Mark Singleton has spent time in war zones, on the Coastal Carolina football field and now he’s hitting up the NASCAR pits.
Singleton – who walked on to the Chanticleer football team in 2012 after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps – will work on the pit crew as a front tire changer for NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray on Sunday at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
That race in particular will hold special significance to him as NASCAR is honoring fallen veterans as part of Memorial Day weekend, and McMurray’s windshield will bear the name of Lance Corporal Scott Albert Lynch, who served with Singleton in Afghanistan.
Singleton served a four-year enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps, including a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan. He then pursued his goal of playing college football and made it through walk-on tryouts to earn a spot on the roster with the Chants in 2012.
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Singleton, who has been working in NASCAR since August, talked about where his life and career have taken him since his time with the Chants and about what it means to be a part of the sport’s recognition of the veterans this weekend.
Q: What have you’ve been doing since playing for the Chants?
Singleton: “So basically when I left Coastal I went back and did some more work overseas. I worked for the Department of State through kind of their third-party contractors and did some executive protection work in Baghdad, Iraq. While I was over there Telvin McClurkin [a fellow former walk-on with the Chants] was working for Roush Fenway Racing and he posted a picture on Facebook one night of him doing pit crew stuff, and that started a conversation between he and I. … I made some calls while I was still overseas and when I came home June of last year I attended tryouts.”
Q: What do tryouts involve for such a job?
Singleton: “The tryout consisted of basically a mock NFL Combine. We ran a lot of shuttles, did vertical jump and bench press tests, agility work and basically you did really just kind of an overall assessment of your coachability and athletic skills. And from there it turned into whether there was potential seen by the coaching staff or not, and if they liked what they saw they invited you back. Most teams run it like that, and the team I signed with, Chip Ganassi Racing, it was a little more getting to know you and seeing how you mesh with the guys. Because just like in football and in the military, it was all about how you interact and work with the other five guys you’re going to be working with.
“It was definitely a cool experience. It was always my desire to continue to pursue a professional athletic career. It just so happened that my athletic career would no longer stay on the football field – it would take place running in front of race cars and changing tires.”
Q: What car are you working with each week?
Singleton: “The car that I’m attached to on Sundays is the No. 1 car driven by Jamie McMurray. I work for him Sunday, and then there’s three series – the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the NASCAR XFINITY Series and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. For the XFINITY and Truck Series I work with a team called Gallagher Motorsports GMS Racing and I pit for those guys.”
Q: How stressful is a typical race day for you?
Singleton: “In the beginning race day was pretty stressful because you’re new to the environment and getting a feel for how things play out from the time the garage opens to the time the race concludes. Now you just get in a rhythm and you kind of get your own set schedule as far as how you go about setting up. Everybody’s different, but we have our own routine now. I change fronts so I work directly with the front carrier. We have the routine down and it makes for a pretty smooth day come race day.”
Q: But have there been any tense moments that stand out from this season?
Singleton: “There’s a couple times when you’re pitting for younger drivers where everybody gets into the pit box a little different. Pit road speed is 55 miles per hour. If you look at it like that, we [essentially] run out across [U.S.] 501 traffic everyday. We run out in front of the car, but it’s as structured and as safe as it can be while still be advantageous to the drivers getting in there and getting out pretty quickly. Once you get past that mental block that you have to run out in front of this speeding car and you hope he’s going to stop, you’re good to go.”
Q: How big of a fan of racing and NASCAR in particular were you before this?
Singleton: “My grandfather was a big fan of racing so I followed it through him a little bit, but the first race I ever attended was the first one I worked. To say that I was a diehard NASCAR fan is a false statement, but now that I’m in that spot it’s obviously increased my interest in it.”
Q: That’s interesting. Is that unusual among the pit crew community?
Singleton: “If you were to walk up and down pit road and talk to guys, there’s very few that have been doing it for 15-plus years. There’s probably maybe five on pit road that have done it that long. Most guys are fresh out of college or have five years into it and all these guys were athletes beforehand that were recruited. It’s become so competitive that it’s almost like the NFL now or MLB or the NBA. You look at a guy that comes fresh out of college that’s 21 years old and you compare his bench or his vertical or his 60-yard shuttle time to someone who’s in their 30s. The numbers speak for themselves. The lifespan of an extremely competitive pit crew member is, 10 years is probably getting pretty close to the next guy coming in.”
Q: What is NASCAR doing this weekend to honor veterans?
Singleton: “That’s the big piece. NASCAR is doing what they’re calling ‘600 Miles of Remembrance’ [during the Coca-Cola 600], and that is for fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen that are going to be represented on the cars that are running. Each of those cars are going to display the name of a fallen serviceman or servicewoman that lost their lives defending our country. They’re going to have their name across the front windshield instead of the driver, so in place of Jamie McMurray, we’re going to have the name of Lance Corporal Scott Albert Lynch, who served with me in Afghanistan. He was in my battalion and in my company for a while and he ended up making the move to weapons company, but we deployed together in 2010 to Marjah, Afghanistan. And on Kyle Larson’s 42 car [also part of Chip Ganassi Racing] they’re going to have Denis Miranda, a Navy SEAL who was killed in a helicopter crash conducting combative operations in Afghanistan. He was roommates during BUD/S (Navy SEAL training) with the jackman on the 42 car, Graham Molatch.”
Q: What does that mean to you to be involved in that tribute?
Singleton: “[I’m] obviously super appreciative from a personal level and it’s obviously extremely cool to see them honor all of these guys. It’s a pretty new tradition that they’ve started. I know they did it last year. This is my first full year in racing, but just to see what they’ve already done this far in the weeks leading up to it and now as Sunday approaches getting some insight into what’s going to happen on that day – I think there’s over 6,000 servicemen and servicewomen attending the race. That’s really special to see and means a lot.”