Say it out loud: “Dax Hollifield NASCAR Pit Crewman.” It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
For the past five years, Hokie Nation has known him as “Dax Hollifield Virginia Tech Linebacker.” He was a captain and the emotional leader of the team. He played as a true freshman, finishing his college career with the fourth-most tackles in school history. Because he loved football and Virginia Tech so much, he decided to use his COVID year of eligibility and return for a fifth season.
So how did a guy with football in his veins end up in a NASCAR pit crew? Just like so many other success stories…with a lot of hard work, and a lot of determination, and a little luck.
A Short Stint as a Jacksonville Jaguar
When Hokie Nation last heard from Dax (prior to his #NewBeginnings tweet), he had signed a free-agent contract right after NFL Draft weekend concluded. I spoke to him about his NFL Draft hopes and expectations, which you can read here.
Unfortunately, the former Hokie was not selected, but as most figured, he was offered a contract as a free-agent. The morning after the draft concluded, Hollifield received a call from the Jacksonville Jaguars inviting him to their rookie mini-camp. Virginia Tech fans quickly congratulated him, dubbing his new destination “Daxonville.”
— BobG (@BobGVT) May 1, 2023
On the one hand, it was a dream come true for Hollifield, as he got his wish to earn a tryout at an NFL camp. However, the situation was less than ideal, as Jacksonville had the largest draft class of the year (13 players selected).
In addition, the Jaguars used their fourth-round pick on Ventrell Miller, a linebacker from the University of Florida. They were packed at Hollifield’s position, and there just weren’t enough spots available across the roster. After just a few days, Hollifield was released.
The former Hokie is proud of himself, though. “I held my own out there, I did,” Hollifield said. “I caught a pick, I did really well.” He feels that the coaches liked him, he knew the playbook well, he didn’t miss an assignment all weekend, and he got a few shout-outs in the meeting rooms. But it wasn’t enough.
“It just wasn’t in the cards for me,” he added. “You just gotta get lucky sometimes.”
Unfortunately, luck was not with Hollifield in the Not For Long League, but it was about to change in another way.
Just prior to Hollifield’s trip to Jacksonville, he was contacted by NASCAR pit crew recruiter Deven Dittrich. According to Hollifield, Dittrich had been in touch with Virginia Tech strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt IV and asked for guys who fit certain criteria. (For years, NASCAR has been recruiting former athletes for their pit crews.)
Dittrick was looking for former athletes who were good football players that were also good in the weight room. “Maybe not enough talent to make it to the league,” Hollifield said, “but still a really good football player, athletic, and a good culture guy.” The Hokies’ captain fit that profile, so Dittrick recruited him to try out for the Hendrick Motorsports or Trackhouse teams.
At the time, though, Hollifield was still pursuing his NFL dream, so Dittrick would have to wait.
After leaving Jacksonville, Hollifield returned home to Shelby, North Carolina and continued to work out, contemplating another tryout in the NFL or one in the USFL while enjoying his time with his family. By July though, Hendricks, who had been in contact with Hollifield through Dittrick, called again. This time, Hollifield made the move.
“I didn’t think I could pass up an opportunity like this,” Hollifield said of his decision to give up football and join NASCAR. “There’s very few people who get this opportunity.” It was a career that he could see for himself in the long run.
On July 15, he attended a Rookie Mini-Camp for Hendricks. Yes, just like the NFL, the NASCAR team brought in the former football player for a three-day tryout.
“I went there every day, I worked out with the guys, and I’d pit with them,” Hollifield said. “They’d see if I had the skillset and if I fit the culture.”
Obviously he did, because after the weekend was over, he got the call with the good news. He signed his contract and was ready for #NewBeginnings. He started working July 31, and one month later, he was pitting in Daytona!
— Dax Hollifield (@ChiefDax_25) September 7, 2023
A New Job But Not Really a New Routine
Hendricks Motorsports fields four full-time Chevrolet teams on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit with drivers Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman. Their vice-chairman is NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon, and they are headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina.
After signing his contract with them, Hollifield made the one-hour drive from Shelby to the Hendrick Headquarters to start his new career. When he got there, the former Virginia Tech linebacker was surprised at how similar it was to football.
“Every day we go in, we practice, we watch film, we lift,” explained Hollifield. “We get extra work on our own, and then every weekend we travel.” He said it is very similar to the experience he had at Virginia Tech. And most of his fellow pit workers played college football at some level, so he feels like he fits in really well. “It’s pretty cool. I really enjoy it.”
Hollifield’s Actual Pit Crew Responsibilities
The “official” Dax Hollifield NASCAR pit crew job title is “jackman.” As he explains it, “There are five pit crew guys that can go over the wall at a time. So there’s a jackman, there’s a tire carrier, there’s two changers, a front and a rear, and there’s a fueler.
“I jack both sides of the car up, and I index, which is basically putting on the right front and the left rear tires.” The changing of four tires and the refueling must be executed swiftly. “They want that done in around nine seconds.”
Hollifield described his role more specifically. “The first thing I do is jump over the wall, and then I peg and pump the right side of the car.” In layman’s terms, he puts the jack at a specific location on the car frame and elevates it with one strong pump of the long handle.
