WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been visiting the 2.45-mile road course, Watkins Glen International, for the last 27 years and Gary Plate of Phelps, New York has been there for 14 of them. But this weekend, Plate went behind-the-scenes to experience what it’s like to be a crew member for one of NASCAR’s most popular teams – the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS team. Plate was selected by NAPA to be the Honorary Pit Crew Member for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips Sprint Cup race.
Plate is the co-owner of Phelps Service, a NAPA AutoCare Center located in Phelps, N.Y. Since 2002, his company has been a top Integrated Business Service location in the Syracuse DC. Phelps Service boasts 10 bays and employs seven people.
“I have really enjoyed my relationship with NAPA,” said Plate. “It has been excellent. What I like about NAPA is they stand behind the parts. They have excellent products and I am impressed with every line of NAPA products we use. My business is a diehard NAPA customer.”
Plate brought his friend and valued Phelps Service customer Matt Strub to the track to take part in the unique experience at Watkins Glen.
“I have had garage passes one time before but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” smiled Plate. “This has been excellent. I wish I could say there was something I really wanted to do, but I am getting to do everything. The fact that Matt and I are here is what is amazing. You can’t beat this. This is it! We are here!”
The friends got to enjoy three days at the track with the NAPA AUTO PARTS team. On Saturday, they took in the sights and met crew chief Bootie Barker. It was not long until the team offered Plate the chance to get his hands dirty by changing brakes – a task Plate was more than willing to complete if needed. Instead, he found himself in shock when Michael Waltrip Racing’s Rick Wainright applied Plate’s Honorary Pit Crew Member decal to the No. 55 Toyota.
A stunned Plate looked at Wainright and said, “You’re joking, right?”
On Sunday, Plate and Strub went with NAPA drivers Michael Waltrip and Patrick Carpentier to the NAPA Race Day Experience where Plate was recognized by Waltrip and Carpentier during the hospitality event. The two-time Daytona 500 champion presented him with an official NAPA Racing crew shirt. After that, Plate was back in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage rubbing elbows and having lunch with the NAPA team. From there, they took an exclusive tour of pit road and at the starting grid; they had their picture taken with Waltrip and Carpentier. Unfortunately, weather set in before the engines could be fired and NASCAR delayed the start of the race until Monday at noon. In true NAPA team fashion, Plate and Strub were back at the track bright and early to take part in the running of the 90-lap NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
“We have been spoiled,” smiled Plate. “Now that we have done this, going to the track will never be the same. This has been unbelievable.”
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 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).