NASCAR fans witnessed history Sunday as 20-year-old Trevor Bayne became the youngest winner of the Daytona 500. Winder native Josh Shipplett not only had one of the best seats in the house, but can also claim a hand in that victory.
Shipplett, a 2007 graduate of Winder-Barrow High School, is a front tire carrier on Bayne’s pit crew. The Daytona 500 was the first Sprint Cup Series race for Shipplett and the other pit crew members, and only the second Cup race for Bayne.
“It was crazy,” Shipplett said. “Nobody really expected us to win; we didn’t really expect to win. It was my first race and my first win all in one, so it was really crazy.”
Shipplett’s interest in motor sports began when he was in elementary school. As a student at Winder-Barrow, he took advantage of the automotive classes and youth apprenticeship program to learn more about the sport.
“It allowed me to start early and get some hands-on experience,” Shipplett said.
During his senior year, Shipplett began the Motor Sports Program at Lanier Technical College in Winder and found a job with Richard Petty Driving Experience in North Carolina.
Today, Shipplett works for Roush Fenway Racing and is working toward a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. He maintains ties to Winder through his parents, Bill Shipplett and Dana and Robin Brown, and visits during rare race-free weekends.
Daytona was a major coup for Shipplett and the Bayne crew, but they’re just getting started. The racing season runs through late November, and Shipplett will be manning pit stops almost every weekend until then in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series. Because of their win at Daytona, Shipplett’s crew will take part in the Pit Crew Challenge and All-Star Race in addition to the regular NASCAR schedule.
“I just marked off another one of my big goals, winning the Daytona 500,” Shipplett said. “It’s totally different than any other race. It’s like our Super Bowl.”
To Shipplett’s family, who watched the race from the front row, the excitement of their son’s win is still fresh.
“It was very, very exciting,” said Shipplett’s stepfather, Dana Brown. “It’s something good for Barrow County.”
“It was just unbelievable,” added his mother, Robin. “I don’t think any of us believe it yet.”
While Shipplett thanked his family and Roush Fenway for his success, his mother shared credit with Shipplett’s educators in Barrow County, including Lanier Tech motor sports instructor Bud Hughes and Winder-Barrow High’s youth apprenticeship coordinator Pam McGee.
“[McGee] actually led Josh to dual enrollment with Lanier Tech and helped him get focused, to get him where he is today,” she said.
That focus is still evident in Shipplett’s daily routine. During the week, Shipplett stays busy with college classes and practicing with his crew in a simulated pit stop. The pit crew also maintains a regular exercise regimen to prepare them for the heavy lifting of a pit stop.
“Our trainer used to be a trainer for the Jaguars NFL team, so he works us pretty hard,” Shipplett said.
The rigorous schedule doesn’t leave Shipplett with much free time, but he said that’s fine with him.
“It’s a hobby and a job all in one,” he said. “If I had weekends off, I’d probably be at the racetrack any way.”