Sturgill decided to venture into racing after his father’s death about eight years ago. He got a needed break when former University of Kentucky defensive tackle Mark Jacobs, who works on the pit crew of Juan Pablo Montoya, encouraged him to look into working for a pit crew and helped him get a spot in the pit-crew development program at Chip Ganassi Racing. Eventually he got to work for Dario Franchitti’s team in the Nationwide Series and then moved to Sprint Cup racing with driver Sam Hornish Jr. for Penske Racing.
Last season he was the jackman for driverRicky Stenhouse Jr. in the Nationwide Series when the driver won the championship. That helped him land a spot back in Sprint Cup with Ragan this year. Ragan ranks 29th in the standings with one top 10 finish.
“I really missed the competitive nature of athletics from playing football and being part of a pit crew has fulfilled that,” Sturgill said. “Being part of a pit crew really is a lot like being on the offensive line. We are in the background. We are an added value to the team. We definitely understand we are not going to get the glory when things go perfect, but we will be in the spotlight when things go bad. However, we all understand we can help keep our car in a race whether it is gaining a few spots or maintaining where we are. That is what we practice for and work out for.
“Everybody is competitive and wants to do well. That helps build teamwork. We get the glory of holding our chests high on pit road when we do our jobs. There are only 42 jackmen who get to do what I¿do on race day. Everybody knows where you rank.¿If your pit stops are good, they are recognized. It’s a hidden community that does not get a lot of the spotlight, but we all love it.”
He hoped to make a visit to Danville this week but his schedule didn’t work out. He’ll fly into Kentucky from North Carolina Saturday for the race and then head back to work.
“I usually get to come up on Wednesday and stay through the weekend,” Sturgill said. “I was planning on doing that this year, but it didn’t work out. Still, having some family coming to the race is a huge deal for me. Them getting to see me and what I do means a lot to me.”
Sturgill is realistic about his team’s chances Saturday night. Front Row Motorsports doesn’t have the funding of Hendrick Motorsports or Roush Racing. Instead, it has a much tighter budget under owner Bob Jenkins, a Tennessee restaurant entrepreneur who started the team in 2005. However, that has given Sturgill a chance to also work in marketing and business development.
“We have our shots and try to be consistent and do the best we can with what we have,” Sturgill said. “Our strong suit is not the mile and a half tracks, and Kentucky Speedway is. I¿don’t really feel like we will be contending for the win, but we have a good shot at running a competitive race.”
He noted the team can compete for wins at super speedways, road courses and short tracks.
“We just have to recognize our strengths and weaknesses. That comes with any profession,” Sturgill said. “You have to find a way to do the best you can at a place where you are not strong. You rely on the pit crew at a track like this not to lose spots. This is one of the most important tracks for our pit crew. I need to shine and not have a mistake. Our team needs to average 13.1 or 13.2 (second) pit stops all race long.”
Sturgill believes increased TV coverage of pit stops has helped casual race fans understand the importance a pit crew can have on a race’s outcome.