Landon Walker was a four-year starter at Clemson from 2008-2011 with his final year highlighted by an ACC Championship. His NFL dream ended the following year when he was cut by the Bengals after a previous knee injury reared its ugly head.
But like many college athletes, Walker has found a home in NASCAR and the lessons he learned at Clemson helped him in the transition to racing.
"A lot of success there when I was at Clemson and it's only continued to grow since I left there," Walker said.
"You come into a sport like this and you bring a lot of those tools and a lot of those things you learned at Clemson and you try to place them and use them in this environment. And it really does translate. A lot of things that we do here, the performance, dealing with high pressure situations, all those things transfer to this sport and it's really neat to see those differences but also see the things that are a lot alike when I played at Clemson."
Walker is the fuel man for the #24 team and much like an offensive lineman, there are a lot of scenarios where the only time attention is on the pit crew is when something has gone awry. Whether it's a holding call on the offensive line or a slow pit stop, Walker and his teammates understand that's the nature of their sport.
"We're the unsung heroes, so to speak," Walker said.
"You aren't getting a lot of attention unless we are giving up a sack, spilling fuel, dropping something, doing something out of character. So, being a gas man is probably the most offensive line like thing on the pit crew especially since we are the bigger guys. We are the guys that are kind of behind the scenes, in the shadows, so to speak. But you've got to do your job. Because if you're not doing your job, you're going to know it really quick because that car does run on fuel. You have to do your job and be the difference-maker on every pit stop."
Much like an offensive line, the Hendrick Motorsports pit crews put in hours of practice with the goal of becoming a cohesive unit that is capable to pulling off lightning-quick pit stops.
"It's a coordinated dance. You have five guys who are trying to work around each other, doing their own purposeful job trying to get the car out as fast as we can.," Walker said.
"But you have to work as a team because if you don't work as a team, this guy make work around this way and this guy may go this way. So, you have to know exactly how you work as a team and that's why I said I compare it to a dance because if you're not moving the right way to help your partner out, it's going to really affect him, especially in that pit stop. As a gas man, I've got to make sure I'm not spilling fuel as that rear tire changer comes around the car. We're trying to get gas in there as fast as we can, just like they're trying to change to lug nuts, jack the car up and put the tires on as fast as they can."
A native of North Wilkesboro, Landon was more interested in football than racing as a youngster. But now, both worlds have distinct similarities. In fact, Landon compares a 13-second pit stop to a 25-second run down a certain hill.
"Running down the hill is probably the biggest adrenaline rush that I think one human could experience in their lifetime," Walker said.
"Going from that experience to this, it's very comparable, it really is. Because that rush you feel as that car is coming in for the pits, it is like something you can't explain."