“That’s really where the power cleans and the things of being a linebacker, being explosive comes into play because it’s not an easy movement. You have to have some leverage and be explosive throughout the whole entire movement.”
The tire carrier simultaneously brings two tires out onto pit row, dropping one off to Hollifield’s right. Once the car is elevated, the front changer takes off the front wheel, then Hollifield puts on the new tire, which the changer then secures.
“As soon as both tires are tight on the right side, I grab the jack, and I run around the car. And the run around the car is like a defensive end bending around the edge. They want you as tight to the car as possible. It’s exactly like running hoops at football practice.”
Once on the other side, Hollifield repeats the process. He jacks the car up and puts on the new tire to his right – but now it is the rear tire. And those tires are heavy! They can weigh anywhere from 60 to 80 pounds!
Once he lowers the jack the second time and it is all clear, the driver leaves the pit stop and resumes the race, while Hollifield and the pit crew clean up from that stop and prepare for the next one (they can expect four to six stops in a given race).
For those who are still not fully clear on what exactly the pit crew does, take a look at this one-minute video of a pit stop. Note how the team works together so swiftly. There are a lot of moving parts, but note what the man with the car jack does – he lifts up the car in one pump, then puts the new tire on so the changer can tighten the lug nut. That is Dax Hollifield’s pit role.
How Football has Prepared Hollifield for Pitting
The strengths and skills needed to succeed in this new job are the same ones that Hollifield needed to be successful on the gridiron. Strength and explosiveness and flexibility and reacting quickly are just a sampling of what is needed to be good at this, and Hollifield developed these skills at Virginia Tech over the last five years.
“It’s a very athletic movement,” he said. “It coincides with football and linebackers and tight ends and running backs really, really well.
“You have to be an athlete. To run around the car you have to have bend. And you have to be strong and explosive, and you have to be flexible,” remarked Hollifield “It’s like playing linebacker. It really is.”
And that is just the physical side of it. As the jackman, Hollifield has to be on his toes mentally too. “You have to make reads,” he noted. “I index the right front tire, but if I look back and see the right rear tire isn’t on, I can’t drop the car yet.”
It all adds up to an exhilarating job that in so many ways mirrors the sport he loves so much. He especially likes the adrenaline rush when the car comes down pit row. “It’s like a third down in the middle of Lane Stadium.” Yeah, that’s an intense moment that we all know well!
The Now and the Future for Dax Hollifield and NASCAR
Currently, Hollifield is only pitting for the Xfinity series and the Craftsman Truck Series. On a typical weekend, there will be three races – the trucks on Friday, the Xfinity stock cars on Saturday, and the Cup Series stock cars on Sundays. Hollifield’s crew often pits for the Friday and Saturday races.
He does not do this for Hendrick Motorsports, though. They only have their four cars in the Cup Series with their set pit crews, so Hollifield’s crew is leased out to other groups (which is why we saw Spire Motorsports in his #NewBeginnings tweet). “I just get thrown around to whoever needs me,” he said. But he is fine with that, as he is still new to the job and appreciates the opportunities to work regardless of the company behind the car number.
However, for those NASCAR Cup Series races on Sundays, Hollifield is behind the wall for Spire Motorsports’ car 77. “Spire Motorsports, which owns the 7 and the 77 car, which I’m on right now, is sort of our developmental teams for Hendrick Motorsports.”
Thus, on Sundays, he is the sixth man of the pit crew, still learning the job while helping the team from the inside of pit row. He is learning the ropes with those guys. “There’s a lot to do behind the wall. Rolling in tires, throwing hoses, catching gas cans, there’s a lot to do.”
He will finish out the year, which goes through early November, then take a little time off before starting again in early February. He has aspirations to move up the ranks quickly. “Hopefully next year I’ll be on a Cup car,” he said. “That’s the goal. 100%. That’s everybody’s goal. If you can get on a house car, you’ve made it.”
That is the long-term goal, but for now, he is making the most of his new opportunity with a team that he feels is top notch. “I’ve really enjoyed my short time being with this organization,” admitted Hollifield. “I’m blessed to be here.”
Final Thoughts on Dax Hollifield NASCAR Pit Crewman
About a week before Hollifield sent out his #NewBeginnings tweet, I had reached out to the former Hokie captain to inquire about his football fortunes. It was through those series of texts that he told me of his new career with NASCAR, which led to this interview.
My initial reaction was probably the same as most in Hokie Nation when they heard the news when it recently broke: “How the heck did that happen??”
However, after hearing Hollifield describe his job and after watching a few pit crew videos, it totally makes sense! Hollifield was a linebacker, a natural position of leadership. He was a great cultural fit to Virginia Tech, so it is no surprise that he is a fit with Hendricks Motorsports.
He is strong, athletic, adaptable, and dedicated. He is a leader, and he is passionate, very passionate, especially in the heat of competition. The pit crew environment is right up his alley!
Hokie fans love to see former Tech players succeed in the NFL. Now we have one with the chance to succeed in another professional sport – NASCAR. It certainly helps that it is a popular sport in the footprint of the fanbase!
I think it is time for me – and you if you do not already – to start watching the sport. More specifically, I will be watching “DAXCAR” racing!
Good luck Dax, Hokie Nation is behind our captain!
To read more of my articles on Virginia Tech football, click here