DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Nicholas Patterson stands out, though, it’s not because of his height or his strength, key elements to be a jackman on a NASCAR pit crew, but for what he’s done.
When Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won Sunday night’s Daytona 500, it marked the second time in the last three years Patterson had been on the winning team in NASCAR’s biggest race.
He is the only Cup road crew member or pit crew member who can claim that honor over the past three years.
But that’s only part of what makes Patterson unique.
He’s from Bucharest, Romania.
He was born 11 days before his sister.
He did ballet for eight years.
He played college baseball and football.
He now has two Daytona 500 victories.
Stenhouse’s win came on one of the most special days for Patterson. Sunday was the anniversary of his adoption. His dad and uncle were in the stands Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
Patterson doesn’t know his birth parents. All he knows about his birth mother is that she was tall, blonde and had blue eyes.
“I’m tall and I was blond until I was about 10 or 11,” Patterson told NBC Sports. “Then I got brown hair.”
He thinks she was 19 when she had him. The father was out of the picture at the time.
“It was too expensive to keep a kid at that point,” Patterson says. “So, she had me put up for adoption. But she had to show up at a court date. That’s the only reason that I know what she looked like. I don’t know what he looked like.”
The couple that adopted Patterson in the U.S., had an International family.
“I guess we were enjoyable enough as kids that they wanted to get some more,” Patterson said of he and his sister. “So (his parents) went back over and got a boy from Russia. They came back and they wanted some more. So they went over and got another girl from Russia. They came back and they wanted some more, so they got two more.”
It was his sister, the one he’s 11 days older than, that got him into ballet.
“I wanted to play sports, but my parents didn’t want me to play certain sports because they didn’t want me to get hurt at a young age,” Patterson said. “My sister was dancing ballet. Every year, at the end of the year, there was this big recital. She would get all this attention.
“I was like, ‘You know what, I want some of that attention.’ So that’s the only reason I got into ballet.”
He performed in a production of “The Nutcracker” ballet.
Years later, he credits the flexibility he gained from ballet with helping him on pit road.
“I’ve been very fortunate, very blessed to not have any major injuries, sports-related, and I think that’s due to the flexibility and small motor (movements) that were built over ballet,” Patterson said.
He notes it’s one thing to be able to squat a few hundred pounds but there’s a strength in lifting one’s leg and holding it there for an extended period of time.
“It helps over the long-term when you’re moving quick like this,” Patterson said of his footwork on pit road. “This is an awkward movement. This is not like a football route or running the bases, this a very awkward bending and twisting and lifting things, so it’s important that you’re flexible and you’re strong.”
Patterson admits there was a time he though about dance as a possible career. His parents allowed him to play baseball at age 14 and he went down that path. He played baseball and football at Winston-Salem State in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
While there, Roush Fenway Racing reached out to the school looking for athletes to train as pit crew members. Patterson didn’t know much about NASCAR but he fit what the team was looking for and gave it a try. He’s been in the sport since and now collected two Daytona 500 wins.
When McDowell won the 2021 race, COVID-19 protocols did not allow the crew to be in Victory Lane when the driver exited his car. Instead, McDowell climbed out of his car without anyone around. His team was outside Victory Lane cheering from there. When they were allowed into Victory Lane, the team members had to be spaced apart. There wasn’t a champion’s celebration the next day.
Patterson got to enjoy all of those things this time. He was in Victory Lane when Stenhouse climbed from his car.
Patterson relished the moment.
“Some guys we know have had a 10-, 20-, 30-year career and don’t ever see a win, much less a 500 win,” he said. “It’s incredible to be able to experience this, to have a good group of people around you.”
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Daytona 500 win is among many things that makes JTG Daugherty crew member unique originally appeared on NBCSports.com