INDIANAPOLIS – John Neely has enjoyed coming to the famed hallowed grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway ever since he was a kid. But he never imagined the opportunity he received on Sunday when he was selected by the Central Division to be NAPA’s Honorary Pit Crew Member for the 17th running of the Brickyard 400.
“What an experience,” said Neely, the president of PFM Car & Truck Care Centers. “This is totally different than anything I have ever taken part in. It’s like being treated like a rock star. This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am thankful for being a part of it.”
Neely’s business has two locations in Indianapolis and one in Zionsville. They have been NAPA AutoCare Centers for over 20 years and they work on cars, pickup trucks, vans and over-the-road trucks. He credits his success to being multi-faceted and associated with an auto parts company with an impeccable reputation.
“I partnered with NAPA as soon as I bought the business,” remarked Neely. “We were very small when we started, but I recognized the importance of doing business with NAPA. I couldn’t believe the opportunity they gave me to be affiliated with them. It gave me more credibility right off the bat.
“Over the years, they have been great coming up with support programs for us such as marketing, inventory and normal day-to-day business. I couldn’t ask for a better partner. Sometimes it is hard to believe that I am actually a customer because they treat me so well. You would think I would have to pay for the treatment I get and that is not the case. I am very happy to have the affiliation and look forward to more years together.”
Neely’s day at the Brickyard started off with a visit to the NAPA Race Day Experience where he was honored by driver Michael Waltrip during his hospitality appearance. The two-time Daytona 500 champion presented him with an official NAPA Racing crew shirt. After that, he and his guest Carlos Panfili were escorted to the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage. They enjoyed lunch with the team and an exclusive trip onto pit road for a tour by Michael Waltrip Racing’s Rick Wainright. While on the starting grid, he had his picture taken with Waltrip by his official Honorary Pit Crew Member decal which was prominently displayed on the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota.
For the remainder of the day, Neely enjoyed watching the race from the NAPA Racing pit box with crew chief Bootie Barker. If he was needed, Neely was more than willing to offer up his services to help the team.
“I brought Carlos with me,” smiled Neely. “He is my son-in-law. He’s built like a linebacker so if the jackman went down, he could just lift the car up and change the tires out. There would be no problem. We were willing to pitch in and help. But in all seriousness, I really enjoyed my time in the pits today. I was more interested in watching what it took to make the car go fast than watching what was happening on the track. Being a mechanic by trade, that’s where my thought process is. The guys that make the car go are just as important as the guy behind the wheel.”
This season at 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup events where NAPA is hosting its popular Race Day Experience, a guest will be chosen based on different criteria determined by the NAPA management from that region. The Honorary Pit Crew Member program will take place at upcoming hospitality events at Watkins Glen International (August 9), Michigan International Speedway (August 16), Bristol Motor Speedway (August 22), Atlanta Motor Speedway (September 6), Richmond International Raceway (September 12), Kansas Speedway (October 4), Texas Motor Speedway (November 8) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (November 22).