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Published: Saturday, 8/18/2012

NASCAR NOTEBOOK

NFL career detours to pit row

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Knowing the end was near in professional football, Nate Bolling began to make contingency plans.

He didn't anticipate, however, that those plans would take him from the NFL to NASCAR. But the 1997 Swanton High School graduate doesn't drive a stock car.

Instead, he's one of the support staffers who is vital to precision racing -- Bolling is a jackman for Denny Hamlin's pit crew on the No. 11 FedEx Toyota.

Using a hydraulic jack, the jackman jacks up a stock car so tires can be replaced, assists with removing tires, then signals for a driver to leave the pit area by dropping the jack.

And the jackman does this quickly -- in a short amount of time so a driver can get back on the track after a pit stop.

"Football taught me discipline and how to deal with pressure situations," said Bolling, who has worked with Joe Gibbs Racing since 2009. "How to control that and deal with that. In football, it's cutthroat. If you screw up, you're done.

"It's the same way with pit crews. We're on a short leash."

Each weekend during NASCAR's Sprint Cup season, Bolling travels on the morning of a race to meet with the crew at each track.

He'll arrive Sunday morning at Michigan International Speedway to join Hamlin's pit crew.

Bolling was a defensive tackle at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., and spent two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and the Miami Dolphins.

As he went through training camp with the Dolphins, something dawned upon Bolling. It wasn't a pleasant realization, either.

"I was running out of talent and I realized, I'm not fit for the NFL," Bolling recalled.

"You know the feeling when you're about to get cut? Well, I started making calls to some of my friends who were at Wake Forest."

His friends from college gave him some good advice: Head to the heart of stock-car racing country.

A growing trend in auto racing is for racing teams to hire former college and pro athletes to join pit crews and to take on tasks that don't just require an understanding of auto mechanics.

They also require athleticism.

Bolling explained that at its headquarters in Huntersville, N.C., Joe Gibbs Racing has a multimillion dollar facility that trains pit crew members not just in changing tires and repairing fenders, but also in physical conditioning.

That regimen includes with weight training and cardiovascular training, and working with a strength and conditioning coordinator.

Bolling's training also requires an understanding of the logistics of each track's pit box area

The average fan, he explained, wouldn't be able to tell the difference between pit box area at different tracks. But the surface type at each track and the dimensions of each pit box factor into a pit crew's performance.

The pit box area at Michigan International Speedway, he explained, is the standard for NASCAR tracks. Last weekend's pit box area at Watkins Glen International had a cracked asphalt surface and required a different preparation regimen.

"When we're trying to get a tenth of a second, it's important to understand what we're going up against," Bolling said.

ONE SUBSTITUTION: Parker Kligerman, who drives on the Camping World Trucks Series, filled in for Defiance native Sam Hornish, Jr., during Friday's Sprint Cup qualifying at MIS.

Hornish is driving today in the Nationwide Series race in Montreal, and will travel from Montreal to Michigan for Sunday's Sprint Cup race.

Because he did not drive during qualifying, Hornish will start at the back of the field Sunday for the Pure Michigan 400.

Kligerman was recently let go by Brad Keselowski's racing team and was picked up by Red Horse Racing before today's VFW 200.

"Brad and Penske Racing gave me a great opportunity for the last year and a half, but we just weren't accomplishing what we'd hoped," Kligerman said.

"And at the end of the day, that's winning."

In a twist, Kligerman will compete against Keselowski, his former boss, in today's Camping World Trucks Series race at MIS.

TRUCKIN': Joey Coulter had the top lap speed during Friday's practice session for the Camping World Trucks Series VFW 400.

Coulter had a top speed of 187.471 miles per hour, ahead of Nelson Piquet, Jr., (187.135) and Kurt Busch (186.630).

Timothy Peters, who is the Camping World Truck Series points leader, was 10th (185.090), while 2011 ARCA series champion Ty Dillon was fifth (186.446).



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