This week’s NFL player draft and Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway are special events for Shannon Myers.
The Miami Dolphins drafted Myers in the seventh round of the 1995 draft. After a professional football career hampered by injury, the speedy wide receiver out of Division II college Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina joined the NASCAR circuit in 2001 as a tire changer.
Saturday night, he’ll change the rear tires for driver Mark Martin’s No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine at Richmond.
The soft spoken Myers knows the importance this week holds for college football players and their families.
“All your life you worked and hoped that one day you would be drafted and it all comes down to this day,” said Myers. “I didn’t care who took me. I just wanted to be drafted and get a shot to make the team. You have your family and friends around. They are probably even more excited for you than you are.”
Myers played American Legion baseball the day of the draft, but after the game joined the well-wishers at his mother’s North Carolina home. With shot nerves from answering plenty of false-alarm calls from friends, Myers waited by the telephone and television.
“I went outside by myself so I could get some privacy and got a call from Tom Bratz of the Miami Dolphins. He asked me, ‘How would you feel about playing for coach Don Shula?’ I said I would be honored. A few minutes later he called back. He said, ‘Congratulations, son we just drafted you. You are now a Miami Dolphin.’ ”
Myers walked back inside the house and gave everyone the thumbs up cueing the tears of joy and smiles. Within minutes he gave interviews with the Miami media.
“You wait and wonder for so long that day and its agony,” said the now 38-year-old Myers who was Shula’s final draft pick. “When you get that call you go from deflated to winning the Super Bowl. It was an eruption.”
Myers learned the plays and caught passes thrown by quarterback Dan Marino. He even spent Thanksgiving at the Hall of Famer’s house. His tenure with the Dolphins ended with a mini-camp kidney injury, but perseverance led to stints in Oakland, Tampa, Seattle and the New York Jets along with teams in Canada and Europe.
His travels enabled him to learn from some of the sport’s Super Bowl winning coaches like Shula, Jimmy Johnson, Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren, Bill Parcells and Tony Dungy.
He brought lessons from those coaches to NASCAR after following a doctor’s suggestion to enter a pit crew developmental program at Petty Enterprises. He progressed through the NASCAR world changing tires for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2004 Daytona 500 winning pit crew and won two Nationwide Series titles with Martin Truex Jr.
“Obviously, you have to have the physical ability, but from those guys I learned how to be a teammate,” said Myers. “It’s knowing when to speak up, when to take coaching, learning to succeed as a team.”
Myers said the similarities between football and NASCAR are many.
“When you get to the top of any sport everything gets faster. Failure isn’t an option. You fight through failure. Whether it’s in football or running in the top three at a race. It’s the hours that lead up to kickoff or the drop of the green flag that is most nerve wracking. In football once you take that first hit it rings that bell inside and you are trained to do your job. In racing, once you hit that first lug nut you know its game time and you get into a grind and training takes over.”
Myers said he expects more professional athletes to join over-the-wall NASCAR pit crews. A few tenths of a second saved in the pits translates into the difference between winning and losing races.
“I have to admit I didn’t know what to think about pit crew guys and NASCAR when I first considered the idea,” said Myers. “But these guys are the top of the line. To go over the wall and change a tire with 42 cars running inches from you takes incredible concentration. It’s all about training and performance so it’s not really much different than the NFL.”
MARK MARTIN ON RICHMOND: “I can’t wait. Based on how these guys ran at Martinsville and Bristol, and the way they ran there last year – the 00 (David Reutimann) with Rodney Childers (crew chief). I’m looking forward to going there and getting in Rodney’s hotrod. It’s a great place to go racing.”
MWR 2012: “It’s a really exciting time for Clint (Bowyer) and myself to be there. I try to acknowledge Martin Truex Jr. who has been there and suffered through the growing pains of that organization and help get it where it is when we got to come on board. They’ve been working on and strengthening the organization and they were starting to see some fruit -- actually have made progress along the way but have started to see fruit toward the end of last year. With the extra energy that was put into there with Scott Miller (executive vice president of competition) and Clint Bowyer and Brian Pattie (No. 15 crew chief) and all, everything seems like it’s clicking right now. It’s really, really a lot of fun whenever you can perform up to your expectations or exceed, that’s good times. For me, I felt like we were going to have to work for a good while to be able to enjoy the kind of success that we are seeing right now. They are very good stuff, very good cars, very competitive and the teamwork is really fantastic there.”