Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Myers Equates Life In The NFL With NASCAR

This week’s NFL player draft and Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway will both be special events for Shannon Myers.

"Failure is not an option."
The Miami Dolphins drafted Myers in the seventh round of the 1995 NFL draft. After a professional football career hampered by injury, the speedy wide receiver out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina joined the NASCAR circuit in 2001 as a tire changer. Saturday night, he’ll change rear tires for driver Mark Martin’s No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine at Richmond.

The soft spoken Myers knows the importance this week holds for college football players and their families.
All your life you worked and hoped that one day you would be drafted and it all comes down to this day,” said Myers. “I didn’t care who took me. I just wanted to be drafted and get a shot to make the team. You have your family and friends around. They are probably even more excited for you than you are.”
Myers played American Legion baseball the day of the draft, but after the game joined the well-wishers at his mother’s North Carolina home. With frayed nerves from answering plenty of false-alarm calls from friends, Myers waited by the telephone and television.
“I went outside by myself so I could get some privacy, and got a call from Tom Bratz of the Miami Dolphins,” said Myers. “He asked me, ‘How would you feel about playing for coach Don Shula?’ I said I would be honored. A few minutes later he called back. He said, ‘Congratulations, son, we just drafted you. You are now a Miami Dolphin.’"
Myers walked back inside the house and gave everyone the thumbs up, unleashing a houseful of joyful tears and smiles. Within minutes, he gave interviews with the Miami media.
“You wait and wonder for so long that day,” said the now 38-year old Myers, who was Shula’s final draft pick that day. “It’s agony. When you get that call, you go from deflated to winning the Super Bowl. It was an eruption.”
Myers learned the plays and caught passes thrown by quarterback Dan Marino. He even spent Thanksgiving at the Hall of Famer’s house. His tenure with the Dolphins ended with a mini-camp kidney injury, but perseverance led to stints in Oakland, Tampa, Seattle and the New York Jets, as well as with teams in Canada and Europe.
His travels allowed him to learn from Super Bowl-winning coaches like Shula, Jimmy Johnson, Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren, Bill Parcells and Tony Dungy. He brought lessons from those coaches to NASCAR, after following a doctor’s suggestion to enter a pit crew developmental program at Petty Enterprises. He progressed through the NASCAR world, changing tires for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2004 Daytona 500 winning pit crew and won two Nationwide Series titles with Martin Truex Jr.
“Obviously, you have to have the physical ability, but from those guys I learned how to be a teammate,” said Myers. “It’s about knowing when to speak up, when to take coaching (and) learning to succeed as a team.”
Myers said the similarities between football and NASCAR are many.
“When you get to the top of any sport, everything gets faster,” he said. “Failure isn’t an option. You fight through failure, whether it’s in football or running in the top three at a race. It’s the hours that lead up to kick off or the drop of the green flag that are most nerve wracking. In football, once you take that first hit it rings that bell inside and you are trained to do your job. In racing, once you hit that first lug nut you know its game time and you get into a grind and training takes over.”
Myers said he expects more professional athletes to join over-the-wall NASCAR pit crews. A few tenths of a second saved in the pits translates into the difference between winning and losing races.
“I have to admit I didn’t know what to think about pit crew guys and NASCAR when I first considered the idea,” said Myers. “But these guys are the top of the line. To go over the wall and change a tire with 42 cars running inches from you takes incredible concentration. It’s all about training and performance so it’s not really much different than the NFL.”

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