His life is the pits

Published 8:43 am Friday, May 8, 2009

RICHMOND—A Southampton High School graduate has an up-close view at NASCAR races.

Lee Dodson, 21, works on the pit crew of the No. 09 Sprint Cup car.

On Saturday, before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Dodson, the son of Jack and Sheryl Dodson of Courtland, took some time to talk about his job.

Dodson said he first became interested in racing when he was 3 years old and helping his dad race mini stock cars at a track in Capron.

“That was what I did every Saturday night until I was probably 10 or 11 years old,” he said. “Once I got to be old enough to drive, they ended up getting rid of everything. So we went to Southampton Motor Speedway and ran every night for 10 or more years.”

Dodson said he had a choice in high school between racing and baseball but the decision wasn’t easy.

“I was really heavy into baseball, but I was really heavy into racing as well,” he said.

Racing eventually won out.

“I got on with a Hooters Pro Cup team, working for driver Travis Miller,” Dodson said. “That was just a learning experience for me. I was just getting started out in big-time racing. I did that for about nine months and after that I just started going down to Charlotte, N.C., just trying to get my foot in the door talking to teams everywhere.”

Dodson said his nagging paid off because he “finally got a job at Wood Brothers JTG Racing.”

He did that for a year and continued to work for the team for another two years after it split into two teams.

He was laid off in November 2008 and began the job-hunting process over again.

“I had been looking for work for about three months and did the same thing over again — going into shops and talking to people. Then I got this deal in South Carolina. It’s a little bit of a drive but its better than nothing and it took me two races to get my first win.

It’s hard to believe that two months ago I was sitting at home, waiting for work … and trying to get my foot back in the door.”

Dodson said he has already experienced highs and lows in the field.

“My career low was definitely getting laid off last November,” he said. “I was 21 years old and wasn’t really expecting to experience that this early in my profession. Starting out at 18, I was on top of the world working for a decent team and getting the experience. My career high was definitely winning at Talladega and finally getting to Victory Lane. It’s an experience I wish a lot of people could feel. That’s probably the high of the highest. Seeing as where I was two months ago it was pretty good.”

As for the actual job, Dodson said, “I just work the shop and I help them set things up with the crew chief and the other guys. I just learn more about setup work, putting the cars together, suspension work and stuff like that. I just help them out when I get on the road. I make changes if there are any changes during practice and getting the car ready for the race. The pit crew guys take over the pit crew during the race. During the race I provide pit support. I pull the tires, pull the hose and stuff like that during the race.”

During the week, he stays in the shop and gets cars ready for the next week.

“We do safety checks, look over the car, make sure nothing’s going to fall off and stuff like that,” he said. “Everybody digs in and gets their job done.”

Despite his success in racing, Dodson said he hasn’t forgotten about baseball.

“I still have a passion to play baseball anytime I can,” he said. “I go out and throw. I watch a lot of college sports. I’m a big N.C. State Wolfpack fan.”

Dodson also is the grandson of Marvin and Pauline Dodson of Courtland and Harvey and Carolyn Porter of Newsoms.