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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

By Bethany Bradsher

Competitive fires keep Jeff Kerr jacked up


As an East Carolina linebacker in the late ‘90s, Jeff Kerr was known for his tenacity and his ability to read opposing offenses, to change his direction based on the way the other team moved when the play began.

Now, instead of maneuvering around receivers, Kerr is jacking up racecars on NASCAR’s pit row. And as the jackman for Martin Truex’s No. 1 car, Kerr must still respond to split-second clues from his environment in order to do his job right.

“Depending on what’s happening in the race, sometimes we have to make an adjustment,” he said. “The crew chief lets me know a minute before, or sometimes the minute you jump off the wall.

“Sometimes we have to jack up the left side, sometimes we make two tire stops, sometimes we roll it to the rear. It’s like in football, when you see a receiver go in motion, that changes everything from a defensive point of view.”

Kerr and his crewmates made a stir in the stock-car world on May 17 when they won first place in the Nextel Pit Crew Challenge, a competition they entered as an underdog as the crew for the 22nd ranked team.

The Truex team, which changed four tires, filled the tank with fuel and pushed the car 40-yards across a finish line in 25.44 seconds, claimed a $70,000 grand prize for the win, which was divided among the seven crew members. And Kerr hit pay dirt a second time in the individual competition, when he became the only double winner of the day by winning the jackman contest for another $10,000.

“I don’t care what it is, I just want to win,” he said. “Whether it's playing checkers, playing football or the pit crew championships. I don’t care about second place. Second place sucks.”

When he wore purple and gold from 1996-99, Kerr received All-Conference USA honors three times and set the sophomore record for tackles in a season with 167. When he graduated after serving as the defensive sparkplug on the Pirates’ stellar 1999 squad, he set his sights on continuing his football career, reporting to camp in Las Vegas for the now-defunct XFL.

But early in that camp, Kerr suffered his seventh concussion, and several doctors recommended that he sit out of football for a year to assess his future.

“They basically said, ‘You need to take a year off to re-evaluate,” he said. ‘And I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can make a living doing other things.’ ”

He set out to do that, and before long he had three different jobs: Working as a graduate assistant at UNC-Chapel Hill with former ECU strength coach Jeff Connors, waiting tables and bartending at night, and driving to Mooresville area on weekends to work as a jackman for Michael Waltrip’s race team.

“My brother-in-law is the pit coach at DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated) and he got me started in it,” Kerr said. “He taught me everything I knew about racing.”

Part of the reason that Kerr was over-employed in those days was his desire to buy an engagement ring for his girlfriend, former ECU basketball player Misty Horne. He made enough for the diamond and looked as his options. He decided to move closer to the NASCAR action, and soon he ended up on Truex’s team, which like Waltrip’s is owned by DEI.

Even though his position as jackman takes a good bit of time, it is still considered a part-time job, so Kerr also has a personal training business out of his home near Mooresville. Several of his 20 clients are children, he said, including a young basketball player, Tyler Lewis, who is ranked eighth in the country in his age group.

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02/23/2007 01:13:04 AM

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