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From NASCAR pit crew to small-business owner

By Michael J. Solender
Correspondent

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  • From the track to the shop

    Ford says he sees many similarities between the teamwork on a race crew and the teamwork needed to run a successful business.

    Attention to detail: “I really emphasize details,” Ford said. “At the track everyone has essentially the same equipment, resources and personnel – what sets us apart is the attention on small details that when added up make a big difference. Our customers, for example, really appreciate that our delivery personnel are clean cut, in uniform and polite.”

    Communication: Ford also noted that coordination and communication are key at the track and just as key in business. “I have many people involved in a business transaction that need to be in the communication loop,” Ford said. “Just like at the track. The retailer, the customer, my delivery personnel, freight company, etc. – all need to be on the same page for us to be successful.”



T.J. Ford brings the same competitive nature to his growing furniture delivery business as he does to his “other job”: jack man on the pit crew for the No. 48 Jimmie Johnson team for Hendrick Motorsports, this year’s Daytona 500 winner.

Ford, 30, is aware that the physical demands of serving on Johnson’s pit crew will one day be too great. So he’s been quietly building his own business away from the track to fully position himself for the second act in his career – whenever that may come.

Channeling his passion for furniture and interior design, Ford started a white glove delivery service in 2008 to support furniture retailers and the design trade. He created The Delivery Connector to support furniture retailers who were tired of missed deliveries, poor customer service and unreliable delivery crews.

“The idea for the business came to me as I saw the poor level of support my friends in the retail business were receiving,” Ford said. “I was a victim of it, too, as I frequently has to take an entire day off to wait for deliveries during a huge window of time I was given. Then when they arrived, they were unprofessional and certainly didn’t reflect well on the retailer they were representing.”

Ford approached Rodney Hines, co-owner of The Furniture Connector, a South End retailer he’d done business with and wondered aloud whether he would work with him. Ford promised to provide top notch service, uniformed personnel, a tightly targeted delivery window and both a 30 minute advance pre-delivery call and a customer satisfaction follow up. Hines didn’t hesitate in telling Ford yes.

His first piece of business secured, Ford started with a rental truck and some buddies heading off on his own for the first series of deliveries.

Today his revenues are almost $500,000 annually. He leases more than 8,000 square feet of warehouse space to receive and stage deliveries, owns several delivery trucks, employs six, including his mother, has expanded his business to include local, regional and national moving as well as retail showroom installations, and provides service (receiving, inspection, storage and delivery) to the interior design trade.

Ford’s successful ride has not been without a few bumps in the road and more than a few bruises at the race track.

First motocross, then NASCAR

The Charlotte native and 2001 graduate of Northside Christian Academy began racing motocross competitively at age 14. The scores of championship wins didn’t come without a physical toll. By 21, Ford had already experienced seven concussions and dozens of broken bones.

“I started thinking about my next act all the way back then,” he said.

A shift underway inside many NASCAR pit crews was beginning to take shape about the same time Ford was pondering where to take his career. Led by innovative thinking at Dale Earnhardt International, many crews were looking to move away from shop-based pit crew members and more toward physically solid athletes with no experience who could be taught the ropes of a pit crew the right way from the ground up.

“One of my motocross mentors, Walt Smith, was affiliated with DEI and recruited me to try out for the crew,” Ford said. “I got the job and was on Paul Menard’s crew from 2003 to 2010.”

Ford was recruited to Hendrick Motorsports to join Johnson’s team in 2011 and has never looked back, enjoying the success of winning the Sprint 2012 Pit Crew Championship and this year’s Daytona 500. Though he travels extensively, he is involved in 36 races per year. Ford’s early morning training schedule allows him to put in a full day at each job – one at Hendrick’s training facility from 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and then down to his South End warehouse, where he works well into the evening.

Hands off to hands on

“There was a period after I built up the business after the first two years where I became less involved and had a manager running my operations,” Ford said. “Things stagnated, the business didn’t grow and things weren’t being done with the attention to detail that I expected. Two years later, I’ve come back to be more involved and hands on, cleaned house (he turned over almost all his previous personnel) and brought on a team that really understands customer service and what I expect.”

Since returning to be more directly involved, Ford has seen a spike in business and is talking about expanding his presence in the market with additional warehouse space, more trucks and additional personnel.

The word-of-mouth referrals have been so strong that his company is the go-to service for many of the professional athletes in town, including members of the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Bobcats and NASCAR drivers and crew who need the right touch with their moves.

“I want to compete at the highest level in whatever I do and expect to be performing in NASCAR for many years to come,” Ford said. “But whenever the time comes to make the transition, I have laid a great foundation for the business that will be my next chapter.”

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