Life in the fast lane

Monday, March 6, 2006

Alta man living out his dream of working in the NASCAR circuit

When Jon Bruns was a young boy, one of his favorite places to vacation with his parents, Doug and Carolyn Bruns, was Michigan to see his grandma. The fact that the Michigan International Speedway was only 20 miles down the road from her house was an added attraction.

And now, many years later, he is a pit crew member of one of the drivers that races at that track.

He has been totally hooked on "life in the fast lane" since he was 10, when his mom pointed out NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip (#17) who was eating in the same restaurant as them on one of their visits to Michigan. The young boy went right up to him and asked him for his autograph.

Over the next few years, Jon spent his summers attending the races at the Buena Vista Raceway - in the stands as well as in the pits. He and a friend also tried their skills at driving on the track in a $300 car and though it was fun - he came to realize that his dream to be a driver probably wasn't going to happen.

"I knew if I coudn't make it to the asphalt track at a young age, it wasn't going to happen. So I gave up that dream."

Working on cars was always another of his passions. While still a sophomore at Alta High School, Jon talked about reaching out for an automotive career. With his mom's help, he located a school in Winston Salem, NC listed on which sounded perfect; he and his parents even went down south to visit. The impression that the school made on him never left him.

Jon graduated from high school in 2000 and three months later he was enrolled in the technical school.

During the two and one-half year course he learned how to make repairs on regular street cars and eventually how to build a chassis and high performance motors.

Of the 25 students in class, only three, that he knows of, went on to pursue careers in the race car/truck field.

As many graduates, he struggled for awhile. His first position was working in shipping and receiving at a race car parts' warehouse.

Frustrated with making only minimum wage and knowing he had the skills to do so much more, he attended a seminar which dealt with how to get into the racing career. The speaker gave him a load of information including the ins and outs of the business and how to develop the perfect resume. He was also made aware of additional training he could receive on how to be a pit crew member. It was work during the day, classes at night, but he didn't seem to mind because he knew that the hard work and dedication would eventually pay off for him. He learned the skills required - including how to jump the retaining walls and how to do it quick carrying heavy equipment needed to make repairs, among other things.

After he completed the classes he felt even more confident in his skills. Those wishing to be a member of a pit crew "try out" for the jobs available. He tried out for a job with Rick Crawford (#14) and got the job! He was thrilled to have the chance to use his talent and even more about fabrication but was disappointed at the end of the season when he and five others were let go.

"The business is hard," Jon said. "You always try to keep the pit stops good and be the best you can. But if the driver is having a losing season, they may get rid of the crew." In this case, he said, the driver didn't win any races though he came in sixth in points for the season.

It was a good learning experience. "I got my seat wet there and learned more there in 11 months than I ever learned at school."

Soon, he learned that a new crew was being sought for PPC driver Terry Cook (#10). Jon joined the crew in January of 2004.

This series is all about ulta-exciting racing trucks.

"They are all hand-fabricated as far as the body goes and the same with the chassis - they're not stamped out or from the factory."

Doing the fabrication work, Jon said, is one of the best parts of the job.

It is definitely team work out on the track. Jon's job is the rear tire carrier while the other pit crew members specialize in other areas. He is proud to say that their record for changing four tires and filling up the trucks with 22 gallons of gas is 15.8 seconds!

But it is hard work. Some of the walls that the crew members have to jump over at top speed with their heavy equipment are three feet tall while others are only a couple inches.

"It's definitely a rush," he said of the job, "I played sports in high school - football, basketball and baseball - and I never would've thought I'd be a professional athlete and paid to do such a thing. We are athletes. We train three days a week and practice five days a week."

And in between, the crew members are in the shop making repairs. There are 10 trucks being worked on at a time with engines being replaced after every race. There are many rules and regulations to comply with.

During the off-season - mid-November to Feb. 1 - the crew spends often 11-hour days, seven days a week perfecting new trucks.

"We're really a close-knit bunch," Jon said. "We're like each other's family away from our families and Terry is a real good guy and comes to the shop to hang out with us."

Married to Monica, a North Carolina girl, Jon admitted he also enjoys the travel. She isn't able to make it to all the races but does travel to some of the closer ones.

Earlier in February, he was in Daytona and last week in California and this week there is a race in Mexico. The races are held in Kansas and at the Michigan International Speedway (which is where his love for racing began). Jon's parents have been able to attend the races at these two spots which makes Jon happy. "It's a good way to get to see my parents. I only make it back home about once a year." If Jon's dad had his way, he'd be at every race!

When Jon is not working, bet you can't guess where his favorite place to be is? The race track. He has a 15-year-old nephew nearby who races go carts and Jon likes to watch and assist him.

"You think we've seen enough but we live, breath and eat the race track," he said.

Terry Cook hasn't won a race yet while Jon has been a member of the crew, but it's been close and it will be a happy day for Jon and all the crew members when it does happen.

"There are 40 other people who are just as passionate as I am who want to win. We haven't been in victory lane yet; we've sweated hours and hours and hours but I think it will happen," he said with confidence.

Jon has made a point of going up to the Alta High School when he is home to check in. Mike Norris, who was one of Jon's coaches and teachers, has had him talk to the students about how he achieved his dream.

"I've talked to the seventh and eighth grade kids about thinking about their future. It's cool to talk to them about reaching for their goals. I'm living proof."

Though it is usually Terry who gets asked for an autograph, Jon admitted he has been asked a couple of times for his.

"That's pretty cool," he said.

As far as the race truck series, the PPC is considered the first step, or like high school, Jon said. The next step is the Busch series, which he compares to college. The "NBA" of the truck series is the Nextel Cup. He eventually would like to move up the ladder, but with that also comes more pressure to accept.

For now, he is satisfied with where he is.

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