NASCAR's Hammond proud of ECU ties
By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, February 18, 2018
In a NASCAR career that has spanned more than 40 years, Jeff Hammond has done a little bit of everything.
He has carried the title of tire changer, jackman, crew chief, team owner and television analyst at various points. He has built cars that sat on the White House lawn and had a meal with President Ronald Reagan at Daytona International Speedway.
Though most of his greatest accomplishments came at NASCAR tracks across the country, there is one time period that Hammond still credits as part of the foundation of his career: the year he spent in Greenville as a member of the East Carolina football team.
Before he became the winner of 43 races and two championships as crew chief for Darrell Waltrip, Hammond's first love was football. After playing defensive back in high school at North Mecklenburg in Huntersville, he was recruited to join the Pirates in 1974, the program's first season under coach Pat Dye.
Hammond was only at ECU for one season, leaving after a knee injury ended his playing career, but four decades later, he still calls being a Pirate a formative experience that taught him valuable lessons he would carry with him into his professional life.
"There wasn’t anything else but purple and gold, and the pride that I was able to take out of that, that was one thing I was able to bring into racing was the idea of being all as one and being a united team," said Hammond, 61. "When you went to Ficklen Stadium, that support that was given by the students and the families resonated throughout the whole team. That was the other thing that has always endeared the school to me even though I didn’t graduate from there.
"That was the thing when I got into racing that I tried to bring to my teams was telling them, ‘We need to be more of a team and work harder together, and we need to spend more time not only at the race shop together but outside the race shop.’ We would do things that made us stronger as a group so that when we get in some tough times, we can get through them and be so much stronger."
Not long after giving up football, Hammond caught on in NASCAR as a pit crew member. He was hired by legendary team owner Junior Johnson and served as jackman for Cale Yarborough's car during his run of three straight championships from 1976-78 in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He also was jackman on Waltrip's 1981 Cup championship team.
In 1982, he was promoted to Waltrip's crew chief, a pairing that saw the duo combine to win the 1982 and 1985 Cup Series titles. Hammond was also on the pit box for Waltrip's 1989 Daytona 500 victory when the pair worked for Hendrick Motorsports.
Hammond was a crew chief until the end of the 2000 season. After that, he was hired by Fox Sports. Entering his 18th season there, Hammond has served as pre-race analyst at the track in Fox's "Hollywood Hotel," a role that led Waltrip to coin the nickname "Hollywood Hammond." He has also served as a pit reporter and currently is a studio analyst who appears on "NASCAR Race Hub" during the week, as well as "NASCAR Race Day" on the weekends.
"I love doing the television stuff," said Hammond, who was nominated for a Sports Emmy award in 2006. "I really take it as a responsibility that the fans who support the sport we love so much, they want to know. As I’ve said in the past, inquiring minds want to know, and that’s what race fans want. They want to know the backstory, the who, the why, and I think that’s the most important thing.
"My responsibility is ... to try and tell why, make it concise, make it simple, but at the same time, make it entertaining, educational and make it fun."
Hammond's impact throughout the sport has been far-reaching. In addition to his broadcasting work, he was a minority owner in Red Horse Racing, a Camping World Truck Series team that won 16 races until it shut down in 2017.
He also continues to give back to the part of the sport that gave him his start: pit crews. Hammond owns Performance Instruction and Training (PIT), a facility in Mooresville that has trained people who aspire to become pit crew members for 14 years. PIT trainees have gone on to work with some of NASCAR's top teams, including Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.
"I don’t feel like I’m working," Hammond said. "I just feel like I’m continuing my journey, which really is NASCAR that I’ve been doing since the mid 1970s. I’ve just been so blessed to have so much fun doing the crew chief stuff, which was a great experience that I can’t really quantify. I had so many highs and, yeah, I had some lows, but this is one of those life journeys that you want to jump up on top of your soapbox, throw your chest out and scream like a banshee because you’ve been so lucky."
Hammond’s career has seen him criss-cross the nation and also travel abroad. His television work has taken him overseas on multiple occasions to visit troops serving in the military, and he cites the people he has met along the way as the best thing about the path his life has taken.
No matter where that path has led, Hammond has no problem looking back and pinpointing where it began.
“I think it’s amazing that we all have a starting point,” he said. “I’m not a graduate, but I’m still very prideful about the fact I went to East Carolina and that I was able to experience the community and the sports part of it. How many people can look at East Carolina and say that’s where it really started? That was a defining moment in my life and it’s something you come back to and you come back to with pride.
“That’s something the community of Greenville and the school itself should never lose sight of is the people they’ve influenced and how they’ve gone on to influence other people because of what they experienced down there and what they took away.”
Contact Jordan Anders at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9594 and follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.