Volunteer makes wheels turn For Darrell Andrews, joy is maintaining race cars

September 14, 1997|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

It started with a phone call.

Twenty years ago, when racing legend Junior Johnson needed someone to help haul his team's cars and equipment from North Carolina to California, Darrell Andrews answered the call. And the small-town food distributor was transformed into a "weekend warrior," sacrificing his days off to volunteer on the crew of a Winston Cup stock car racing team.

"People tell me I'm foolish to work seven days a week," says Andrews, 50, who is married and has three children and two grandchildren. "But I don't golf, hunt or fish, and I can't just sit and do nothing. My enjoyment is turning wrenches on a race car."

Each of the 42 teams that work the service pits on race day has two or three volunteer members, who come from all walks of life: insurance salesmen, a New York police officer, attorneys, car dealers, retired court clerks and electricians.

And they work hard, for little more than transportation costs and the opportunity to share a hotel room and meals with full-time crew members.

Andrews, of Silver City, N.C., handles various chores for Jeremy Mayfield's No. 37 team.

To make sure Mayfield is comfortable, Andrews installs the "cool box", a small air-conditioning unit that blows cool air on the driver. He checks the steering column, so everything is just the way his driver likes it. During the race, he takes care of chassis adjustments and centers the rear tires on the wheel hubs.

Andrews, who has a wiry build and a gentle smile, knows all about being a warrior. A member of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam in 1967, he was awarded two Purple Hearts within six months, the second in an incident that nearly cost him his life.

He was walking point on patrol when he stepped on a booby-trapped mortar round and "was pretty blown up." He suffered a collapsed lung, back injuries, shrapnel in the head and a mangled left arm.

"It took a long time after I was back before I could use my hand or arm," recalls Andrews, a soft-spoken man with just a touch of a Southern accent. "I'd lay there massaging it at night and praying. Then one morning, I could twitch my hand."

In 1970, Andrews started a frozen food trucking business in his hometown of Silver City, with $15,000 and one truck.

Today, nearly 60 clients keep his 28 trucks on the road along the Eastern seaboard and all the way to California. Most nights, he works in his office until nearly 10.

Still, he sets aside his weekends for racing - despite the dangers.

Andrews has been hit three times while working in the pits. He has been sent flying by Richard Petty, the late Davey Allison and Bobby Hillin; each episode was followed by knee surgery.

"You don't think nothing about it," Andrews says. "You jump up and go on. You can't do the job if you're scared. And I love doing the job.

"When you're crouched on pit road, and you see your car coming into the pits, it blows everything around you away. You're focused. You feel a real rush of adrenalin. There isn't anything else like it."

Pub Date: 9/14/97

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