Lake Norman & Mooresville

Athletic trainer’s skills land him on NASCAR pit crew

Evan Kureczka, wearing the mask, refuels cans for the pit crew during NASCAR races.
Evan Kureczka, wearing the mask, refuels cans for the pit crew during NASCAR races. STEWART HAAS RACING

When Evan Kureczka gave up his job as an assistant athletic trainer with the Charlotte 49ers athletic department and took a position with OrthoCarolina, he was counting on working more consistent hours.

He figured weekends on the road, like he had with the 49ers baseball team, were in his rearview mirror.

Three years after that transition, Kureczka is on the road again but cars are now an important part of his life. Racecars, that is.

As of July, Kurecka is a fuel runner on the pit crew of NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick. It’s a new part-time job he has that evolved out of his position as an OrthoCarolina athletic trainer, which works with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Three days a week, Kureczka treats his teammates’ bodies and makes sure they don’t run out of gas. On race days, he’s making sure Harvick’s car doesn’t run out of gas.

“I was doing rehab with Tony Stewart’s gas man, James Keener,” said Kureczka. “One day we had some down time. We were at practice, and I actually changed some lugnuts.

“I was working on taking a tire off the car, seeing how it felt, seeing what they go through. I was treating (the pit crew members) but it was easier to understand the wear their bodies were taking and the stresses that were given off on the body.”

Kureczka, who lives in the University City’s Wellington neighborhood, asked race team members if he could join them on the road on race days to get a first hand look at how their bodies labored. The next thing he knew, he was recruited to be one of them.

A Winston-Salem native, Kureczka says he wasn’t much of a race fan growing up. He was a wrestler at Mount Tabor High. Kureczka said the first time he ever attended a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was when his team manned a concession stand as a fundraising activity.

He enrolled at UNC Charlotte believing he would major in pre-med. But when he suffered an injury while playing pick-up basketball, the rehab he received redirected him towards athletic training.

Kureczka graduated in 2009 and took a job with the Charlotte athletic department. His primary role was serving the 49ers baseball team, which usually plays about 50 games a season with half of them on the road.

Kureczka joined the staff of OrthoCarolina, the orthopedic and physical therapy network, in 2012. He primarily cared for patients at its University-area location but he also worked with the Charlotte 49ers tennis teams through OrthoCarolina’s outreach program.

Near the end of the 2014 NASCAR season, a spot opened in the OrthoCarolina Motorsports program, an extension of its outreach program that concentrates on working with race teams. In addition to Stewart-Haas Racing, OrthoCarolina also works with notable teams such as Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Joe Piette, pit crew coach for Harvick’s team, has worked in racing for 27 years. He says athletic trainers working closely with pit crews is a trend that’s grown in the last four years.

“As the pit stops get faster and as there are more competitive pit crews on pit road, everyone is looking for that competitive edge,” said Piette. “Athletic trainers are just a part of that process.”

Three days a week, Kureczka travels to the Stewart-Haas Racing shop in Kannapolis for roughly three hours. He evaluates pit crew members and provides treatments and rehab services.

Once Piette and other team members recognized Kureczka’s interest and potential for joining the pit crew, they hired him to fill an opening in early July. His first race was at Kentucky Speedway on July 11.

Kureczka’s responsibilities include helping with the exchange of gas cans during a four-tire, two-can pit stop. After the pit stop, he’s in charge of refueling the cans and getting them ready for the next break.

Once the season ends Nov. 22, Kureczka, the athletic trainer, will begin preparing the Stewart-Haas pit crews for the start of the next season. Stewart-Haas Racing has indicated to Kureczka that they want him back on the pit crew for the 2016 season.

“A couple weeks ago, they asked me if I wanted to come back,” he said. “I told them I definitely would. It’s definitely beneficial to be around the guys from a relationship standpoint and to see the injuries. It helps out during the week.”

Joe Habina is a freelance writer: