Given Brian Eastland’s height at 6 feet 2 inches, his athletic ability and his time spent playing wide receiver for the Wolfpack from 1998-2001, it comes as no surprise that he competes with the big boys on Sundays.
What is surprising is that it’s not on the field in an NFL stadium. It’s in the pits of NASCAR’s speedways, from Las Vegas to Daytona, working as a rear tire change for Sprint Cup competitor Bobby Labonte.
“I would say that there would have been no way on earth,” Eastland says of how he would have responded in his younger days if he was told he’d one day be working in NASCAR. “I say that, but I was always interested in cars.”
It was that interest that brought Eastland to NC State. Growing up in New Bern, N.C., he always found himself drawing futuristic cars. That and some advice from his high school guidance counselor led him to realize he wanted to design cars. So he naturally pursued one of the best engineering schools in the country.
When Eastland arrived at NC State, he walked on the football team as a wide receiver. That commitment prevented him from being able to get involved in student engineering clubs like Wolfpack Motorsports, where students can design and compete with race cars they have built. But his love for cars never left him and when Eastland graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, he made a move that educated him on how he could get into car design.
“I didn’t know much about NASCAR until I moved up to Charlotte in 2004,” he says. “Living in that area exposed me to it more than living in any other area in North Carolina.”
That seems only natural. Many of the major NASCAR teams are based in or near Charlotte. Eastland attended NASCAR Tech in Charlotte, and says the program married his mechanical and automotive knowledge. That led him to pursue a program that would teach him how to work in a pit crew, the members of a NASCAR team who are responsible for the in-race adjustments on a car.
It came naturally to Eastland, mainly because the competitive drive that led him to want to catch the ball every time he was on the field in college also motivated him on the track. “I had heard the tire changer was the most important position,” he says. “I wanted to be the most important position.”
Eastland made his first race team in 2008. Since then he’s carved out a steady career, albeit with different teams, as tire changer. The 2013 season marks his second full season with JTG Daughtery Racing. Eastland says he had to fight off perceptions that, because of his height and reach, he should work the carjack on pit stops. And there were those who wanted him to be a gas man, the position he says is lowest in the pit-crew caste system. Ultimately, he was successful at a position that relies on staying calm.
“The position is ninety percent mental,” he says. “When you first start, slow is fast. In your mind, you want to be going slow and your times will pick up. Eventually my hands and mind will go the same speed.”
The desire to design cars is still in Eastland, who also works during the week in the team’s shop as an engineer. It’s a way to gain experience and to work his way up the engineering ladder. “I definitely want to be a full-time race engineer,” he says.
In the summer issue, NC State magazine profiles the jobs of Wolfpack alumni finding success in NASCAR, the professional stock car circuit, as engineers. Be sure to check out how they use the latest technology to find faster speed for their drivers on Sunday.