Last week I presented the first part of an interview with 45-year-old Spring Grove native Mike Harrold, the tire specialist for the No. 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup series car driven by Patrick Carpentier.

How did Harrold make the move from turning wrenches on local sprint cars to a job in racing's top series? Believe it or not, it began with romance.

"I started dating a girl I met at Williams Grove around '93 or '94 who knew some people in NASCAR, and we started traveling to the NASCAR races," Harrold said. "We went to maybe a half dozen races and I stumbled upon somebody at Phoenix in 1994. I think the crew chief saw my enthusiasm because we had talked about what I was involved in back at home. When the garage opened the next day, he asked me if I could help. This was back in the day when teams were generally short handed, so anybody that could help was welcomed, although you had to be somewhat track smart.

"The first race I worked was Phoenix in 1994 for the No. 42 Mello Yello car driven by Kyle Petty. I ran fuel. When the car had a pit stop, I took the empty fuel cans to Unocal and got them refilled and took them back to the pit stall. I'll never forget that day because I was wearing dress boots -- like cowboy boots -- and my feet hurt for three days"

"That was my first race and I was hooked. I was still working my regular job as a self-employed carpenter, so the following year, I just started traveling the races.


It started small, running back and forth to the haulers for whatever they needed, keeping the garage area clean, and then as they saw what I could do, it developed into more and bigger responsibilities. That's when I got offered a job on the Jasper No. 77 driven by Robert Pressley. So in the beginning of 1997, I moved and went to work."

"I started at Jasper working in the shop, just doing whatever they wanted me to do," Harrold said. "Then about two months later something happened to their tire specialist and they asked me if wanted to go on the road and do tires. Since I grew up at the race track, I thought that's where I needed to be, and I've been doing tires ever since.

"I've been on a few different teams, which I used to help gain experience and to kind of move forward but you've got to thank the guys that gave you your first job.
"And then in 2001 when something opened at Hendrick Motorsports, I knew that would be a pretty good place to work. I was involved with a crew chief, Peter Sospenzo, and when he left to go to the new team formed by Ginn Racing, he invited me there. Unfortunately, that didn't work out, but luckily, there was a position at Gillett Evernham, where I am now."

As tire specialist, Harrold's responsibilities involve everything to do with the tires for the weekend. "On average, we're doing 17 or 18 sets of tires a weekend, so there's the preparation of organizing all these tires into race sets, practice sets and qualifying sets. You have to purge the tire, which means you take the compressed air out and put nitrogen in, which is a dry gas. Regular air -- if you had a street tire with normal compressed air, it has moisture in it. In a race car, if you had regular air in that tire, once that tire got over 220 degrees, you'd create steam. So we run nitrogen, which is a dry gas that does not create moisture. ... It's more controllable and we actually run a special racing grade that is 99.9 percent dry."

Harrold's tenure at Hendrick Motorsports allowed him the opportunity to get to know Ricky Hendrick, son of team owner Rick Hendrick, who was one of 10 people who died in a plane crash on the way to a race in Martinsville in October of 2004.

"I was there when Ricky Hendrick decided to quit driving, and then when Brian Vickers came to the Cup series, Ricky was Brian's spotter, so I got to know him really well. I'll never forget the day when the plane crashed. It's surprising how many things make me think of that. It was just an overwhelming day. When I got in my truck to drive home -- because we drive to Martinsville -- I had probably 10 messages because originally on the news they had announced it as a crew plane, so people I knew from all over were in a panic that maybe I was on that plane. That was very difficult. We went to work the next day and it was the quietest day I ever had in this business. The next several weeks were very difficult. We lost a lot of really good people that day."

But for all the sadness the sport brought Harrold, he has experienced some real highs as well.

"Before I ever moved to North Carolina, I was a Darrell Waltrip fan, and I got lucky to get to work with him. It was when he had his Western Auto team and Todd Bodine had a deal with Tabasco. That deal folded, and Tim Beverly got involved in NASCAR and started Tyler Jet Motorsports. At the end of that year, they had the Tabasco car and Darrell drove it. I was part of the "Tabasco Fiasco." That's what they called it.

"I think that was the first year they had the past champion's provisional rule, and we pretty much abused that rule," Harrold laughed. "But working with Darrell was really cool. Even though he was in the phase of his career when he wasn't running up front and winning races anymore, for me to be able to work with him and be a friend of his family, that was pretty big. So now when I see Darrell at the racetrack and he stops and says hello and his wife remembers my name, it's pretty cool. I got to know him and his family and it was just wonderful."

Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dis patch. She can be reached at esiska@yorkdis patch.com.