SPARTA — On race days, J.D. Holcomb, 31, is a front-tire carrier for the Sprint Cup pit crew of Kevin Harvick. During the week, the 1998 graduate of Whitesburg High School works as a fabricator for Richard Childress Racing.
Holcomb, a married father of two, says he spent one year as a student at Eastern Kentucky University after graduating from high school. "But I knew college wasn't for me," he says.
Instead, he decided to move to North Carolina and pursue the dream of working in NASCAR. "I went to a little tech school in Hickory, N.C., and they had a program that taught you the basics," Holcomb says.
Next, Holcomb says, "I bugged every crew chief in Charlotte until I finally broke through and got a chance."
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The first driver whose crew he worked for in the Cup Series was Terry Labonte, followed by Kyle Busch, Casey Mears and Mark Martin.
After last season, Holcomb left his longtime employer, Hendrick Motorsports, for a job with Richard Childress Racing. "Just a better opportunity," he says.
Now, he's working on the crew of Harvick, who is not exactly a shrinking violet. What's it like as a crewman when the No. 29 has a bad stop?
"He can be critical," Holcomb says of Harvick. "But that's no different than in football, if the offensive lineman screws up, the quarterback chews his (butt). Same deal here. We're leading the points, we're supposed to be perfect."
As a crewman, how do you handle it when the driver is on your case?
"You just have to let it go in one ear and out the other," Holcomb says. "You can't let that kind of stuff get you down. You have to keep your mind on your job and get it right the next time."
Mark Jacobs, a three-year starter at defensive tackle for the University of Kentucky from 1995-98, is the jack man for Juan Pablo Montoya.
When told that Tee Martin, the former national championship-winning quarterback at Tennessee who is now the passing game coordinator at UK, had been spotted at Saturday's race, Jacobs laughed and told a good story.
"When I was at UK, Peyton Manning graduated and I remember being in a meeting and us agreeing that was our year to beat Tennessee with Manning gone and this new quarterback they had coming in," Jacobs says.
You know how that turned out. Tee Martin replaced Manning and led the Volunteers to an undefeated national title.
It's not enough that Kyle Busch is running races in each of NASCAR's three touring series this weekend at Kentucky Speedway. On Sunday, he'll make his annual pilgrimage to Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin to compete in the Slinger Nationals Super Late Model event.
Winning that race, one of the crown jewels of Super Late Model competition, is something that has been on Busch's bucket list for years.
Busch figured he would log more racetrack miles over the weekend than ever before in his career.
"Lap-count-wise, we probably run more laps at Bristol, but mileage-wise, it's probably more miles here, for sure," Busch told The Sporting News on Friday.
That won't deter him from his trip to Wisconsin.
"It definitely wears on you a little bit, but, yeah, I'm going to Slinger on Sunday," Busch said.
Not exactly garage majal
Track owner Bruton Smith acknowledged the garage area at the 1.5-mile track isn't quite up to his usual standards of luxury, but that could change.
In fact, Smith would like Kentucky native son Darrell Waltrip, who was instrumental in bringing big-track NASCAR racing to the Bluegrass State, to play a part in the renovation — indirectly.
"Now, please forgive us," Smith said. "You are in a garage area like no other in the world. My desire is to tear all this down, and I'm going to take all these parts and pieces over to Darrell's house and leave them there.
"We'll get around to that (rebuilding the garage). I guess I should apologize for this garage area, but I would not know where to start — but it's different."