Hanover resident living a dream as NASCAR crew chief
NASCAR crew chief Keith Wolfe
When 41-year-old Hanover resident Keith Wolfe was a rookie starting out in the NASCAR circuit, he was fortunate enough to fail — and strong enough to succeed.
Now a crew chief, Wolfe has fine-tuned his craft for more than 20 years, earning the respect of his drivers. He said he's living a dream working with NASCAR, something he said he never thought would happen for him.
"I pretty much ran out of money racing for myself, so I had to make a decision," Wolfe said.
Ambition, inexperience: Not knowing anybody in the NASCAR circuit, or asphalt racing, Wolfe said, he took his "inexperienced self" down to Mooresville, North Carolina, where he started his career by knocking on doors.
His ambition opened Busch Grand National Champion Chuck Bown's door. Bown allowed Wolfe to attend free race classes and offered him a place to stay in exchange for Wolfe's work in Bown's garage.
Bown taught Wolfe geometry relative to race cars and how to rebuild bodies, Wolfe said.
"That's kind of where it all started," he said.
Wolfe moved back to York County from North Carolina in his 20s, which was when he partnered with Todd Peck of Peck Motor Sports in Codorus Township.
"I went to their shop one evening and jumped right in," Wolfe said. "Todd Peck's father came walking into the shop one day and said 'Let's go buy a NASCAR series truck.'"
Peck said when he met Wolfe, he thought he was going to be someone he could "rely on and trust."
"And, it turned out to be so much more than that," said Peck, whose next race is at Talladega Superspeedway. "He's a brother that I never had."
Wolfe returned to North Carolina, where he bought a truck from professional stock car racing driver and team owner Brad Keselowski, who drives the No. 2 Ford Fusion for Team Penske and is a part-time driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, driving the No. 22 Ford Mustang for Team Penske.
Wolfe said he continued to pursue his dreams with very little financial backing. He said he worked night and day, and he raced against teams that had 50 employees on staff, while his team was made up of two people.
Limited resources: One of his fondest, earliest memories, is of taking a 3 a.m. nap on a picnic table at a random park, where he and his mechanic partner took turns fixing a wrecked car.
"We tore the race car down in the parking lot and then we started to rebuild it," Wolfe said. "We took turns sleeping on the picnic table cause we had to be at a race in three days. That went on for years. It's not an easy sport to get into unless you know somebody, or unless you have a name. We didn't have either of them."
The Peck team began to gel, finishing races in the top 20. Wolfe said that's when his phone began to ring with offers. Instead of being a suspension guy, he said, he was offered a role as crew chief in 2008.
Driver's expectations: Wolfe now travels 40 weeks out of the year and has raced in 43 states, where he continues to advance his driver's expectations. He works for Peck Motorsports, BJ McLeod Motorsports and Copp Motorsport as well as Lira Motorsports in the ARCA Racing Series.
"We're on a small team," professional stock car racing driver Tommy Joe Martins said, "which creates its own set of challenges."
Martins said he met Wolfe, who is now his crew chief, earlier this year in Iowa.
"It was one of the worst races of the year," Martins said. "We had a problem with a car, and Chief showed up the very next race. We couldn't figure it out ... what happened to the car."
Wolfe offered to take a look, and in less than 24 hours the problem was solved, Martins said.
"It was that big of a change, just having him there, and having his eyes and having him working on it," he said. "Other people focus on how we have only three guys on the team, but him being the crew chief and the leader, his leadership has been very important."
Wolfe spent his Labor Day weekend with Martins in Darlington, South Carolina.
"There's a level of calmness with Keith," Martins said. "The chemistry with him is there. Overall, I think that shows it never seems anything is too big of a deal, even when a car is not hammering right. Keith will say, 'We're going to change it, and we're going to get it right. There's nothing to worry about.'"
Wolfe said his next stop is 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, at Richmond International Raceway.