BY JASON O. BOYD Staff Writer
Friday, October 12, 2012 —
When you first meet Wes Herlocker, two things stand out about him.
One, he’s a very intense, exciting and competitive person. Two, he looks just a little bit like NASCAR driver Kurt Busch.
All of those characteristics serve the 30-year-old Locust resident pretty well. When he’s not working as a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in Harrisburg and Albemarle, he’s been the jackman at Phoenix Racing for Busch’s Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series teams.
This past Sunday was Busch’s last with the organization as he moves over to Furniture Row Racing. SportingNews.com is reporting that David Ragan, the driver Busch replaced at Furniture Row, will drive Busch’s former car the next two races. So that means Herlocker will serve as jackman for Ragan’s car this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I love NASCAR and before I got into it, I never even watched a race. Never,” Herlocker said.
“I could tell you who Dale Earnhardt Sr. was, he was everywhere, Dale (Earnhardt) Junior, because he’s everywhere, and Jimmie Johnson because he was a three-time champion at the time.
“Besides that, I couldn’t have told you who any driver was. I think that makes it easier for me to pit a car. Some of my friends are NASCAR fans and would freak out if they were pitting beside Tony Stewart or these guys who I didn’t know who they were before I got into NASCAR.”
Herlocker’s competitive roots are deep in Stanly County. His father, John Herlocker, was a football coach at North Stanly High School. He served as assistant coach from 1971-82 and 1996-99 and head coach from 1983-88.
John also coached Wes in track in 1999 when North Stanly won the state outdoor track title in the 4x100-meter relay. Wes’ claim to fame is he beat former North Carolina and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Willie Parker in the 100 meters.
Wes played quarterback and punted in high school. At one point, he was ranked as the No. 18 athlete in the state by one recruiting service and participated in the prestigious Shrine Bowl football game that pits top athletes from North and South Carolina.
Wes then played football at East Carolina University, then did the same at Appalachian State (ASU) before earning his degree. It was at ASU that Wes first developed a love of personal training. He won the USA Power Lifting title at junior nationals and, after graduating, served as assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of North Carolina before becoming head strength and conditioning coach at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.
But Wes’ venture into NASCAR was a little bit of an accident.
Jeff Kerr, currently the jackman for Kasey Kahne’s car, played football at East Carolina with Wes. Kerr’s brother-in-law, Walt Smith, is the pit coach at Hendrick Motorsports, which fields the teams for Johnson, Kahne, Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon.
“He approached me in 2009 saying they were looking for a new jackman,” Wes said.
“He thought I would fit the mold and he’s like ‘You should try it out.’ I was at Wofford at the time as the head strength coach.
“I would go out early in the morning to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and practice. It didn’t take me long to figure out I’d be a pretty good jackman.”
Being a strength and conditioning coach meant long hours for Wes at Wofford. Plus, there was always the chance that a change in coaches at the school would result in Wes having to find a new job at a different school. His wife Summer, who runs Summer Herlocker Photography in Locust, wasn’t crazy about moving all over the country for a job.
So Wes and his wife eventually moved to Locust and he took the jump into NASCAR in 2010. He was the backup jackman for Jamie McMurray’s car and was involved in 18 races. He was a part of the team that won the prestigious Brickyard 400 as well as the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte.
“So it was a cool year to be your first year ever in the sport,” Wes said.
If you’ve ever watched a NASCAR race and thought being a jackman or another pit crew member is easy, think again. Timing and quickness is so critical in that it can help or hurt track positioning during a race. His current team practices three times a week early in the morning. They’ll jack up one side of the car, change the tires, drop the car, jack up the other side, change the tires and then drop it all while putting gas in the car and making other adjustments.
If that’s done anywhere from 14-17 seconds, you’re doing pretty good. Anything longer and it could prove very costly to the driver. That routine is rehearsed over and over and over again so they can get it just right come race day.
But even on race day, anything’s possible. During the course of a race, a driver may need a variety of changes, tweaks or fixes to his car.
So Wes and the “over-the-wall gang” have to be ready for anything.
“You never know what you’re gonna have, good car or bad car,” Wes said.
“You have a good idea. But as far as a race goes, I don’t even know who won. That’s the honest truth. A lot of times I’ll see someone do a burnout and I’ll think ‘OK, they won the race.’
“With 10 laps to go, we start cleaning up because the second race of the day is getting to the airport. You try to beat the traffic out of the track. There’s 100,000 people at every race. Race day is chaotic, once it starts it’s pretty chaotic. Once it’s over, it’s like a big sigh.”
Wes and the crew show up for a race at least six hours before. Just a couple of weeks ago, the entire team got into a plane and flew to Kentucky for a Saturday Nationwide Series race. Not long after that race was over, they all were in the same plane flying to New Hampshire for the Sprint Cup race on Sunday. As soon as that race was over, they were all headed back to Charlotte.
“After a race, I can never sleep,” Wes said.
“If I get home at one, I’ll be up until four just because it takes you that long just to mentally settle down. If you start thinking about the races when you’re trying to go to bed, your heart starts racing. It’s just so exciting.
“I’ve played in front of 80,000 people in college and won the state championship in the 4x100 at North (Stanly). I’ve never experienced a high like jumping over a wall in a pit race car. It’s ridiculous.”
The rest of Wes’ week is usually spent at Gold’s Gym. He helps people of all ages, shapes and sizes with their goals of being in good physical shape.
“I meet with the perspective client, go over their goals, what they’ve done in the past, what they need to do in the future,” Wes said.
“If they are interested in personal training, I hook them up with the right trainer that suits their needs.
“Sometimes I’ll train them, but I mostly meet, go over packages and set them up with other trainers.”
Wes said Elevate Sports Performance is growing and will expand at the Harrisburg location, hopefully within the next six months. That work mostly involves athletes on different levels who are training to be better in their respective sport or field.
In the meantime, Wes would like to stay in NASCAR as long as he’s able. It’s a very competitive field with a lot of former athletes in other sports getting into it. When his over-the-wall days are over, he’d like to do some kind of strength and conditioning job in NASCAR.
So it’s unlikely his enthusiasm for the sport will wane in any way.
“NASCAR is my number one thing until I can’t do it,” Wes said.
“I think in 10-15 years, I can still do it.
“At that point, depending on where the training is going, where the business is, I’ve wanted to get into coaching. NASCAR has coaching, strength and conditioning. That’s something I want to get into.”