Taking a quick walk down the pitlane at a NASCAR race, it’s not too hard to spot the jack used by No. 83 Red Bull Toyota crewman Shaun Peet. The knob at the end of Peet’s jack handle is the only one taped to look like the kind usually found at the top of a hockey stick.
The tape job is a relic of his previous adventure in sports as a professional hockey player before he transferred his athletic skills to the asphalt of the pitlane. Like almost everything in racing, timing played a critical role in Peet’s detour to NASCAR after his pro hockey career brought him to a team in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“My parents came down to visit and I took them on a tour of Bill Davis Racing where I ended up getting involved in pit practice. The crew chief at the time, Chris Wright, said being a jackman was something I should consider because I was big and strong. When I came back the next season, they called me and asked me if I would do it and it just went from there,” he said.
“It was just one of those things, one of those odd forks in life — I had never even seen a NASCAR race before that.”
He’s seen a few since, after working with the Ganassi Team before moving to Red Bull when it formed a NASCAR team in 2007.
"Our crew chief said, ‘Hey Shaun, if that guy comes in our pitbox again, kick his ass!" –Shaun Peet
Born in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Peet, like many Canadian kids, dreamed of glory on the ice. His journey started with a hockey scholarship to an Ivy League school, Dartmouth College, and then moved to minor leagues before he hooked up with the Pittsburgh Penguins farm team, which ultimately helped with his introduction to NASCAR.
He describes himself as a stay-at-home defenseman who wasn’t afraid of anybody. While taping his jack handle is about the only thing that translates to NASCAR, the reputation he earned after serving more than 1,200 penalty minutes in 12 seasons of hockey has come in handy sometimes.
“When I first started, our crew chief Chris Wright used to threaten the other cars around us that if they blocked us in, the hockey player was going to take care of them,” he said.
“There’s only been one incident in my whole career and that was at Ganassi on the No. 41 car. We blocked Mark Martin and their jackman came into our stall yelling at our crew chief. He came on the radio to me and said ‘Hey Shaun, if that guy comes in our pitbox again, kick his ass.’ And I said ‘OK.’”
While his hockey tough-guy skills don’t come up much in the pitlane, Peet’s on-ice experience did leave him with lessons that helped with the transition to NASCAR. Peet feels his work ethic played a critical role in his rising to the top tier of NASCAR in less than six months. His athleticism makes a difference, too, but in the end, practice still makes perfect.
“It’s a choreographed, redneck ballet, that's what it is,” he joked. “You visualize what you need to and then you just go out and do it. Unlike other sports - like pro football where you are trying to read a defense and react to plays - in a pitstop, we do the same thing every time.”
With regular No. 83 Red Bull Toyota driver Brian Vickers out for the season recovering from blood clots and heart surgery, things are not always the same these days, however.
“Being with Brian for three years, I know how he stops a race car and I know exactly where he’s going to be, but with these other guys it’s a bit of a guessing game because some guys come in faster and some come in slower,” he said.
Then again, DTM star Mattias Ekström impressed Peet with his incredible skill and lightning-quick adaptability to pitstops in the new car. The two-time DTM champion also surprised the jackman with his ability to hustle the car into the pitbox during his two races with Team Red Bull at Infineon raceway in June and last weekend in Richmond.
“Ekström did a phenomenal job. He was so good, I almost got smoked one time,” he said laughing.
“He was down there with us at pit practice driving the car because he wanted to learn how to do pitstops and get better at it. Just the few days he did that, I mean he came into the box better than anyone has for us all year and that’s a guy who had never been in a stock car before save Sonoma.”
In an odd coincidence, Peet had already worked with two of the drivers who have replaced Vickers this year in the No. 83, Casey Mears and Reed Sorenson, at his first NASCAR team, Ganassi.
This weekend’s Sylvania 300 at the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway sees Sorenson is back in the car for his ninth race with the team. Regular Red Bull driver Scott Speed is racing the No. 82.
While he doesn’t want to slight any of the four (Boris Said who drove at Watkins Glen was the other) who have filled in for Vickers, Peet misses having his regular driver behind the wheel.
“When you have a guy as talented as Brian Vickers and he’s out, it’s hard,” he said.
“Sometimes I think maybe we take him for granted and maybe this will help us to appreciate him more. I think we will be back next year and not just make the Chase but make some noise in it too.”