Feature Story

Right Place, Right Time For Caleb Hurd

CHARLOTTE, N.C.- - Fans of Jeff Gordon might know Caleb Hurd as the catch can holder on race day pit stops. It's a high pressure environment to produce 14 second pit stops every time. But the town of Blacksburg, Virginia knows that Hurd has a knack for working under the pressure.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hurd joined the football team at Pulaski County (Va.) High School "because everyone else did." Following graduation in 1996 he attended Virginia Tech. He was a walk-on to the Hokies football team and made the team as a field goal holder. Hurd was the holder for Hokies kicker Shayne Graham, his second cousin, for four years. The reason? He was his holder in high school. Pulaski County coach Joel Hicks noted that the number of reps the two players put in numbered "in the thousands." One of the biggest holds of his career came in the 1999 season.

An early season showdown with West Virginia loomed. The Mountaineers had taken a 20-19 lead late in the game. Virginia Tech drove to the West Virginia 26 yard line as time wound down in the fourth quarter. Graham and Hurd trotted onto the field with a chance to win the game. Graham hit the 44-yard, game-ending field goal that beat West Virginia 22-20. Virginia Tech would go on to play Florida State for the national title that season.

Jon Wilt and Mike Abbott, two graduate students at Virginia Tech, created a "Hurd For Heisman" web site. Their efforts were featured on ABCSports.com and on various radio shows and newspapers. While coming onto the field for the Hokies game against Clemson in September 1999, he saw a "Hurd for Heisman" banner. "I thought it was one of my friends doing something fun," he said, laughing. "But I found out some random graduate students had just thought it would be fun to fix something up for the holder. They ended up making a Web site." Suddenly, the obscure field goal holder had gained national recognition. Of course, Hurd's bid for the Heisman came up a bit short. Well, actually, he received no official votes.

"Talk about a kid who has lived the dream life," Glenn Hurd, Caleb's older brother by 10 years, told The Roanoake Times. "I used to take him to Tech football games and what's he do? He walks on from Pulaski County High School and plays four years at Tech. They go to bowl games every year, they go to the national title game his senior season. And, as kids, our father used to take us to races." Hurd was named after NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough. "Now he's in racing working for a guy like Jeff Gordon," Glenn added. "So no wonder I find myself living my life through Caleb."

The NFL didn't exactly come calling for Hurd. But he was interested in NASCAR. At the conclusion of the 1999 football season, he sent a letter and resume to many of the top Winston Cup teams. Brian Whitesell, the team manager for Jeff Gordon's operation, received one of his letters. Whitesell, a Virginia Tech graduate (1987), took an interest. "Brian actually came to Tech for a speaking engagement for some reason and I ran into him and we sat down and talked," Hurd recalled last year. "The hardest part is knowing somebody. There are 100 engineers who want to get in. But he had kept up with Tech football and he knew me from that. We had had that really good 1999 year and he tried to find something for me. It was a huge break."

Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer, a fan of Gordon's racing career, sent Whitesell a letter on Hurd's behalf. Hurd spent the summer of 2000 doing a college internship at Hendrick Motorsports. "I did some R&D (research and development) work with them," Hurd said. "Apparently, I worked out pretty well and Brian said when I graduated I could come back full time, and that's what I've done." He graduated from Virginia Tech with a mechanical engineering degree and moved to the Charlotte area.

In 2001 Hurd worked with Jimmie Johnson's start-up team by helping to install data acquisition sensors on the car and downloading the data produced at the track. During the off-season Hurd received a good break. Jason Burdett, the catch can holder on Gordon's pit stops, moved over to the #48 team as chief mechanic. Hurd then moved onto Gordon's pit crew as the catch can holder on race days.

"I was surprised that I, having no previous pit road experience, was able to go out and win a job on the seven-man team," Hurd admits. But Tech apparently played its part. "Getting a mechanical engineering degree helped me become an engineer for these teams and playing football helped me to become a pit crew member," he said.

"I work as an engineer all week, with the data acquisition system, when we go to test and stuff like that," Hurd said. He works 50-55 hours from Monday through Friday in the shop. On weekends, he flies in a Hendrick-owned jet to the racing site with the other race day crewmen. "Talk about an early wake-up call. We're leaving out of here at 4:30 in the morning a lot of time," said Hurd.

On pit stops, Hurd is the crewman standing at the left rear bumper. After Jeff Craven, the gas carrier, plugs the first can into the car's fuel snout, Hurd's job is to hold the 11-gallon tank in place as it dumps fuel. He then tosses the empty can over the wall to another crew member, then assumes his catch-can duties as Craven dumps a second can of gas in the car. When his catch-can starts collecting gas, Hurd raises his arm high, his signal to jackman Jeff Cook that the car is full of fuel.

One of Hurd's most memorable weekends came in May 2002 at Richmond. The Saturday night race was postponed until Sunday due to rain. Though the team scrambled to find hotel rooms for its crew members, they were unable to find vacancies in the area. The crew members flew home for the night and would return the following morning. "I walked in the door of my house at 2:10 am and woke up at 5am to get back," said Hurd. "They tried to find us rooms. It didn't work out." Following the race at Richmond, Hurd flew home to the Charlotte area. But the whirlwind didn't end. The next morning he flew to Kansas City for Gordon's two days of testing at the track.

He did confess that he wasn't much of a Gordon fan until he landed the job at HMS. "Of course, now I would like for him to win every week," Hurd said of Gordon. His wife, Courtney, also works for HMS as a secretary.

Eventually he hopes to become a crew chief, but that's a long way down the road. "I had always liked racing and I thought with my degree I could try and get in that and that would be just as big for me," Hurd said. "And now look. Here I am."

+Caleb Hurd at work during Jeff Gordon's pit stop on race day
+Caleb is interviewed by John Carlin from NewsChannel 10 in Virginia

Previous Features

Jeff Gordon Online

Copyright 2002 Jeff Gordon Online.
author's email
All rights reserved.