How I Got Here with Nick Terry

Motor Racing Outreach chaplain Nick Terry speaks at a chapel service. (Courtesy of Nick Terry)

Each week, I ask a member of the motorsports community to shed some light on their career path and journey to how they reached their current position. Up next: Nick Terry, chaplain for Motor Racing Outreach.

Can you start by telling us a little bit about what you do for MRO?

I’m one of the chaplains for Motor Racing Outreach. MRO is in its 30th season of being out here with the NASCAR community, and so I serve as chaplain over the course of 24 weekends for my schedule. Billy (Mauldin), who’s one of the other folks from MRO, does the other 14. So one of us is always out here. I serve as chaplain out here through the whole entire race weekend for those weekends that I’m covering.

That’s a lot of time on the road and a lot of time involved with the NASCAR community. And you were involved in the NASCAR community before you came into this role. But how did it all start for you? Were you interested in NASCAR growing up?

Actually, I was not. I had never even been to a race or been around racing in any capacity. I graduated high school in 1997 and I went to high school with Shane Hmiel, who was into racing. I knew Shane from school, so in 1999, I decided to go and watch him race one weekend at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro. And as soon as I got there and saw what was happening, I was like, my first response was like, “How have I never experienced this?” Like, “This is awesome. Cars, racing, people yelling at the cars, people are into it and there’s just so much happening.” I couldn’t believe I’d lived my whole life never experiencing racing in any capacity.

And so I fell in love with it that night, and immediately was hooked and I was kind of in a season of life where I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go. So with that newfound passion for racing, that kind of planted something in my heart for something I felt like I wanted to do further on from there.

What was going to be your path if you had never gone to the race that night?

That’s a good question. I have no idea. That’s what I was trying to answer in that season of life myself.

So once you got into it, how did you actually break into doing it for a career?

I didn’t know anybody in the racing community at all other than just going to school with Shane. I knew absolutely nobody. So I enrolled at Forsyth Tech Community College in Winston-Salem and took their race car technology program. Bill Wilder was the instructor of that program, and he’s raced Modified cars for years. So I enrolled in school there and really just went in and gave it everything I had. Wanted to learn and soak up as much as I could, and so graduated from there, was very successful, graduated at the top of my class and so I did that and I also helped Bill with his race cars after school and in the evenings. And then I went with him to the racetrack on the weekends. So that was kind of the foundation that gave me some skills to kind of get started.

So prior to that point in enrolling, you didn’t have any technical knowledge or anything like that?

None at all.

So completely learning on the go, hands-on kind of thing? That had to be difficult to pick that up.

It was challenging. And to this day, race cars are much easier for me to work on than street cars.

So how did it evolve from there?

One piece of the puzzle I don’t want to leave out before I move on to that is while I was in school, after I’d help Bill, I also got a part-time job for a small race team called Taylor Motorsports. And out of that team, Clay Campbell, the president of Martinsville Speedway, raced a Limited Late Model, and so I actually ended up crew-chiefing his Limited Late Model car and we won the championship that year.

So I’d go to school during the day, and then work a part-time job somewhere else, and then work a part-time job taking care of his race car, setting it up, bringing it to the racetrack every week, and then spotting for him. And so that was a definitely an important piece to my story.

So you’re in college and crew-chiefing for the president of Martinsville Speedway? That’s pretty cool.

We had some good times. I remember one time, he flew in on a helicopter to the race at Caraway. I’m like, “What is going on here? Who am I to be living this experience?”

So once you got done with school, obviously there’s a lot of race teams, a lot of different options. How did you go from there?

Bill Wilder got me an interview set up at RCR and (former vice president of competition) Bobby Hutchens was the one that interviewed me. They didn’t have a lot of opportunities for entry level at that time, but one of the opportunities they had was to drive the pit practice car and to glue the lug nuts and set up the wheels and tires for the pit crews. And so they offered that to me and I said, “Absolutely, I’ll take it.”

So I took that job and then on the weekends, I was pitting for Toby Robertson, who is T. Wayne Robertson’s son. I pitted for him in the Hooters Pro Cup series and I’d drive to those races on Saturday night as a jackman and then I’d come back to RCR on Monday and get the pit practice stuff ready and set up for the teams.

The whole time, I’m driving the car into these world-class pit crews, and I’m just watching everything they do, everything the jackman does from out the side windows as I sit in the car, picking up bits and pieces about things that I thought that different ones did well, trying to create my own style. And then at the end of the day, I’d stay after work and I would just practice myself on the car.

So like the car would be sitting there that you had just driven and you’d just take the jack and just go around the side, run around?

