NASCAR – Arkansan Chases Dream to Top of NASCAR

NASCAR – Arkansan Chases Dream to Top of NASCAR

FORT WORTH, Tex. — For years, Arkansans had Mark Martin to follow on the NASCAR circuit, but Martin retired in 2013. 

While there’s not a driver from the state on the Monster Energy Cup Series, there is a Crew Chief.

Chris Gayle got hooked as a teenager after going with friends to watch the races at the I-30 Speedway.

These days, you’ll find Gayle at motor speedways around the country, overseeing the 20 car for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I got the bug,” says Gayle. “It wasn’t in my family. Met friends that got me involved in it. I think you just get where you realize this is what you want to do, and you get more and more passionate about it, and you look into it more and more and pretty soon, you realize this is. I can make a living in it. This is awesome.

Chris never had a desire to drive. It was the technology that drove him. 

“I think the interest for me was tinkering with cars and how I can make these faster,” Gayle says. “What can I do to be better?”

Chris graduated from McClellan High School in 1994, went to the University of Arkansas for two years, and then moved to North Carolina to get his mechanical engineering degree from UNC Charlotte. 

“Family always thought there’s no way there’s going to be a career to be 100 percent honest,” Gayle recalls. “They were really supportive, but also, the one thing was make sure you go to school. That way, if this doesn’t work, they wanted a fall-back plan.”

There was no fast track for success. It took Chris 16 years to get to NASCAR’s top level. He spent eight years as an engineer with Joe Gibbs Racing. That was followed by four years as a Crew Chief on the Xfinity Series. In 2017, Chris moved up up to the Monster Energy Cup Series with the 20 car and driver Erik Jones. 

“I lucked into just meeting the right people and working hard, and them seeing that I was really passionate about this, so they gave me the opportunity to see if I could go further,” says Gayle. “Some guys, it happens, some guys it doesn’t happen for. But I think the one thing you do is if you’re passionate enough about it, you can make it happen, right?”

Chris and his team made it happen at Daytona International Speedway in July. Driver Erik Jones won the Coke Zero Sugar 400. It was Chris’ first win at the top level as a Crew Chief. 

“The next day, you know what?” Gayle asks. “I’ve dreamed about this since I was a 15-year-old kid. My name is there. They can’t take that away from me. I made it from Arkansas to do this. Everything I set my mind to do, and we won at a cup level and it’s done.”

Chris and the 20 car accomplished a lot of goals this season. 

They also made the Chase but were eliminated early. 

Now, it’s about finishing strong and preparing for next year. 

Chris says life on the road is a grind, but there’s no doubt he’s living the dream. 

“There are days when it’s good.” Gayle says. “Days when it’s bad. It does become routine. You get in such a cycle when you’re used to this, but then you stop and really take some time to think about it and go, ‘I’ve never had a real job in my life. I really can’t complain at all.”

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