Music & Nightlife

He was a NASCAR pit crew member and a ‘Survivor.’ Now Chase Rice is where he belongs.

Chase Rice performs at a show in Myrtle Beach last weekend, just a few days after he had pectoral surgery.
Chase Rice performs at a show in Myrtle Beach last weekend, just a few days after he had pectoral surgery.

A week and a half ago, country singer Chase Rice underwent surgery for a torn pectoral muscle sustained during a video shoot for his latest single, “Eyes on You.”

Three days later, he was back on stage, strumming his guitar for a sold-out crowd at Myrtle Beach’s House of Blues; and this Friday, he’ll headline Circle K Speed Street, the annual NASCAR fan fest that takes over uptown in the run-up to Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Rice is nothing if not tough.

Before he was lighting up the country charts, the Fairview native was one of the final three contestants on 2010’s “Survivor: Nicaragua.” Before that, he was a linebacker for the University of North Carolina, where an injury derailed NFL aspirations and ultimately led him to Charlotte as part of a group of former college athletes recruited to work as crew members for NASCAR.

It was a good fit.

“NASCAR was in my blood,” he says. “I grew up (going) to the track with my dad. Dale Earnhardt was God to me. I cried the day he died.”

He was thrilled to work for Hendrick Motorsports, who he considered at the top of the industry, but it took time to adjust.

“I lived in an extended stay in Concord for three or four months. That was miserable,” he recalls. “They were paying us nothing because we were the first class they brought in to see if it would work. We were a new program.”

“But those 10 guys got close. We went fishing together, going to college pool parties and having a blast, a bunch of young guns straight out of college, making no money, a bunch of rookies trying to figure out our way,” Rice says. “I look back on my time in Charlotte as one of the coolest times of my life.”

But career-wise, he was being pulled toward a different calling.

The chaplain at Hendrick actually helped him make the decision to pursue his music career.

“I told him, ‘I’m getting real good with this NASCAR thing. Our teams are getting better, but man, I just want to move to Nashville and write songs. I’m good at it. I’ve got some friends there.’ 

Since arriving in Nashville, Rice has proven he belongs. He co-wrote “Cruise” for Florida Georgia Line (whose Brian Kelley was a childhood friend of Rice’s) and released his Columbia Records debut album, “Ignite the Night,” in 2014; it opened at No. 1 and yielded two Top 5 hits — “Ready Set Roll” and “Gonna Wanna Tonight.”

He recently released his sophomore album, “Lambs & Lions,” with Broken Bow Records, a smaller independent label that’s also home to Jason Aldean. The first single, “Three Chords & The Truth,” is currently in the Top 25 on the country charts.

Rice credits his football experience with giving him a good foundation for a career that promises ups and downs.

“Football taught me everything. Football and my parents. You learn the meat of who you are. It teaches you toughness, teaches you when you have a problem, don’t run from it. ‘Head down, eyes up’ is my mantra,” Rice explains. “(What) football taught me has been huge for the music business, because I should’ve quit 20 times by now.”

Chase Rice

When: 6 p.m. Friday.

Where: Coca-Cola Stage at Romare Bearden Park.

Tickets: $25.

Details: www.600festival.com.

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