I’d practice my runarounds, pulls, pulling the tires off and things like that.

How long from when you started doing that to when you actually started getting opportunities as a jackman on the NASCAR side?

I got hired there in 2002. In 2003, one of the guys for the Xfinity Series, or Busch Series at the time was not there for practice that day, so I just kind of raised my hand and said, “Hey, I can do this. I can fill in.” And David Smith was the pit coach who was on Dale Earnhardt’s team for a long time. Finally, I talked him into letting me practice with the team and they let me go and I could see that it was kind of the eyebrow raised, like, “Oh he really can do it.”

It was a 14-second pit stop, which felt really fast for me at the time. So I got to fill in for practice, and then he actually missed a race for a wedding, and so I filled in for him and ended up getting a full-time spot on one of the Xfinity teams for 2003 and also for 2004.

Who was the driver that you pitting for back then?

In 2003, it was Ron Hornaday in the AC Delco car, and 2004 was a split ride with Kevin Harvick and I believe it was Johnny Sauter.

So it was just a matter of once you have your foot in the door, just proving yourself and showing people that you can do it?

It was. It was all about timing, and you can’t even control it. Just being at the right place at the right time, and when the opportunity came, being ready. I also got that opportunity leading into the Cup Series, and so just taking advantage of the opportunity you get.

Was Harvick the only driver you ever worked for on the Cup side of things?

Nope. I worked for Harvick most of the time there, but also pitted Clint Bowyer a couple of years and also Casey Mears when he drove the 07.

So you’re going along your career as a jackman, it’s going smoothly, you’ve made it to Cup, you’re successful. How long total were you a jackman on the Cup side?

Race fans will remember this, but one of the races at Richmond (in 2003), Harvick got into an altercation with Ricky Rudd and there were some crew guys suspended the next week. And so I got to fill in for the Cup guys. That went really well. I filled in at Loudon, New Hampshire, and we were pitted between the 18 and the 24 that day and I just thought it was so cool.

But the pit stops went well, so that kind of created some fill-in opportunities for me. And then in 2005 was when I got a position full-time on the 29 for Harvick. I pitted full-time in the Cup Series from 2005 to the end of 2011.

At the end of 2011, I assume that’s when you start making the transition to the opportunity you have now. How can you explain how you go from pit crew member to chaplain? That’s gotta be a very unique transition, I imagine. What was going on in your life then, and how did that thought process come to be?

It actually happened a long time before 2011. In 2007, we won the Daytona 500 and it was just an incredible weekend and such a special moment. After that, even as special as it was, I began to have a new passion for other things. Really, that passion was not so much for victories or the success within the sport, but I had really fallen in love with the people in the sport more than anything.

As a pit crew guy, you always know that that day will come eventually like, “What am I gonna do next? I’m getting older and slower, and everybody else is getting younger and faster. What am I gonna do next?”

And so the thing that I was really passionate about for me was ministry. I wanted to be in ministry full time, and that’s what my heart was passionate about. So I spent the last three years of my over the wall career preparing for that transition, preparing financially. I went to Liberty University online to get the degree I felt like I needed to do that.

Even within that, I didn’t plan for it to be with MRO, but MRO had been very close to me through the years — they had been my church because I spent 38 weekends on the road. And so I loved what they did, loved who they were, and so as I was kind of pursuing what was next for me, they were in a season where they were looking for somebody. So it just kind of came up.

I think the first time it ever came up, it was kind of in a joking way: “Hey, maybe I could do this.” And they were like, “Yeah, maybe you could do this.” And I don’t know if any of us thought that maybe it was actually a reality, because they never had a chaplain who could do an 11-second pit stop. They only had guys who had been pastors for 20-something years. So it was a completely different road for them and for me, both of us.

Making a change like that has got to be really tough, and you have to trust your gut that you get called toward a certain direction. Even though you said eventually you have to think about what comes next, how did you know that was what you wanted to do?

The one specific moment would have been actually flying home from the race after winning the 500. I remember it was the greatest feeling in the world after winning that race — it felt so good because I had gone from guy who knew nobody in racing to standing in victory lane in Daytona, pushing the car to the museum on Monday.

And you know, flying home that Monday, I just remember with my faith, I was praying and I just felt like in my prayer time that as I was praying, I was just thinking, “God, this is the greatest feeling in the world, and this must be what heaven feels like” — and it was as if God whispered in my ear: “Not even close to what I’ve prepared for you.”

And that became the moment for me where I’m like, “I think I’m gonna stop pursuing the racing and pursue the people and help people grow in their faith, help people to grow closer in their walk with God. But particularly these people here that I’ve fallen in love with the last 10 years of my life before doing that, and to help them with the culture, the challenges they face.”

