Hard work earns Poland native spot on NASCAR crew

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LOUDON, N.H. – When Nextel Cup driver Tony Raines takes the green flag in today’s Lenox Industrial Tools 300, a young man from Poland will have an up-close and personal view of the action.

Kyle Coolidge, 22, serves as pit-support for Raines’ No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet for Hall of Fame Racing. His race-day duties are critical to successful pit stops – getting the tires ready for the tire carriers.

Coolidge also serves as a fuel-runner, weighing fuel dump cans to calculate how much fuel went into the car during a pit stop and refilling those cans for the next stop.

Hall of Fame Racing is owned by former NFL quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.

In addition to his race-day duties, Coolidge is a full-time mechanic at the team’s shop in Charlotte, N.C. It’s a hectic lifestyle for the young and healthy, but this hard-core racing addict wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“It takes a special breed to do this, but I’ve been around racing my whole life,” Coolidge said Saturday during a break in preparations for today’s Nextel Cup race. “To be a part of this team, work with this driver and just be at the track every week, it’s really a dream come true for me.”

Hundreds of enthusiastic mechanics with a dream and desire venture south in hopes of hooking up with a major team. For this Maine native, the road to the Nextel Cup garage came through relentless determination.

“It started when I was just 8 days old,” Coolidge said. “My dad took me to a race, and while I may have been young, it must have had an effect me. I started racing go-karts when I was eight and won a ton of trophies.

Coolidge stepped up to Mini Cup cars, where he competed at Oxford and Wiscasset. In 2002, he won 10 of 13 races and never finished worse than third.

In 2004, Coolidge made the move to the slightly larger, faster Allison Legacy Series cars.

“We ran 16 races that year, and I won eight of them,” Coolidge said. “We ran all over the place, including Beech Ridge, Lee USA and even Scotia Speedworld in Halifax. Because of my dominance in that division, officials started hunting for illegal things on my car that really weren’t there. I feel because I was coming in as a kid and beating a lot of older guys, they decided to take me out of contention in the points. It was frustrating, but in a way it was a turning point for me that led to bigger and better things.”

After chasing Mike and Ben Rowe around the racing circuit for a couple of years, Coolidge talked to former competitor Mike Morneau, who had already moved south. He joined him, and nine months later, Coolidge started pitting an ARCA car and also worked with a Craftsman Truck Series team in 2005.

“I had been working for Steve Leavitt, a Maine native, with his own chassis building company,” Coolidge said. “I wanted to get with a Cup team and start learning more, so when Hall of Fame formed, I dropped off a resume and tried to convey to them how much I wanted an opportunity.

Coolidge and Morneau, who also works on a NASCAR pit crew, share an apartment in Charlotte.

“He’s the rear tire carrier on the No. 70 car now and we get along perfectly,” Coolidge said. “We grew up racing together at Oxford, so having him down there really eased the transition for me when I made the big move.”

Coolidge recently secured a deal with Dave Blaney’s No. 10 car in the Busch Series, where he’ll work pit stops when the Cup and Busch events are held at the same track on the same weekend.

It’s a busy life with lots of travel, incredibly long hours and plenty of sweat, but the pros far outweigh the cons for Coolidge.

“If I didn’t ever go down there and at least give it a try, I’d regret it for the rest of my life,” Coolidge said. “I’m glad I saw it through, because it’s starting to pay off for me.”

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