically and as an athlete. I can’t say enough about Triad, that school in Troy will always have a special place with me.”
His time in the classroom and on the field as a Knight certainly paid off, as he became a two-sport athlete in soccer and baseball at Mississippi University for Women.
While earning a political science degree, McGee also provided a strong presence in athletics for the Owls. He racked up 45 appearances in his career at the Columbus, Miss.-based university.
It wasn’t long after he graduated in 2021 that he would begin his path to joining the racing world.
“I graduated in May and was considering going to law school. Then I read an article about how NASCAR teams have found that college athletes have an advantage over mechanics as part of a pit crew. After that, I reached out to my team and they gave me a shot.”
In September 2021, he officially joined Roush-Fenway Keselowski Racing’s developmental program. After going through plenty of practices in the program, McGee ultimately got the call that he would be joining the team when the season began in February at Daytona Speedway.
Arriving at the most prestigious speedway in NASCAR for his debut made more a memorable moment for the rookie.
“I went to a smaller college where the biggest crowd we ever had was 3,000 or 4,000, but Daytona was so much bigger than that and just looking at all the grandstands was crazy. It certainly made for a whirlwind experience to start my NASCAR career.”
His first of two races at Daytona came in the truck race on Feb. 18 as he took on pit crew responsibilities for the 33 car driven by Jason White that finished 20th. The next day in the Xfinity Series, he helped Joey Gase’s 73 car take 26th position.
Having both truck and Xfinity car race duties means McGee has to keep in mind the similarities and differences between the vehicles.
“All of the equipment is the same between the two. As a rear tire changer that has to run around the vehicle, obviously it’s a lot farther for a truck than a car. The fenders on the right side of a truck are also a light tighter to pull out and some people say it is the hardest change to do in NASCAR.”
If having to keep Xfinity cars and truck changes in his mind wasn’t enough, the rookie also had to learn how to do tire changes on Sprint Cup cars during his preseason training regiment. The key difference between Sprint cars is their tires only have one lug nut, opposed to the five on all other cars.
Since dealing with all of the intricacies of the different vehicles and various other challenges, it has become clearer to the former soccer and baseball player why pit crews have begun to sign already accomplished athletes.
“I think being a two-sporter has helped me a lot with quick lateral movements from soccer and hand eye coordination from baseball. Our team has a couple of the old school guys, but we also have some DI guys and former pros from various sports,” the Triad graduate said.
One racetrack that McGee is circling on this season’s calendar is at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill.. The race will be a homecoming of sorts for the rookie, as the track is less than a 20-minute drive from Triad High School.
The truck series race will be held on Saturday, June 4, while the Sprint Cup will hold their first ever race at the track the following day. Tickets for both races can be purchased online at wwtraceway.com.