Ryan Langley lives life in the fast laneRyan Langley can call his life a lot of things – but he can’t call it boring. The 1996 graduate of Cloquet High School holds one of the highest-pressure jobs in sports – as well as one of the most dangerous. He works on a NASCAR pit crew.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
Ryan Langley can call his life a lot of things – but he can’t call it boring.
The 1996 graduate of Cloquet High School holds one of the highest-pressure jobs in sports – as well as one of the most dangerous.
He works on a NASCAR pit crew.
As the right-front tire man for Michael Waltrip Racing’s David Reutimann, Langley travels the country each week in support of the “00” car – and has now been involved in the sport for 10 seasons.
“I’ve always been interested in racing,” Langley said this week from his home in Cornelius, N.C. “While some people in school asked about it, not everyone was interested in watching a bunch of guys
driving around in circles for hours.”
Langley, though, was hooked. After watching a Daytona 500 race while in high school, he had an idea of what he wanted to do for his future career.
However, he took a roundabout way first, if you’ll pardon the expression.
“I went to college for a few years because you’re supposed to,” he said. “I didn’t do well there. My heart wasn’t in it.”
Langley attended North Dakota and UMD but finally realized he wanted to do something else.
“High school was easier, I didn’t have to work all that hard,” he said. “College was different and I wasn’t willing to work at it. I wondered what I was going to do with my life.”
He found the answer on a website called jayski.com, a racing site heavy on gossip.
“It’s where anyone goes if you follow racing and they had a list of schools on that site to get into racing,” he said.
With that, Langley began his education to work on a pit crew.
“The students come in, a handful at a time, and it takes 10-12 weeks,” Langley said. “You come down to their school and they show you how to do certain crew functions, like set up cars, how to work pit stops and things like that. The ones that show promise might wind up with a job.”
Obviously, Langley was one, and in 2001 he was hired by Green Light Racing to work pit crew in truck racing. He worked his way up the ladder.
“I got a good recommendation and they paid me $375 a week,” he said. “We won a championship in 2003, I got on a Busch team, a Cup team, and now I’m on a good Cup team.”
More recently, Langley worked for Waltrip himself before landing a position on Reutimann’s crew for the current season.
During the week, Langley works in the team’s finishing and fabrication department, which does detail work on the cars you see racing each weekend.
“I didn’t have much experience working on cars when I started,” he said. “I worked on snowmobiles, lawn mowers and my own car, but now we do the final stuff like putting in dashboards, windows and finishing things.”
You might be surprised at how much work goes into putting a NASCAR vehicle on the track each week.
“It used to be that when you raced a car, if you liked how it ran you’d pull the motor, put in a new one, put new springs on it and send it back to the race track,” Langley said. “Now if we race at Charlotte one week, we can’t race the same car for another couple of months.”
In the meantime, the car is often almost completely rebuilt.
“New quarterpanels, new sides, whatever got nicked up or damaged gets painted, and anything that doesn’t look new gets taken off and painted,” Langley said.
Then, of course, there’s race day.
“Most of the races, except for the ones on the West Coast, we get up about four in the morning and go to the airport to get on a company plane,” Langley said. “Then you fly to the place you’re racing, and land near the track. The work day starts at about seven.”
At that point, Langley forgets about the car he’s helped to build, so he can concentrate on his race day job.
“I go straight to pit road and help set up the pit box,” he said. “We set up nine or 10 sets of tires, clean them, glue lug nuts on them, and do anything else we need to do to set up. Then we go to the garage for a team meeting about an hour before the race.”
At that point, crew chief Rodney Childers briefs the crew, and the pit coach will help the crews do stretching exercises before the race.
Then, the fun begins.
“They run the race,” Langley said. “Usually we’ll pit seven or eight times, but at Charlotte we did 13 stops in a longer race. Then when it’s done we tear things down, pack up the pit box and fly home. We get home about 11 at night.”
It’s a fast-paced life, but a good one.
“I can’t see doing a normal job, a cubicle job or a store somewhere,” Langley said. “My job is fun. People save up all year so they can go to a track a couple of times, and they walk up and down pit road and want to talk. Your job is what they are passionate about.”
Professional pride also plays a significant role in Langley’s life. Reutimann is 21st in the standings entering this weekend’s race, and Langley is ready to give and take good-natured smack talk with other crews.
“No matter how the car is running, the competition is great,” he said, “if we’re 27th and the car is junk, I want to get out there and move up a few spots. We all know guys in the other crews and there are bragging rights involved. We want to point at them and laugh.”
Between races and construction work, there’s also drilling for the dangerous work in the pits.
“We practice at least three times a week,” Langley said. “We do six pits each time we practice and we might also do drills when the car is stationary. Sometimes it might be a mental challenge, too. We know our jobs and we can do them blindfolded, but it is a precision thing. If you don’t do it for three to four weeks, you get rusty.”
Then there’s the matter of his driver. Langley gets along well with Reutimann.
“I love him,” Langley said. “He’s not ‘too good’ to do anything. He never gives up. I’ve watched drivers quit driving if they don’t like the car. They quit driving a car and start riding in it. He could have laid down on the road courses that aren’t his style of driving, but he hung in there.”
Langley has found the adjustment to the “good ol’ boy” world of NASCAR to be surprisingly easy.
“A very small percentage of people in the business are from around here,” he said. “There are a lot from the West Coast, Washington, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, people from all over the country.”
That said, Langley has developed a slight Southern twang to his voice.
“People from here say I still have a northern accent and others say I don’t,” he laughed. “I wish I didn’t. I wish I sounded like a kid from northern Minnesota. I don’t like my accent, and I still refuse to say ‘y’all.’ I still say ‘you guys.’”
With luck, he’ll be fighting his accent for a long time.
“I hope to have another 10-15 years,” Langley said. “As far as changing tires, it’s hard on the knees because you have to run around the car and drop onto your knees. After nine years I still feel great. There are guys in their mid-40s changing tires and I think I feel good enough to do that (Langley is 33).”
All that said, Langley knows he owes a great debt to his family for his career.
“My parents supported me when I decided that college wasn’t for me,” Langley said. “My mom wanted me to
finish college but we knew it wasn’t working. Now I’d do well in school. I love
learning and anything new so it would suit me now.”
But just to show how complete the
transformation has been in the Langley household, Ryan has one more story.
“They could have given me a hard time, but they didn’t,” he said. “They moved me down here and helped me out to pay for what I needed. Now my mom is on
jayski.com and is asking me what rumors I’ve heard. I get most of my information about NASCAR from my mom!”