Man, it’s tough to travel out here for 38 weeks a year. It’s tough on families, it’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot on the line, there’s a lot of ups and a lot of downs. And I felt like the 10 years that I’ve spent out here doing that was just in preparation for this role. So I did know, and once I knew, I was completely committed to that process of what was next.

But it was uncomfortable. I remember the first time I walked in the garage as a chaplain, I was like, “This feels weird. I’ve been coming here for 10 years not in this role, so this one feels really odd.”

It sounds like what you’re saying is you sort of got to the top of the mountain after this long climb — or after you thought was the top — and then you just realized, “There’s so much more for me.” So after you make that transition, did you find that it was as fulfilling as you hoped right away?

I 100 percent feel this is what I’m supposed to be doing. And that doesn’t mean it’s always easy; it’s tough because people come here to race. They don’t always come for what MRO is doing. But yet when they need us, we’re here, and that’s what we do. We’re just here for people as they need us and as we can serve them and care for them in any capacity they need.

Obviously you had relationships in the garage, but how much did you have to do as far as meeting new people? Like when you’re going around to these drivers and their families, I mean, did you know a lot of them already?

It was a combination. I still am meeting new people out here every day, and I certainly did have to meet new people. I would say there’s a lot of people that still don’t know my story. They just know me as MRO chaplain and probably don’t even know that racing ever existed in my life. But a lot of them do, and so it was a combination for sure. There’s both.

But I look back and while I didn’t do it all perfect as a crew guy, I’m thankful that I tried to live my live even then that would be worthy of the calling that I have now. Not perfect; I certainly know what it feels like to lose it at Darlington on a frustrating night. But I think that goes a long way with people, because I’m like, “Hey, I know what it feels like. I know how difficult it is to control emotion. It’s an emotional sport, and I haven’t always controlled mine. So I’m certainly not telling you to do something that I’ve felt the difficulty in trying to do just as well as yourself.”

I’ve always tried to be honest with people that give me the opportunity to speak into their lives out here and hopefully be relatable.

If somebody is reading this and are like, “Wow, that is just a really cool thing. I have a deep faith, I would love to help people,” in the way you have — how do you recommend people get started on that path?

So we actually have an umbrella of MRO chaplains around the country who are serving at local short tracks. And so they do it under our training, it’s called the MROA (Motor Racing Outreach Association). So we have different chaplains serving around the country. Most of them work full-time jobs during the week and go and do that on the weekends at wherever their local track is. So that’s primarily one of the ways that people are kind of able to do what we do on a different level.

In the race community out here, with these three series, Trucks, Xfinity and Cup, there are people scattered all over the country, and a lot of times we utilize those folks. It’s a pretty tight-knit family. It’s a small world, really, when it comes to racing, whether it’d be someone at this dirt track up here, they know somebody in this community and vice versa. But yeah, there’s always opportunity.

7 Replies to “How I Got Here with Nick Terry”

  1. Great interview. Have always thought he had special understanding of those involved.
    The scrum he mentions between Rudd (I was a Rudd fan) and Harvick was priceless. Delana reached into the scrum (never knew how she did it) like a good Mama Bear and snatched Kevin out – I have been a Delana fan ever since.

  2. My two favorite people in NASCAR- Nick Terry and Jeff Gluck! Both have encouraged and inspired my life by the millions! Great interview! Can’t wait to see you both again!

  3. Love this interview. LOVE MRO & their ministry. My husband & I try to support MRO all we can.

  4. Nick Terry…….thank you for the many examples of Christ and leadership you gave us all on the 29, 07 and 33 teams. Everyday something comes up that reminds me of the lessons we learned as a team and in our faith! Thank you for being so influential in a time when we needed faith and encouragement. So incredible how many people you have reached in Motorsports and beyond! Extremely proud of what you have accomplished and the lives you continue to touch!

  5. Thank you for writing this great article Jeff. I’ve been a FB friends of Nick’s for several years. He’s truly a man of God. I would have never known he had such hands on experience in racing. It takes a special person to leave thier family every week to go share God’s word. MRO is a great organization. I pray many blessings over Nick, his beautiful family and MRO.

  6. Just beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. One of the things I love most about NASCAR is the way they don’t EVER try to hide their belief in God and Jesus Christ our Saviour. Thank You, Nick Terry, Billy Mauldin and the rest of the MRO staff for being there for all who need you.

    I saw several tweets about this interview and they weren’t wrong this was fantastic. Thank You Jeff for taking us into the lives of these special people, we would otherwise know nothing about.

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