NASCAR has had some great brother tandems over the years. Tim and Fonty Flock. Bobby and Donnie Allison. Terry and Bobby Labonte. But all of those duos were drivers.
For one set of siblings, life in NASCAR is the pits.
Tim and Jason Sheets are the front and rear tire changers for the No. 43 Dodge driven by Bobby Labonte. Back at the shop, Tim is a fabricator and Jason, two years Tim's senior, is a rear end mechanic.
"It's a dream," Jason said of working for a NASCAR team.
The two brothers have been in racing all their lives, but just now started working together on a NASCAR team. Jason has been in the sport since 2000, and Tim since 1999.
Jason said his brother had been bugging him to come to Charlotte, N.C., so one week he just decided to "pack my toolbox and head down." Tim, like his brother, worked his way up from short track racing to the big time. Their stories are similar. Their physiques are not.
Tim is bigger than Jason, and teammates like to ask the older but littler brother what happened to him. Of course, it's all part of working for a NASCAR team.
"Everybody pulls pranks on each other in this business," Tim said. "That's the only way to keep your sanity."
As the rear end specialist, Jason keeps track of all gears and suspension parts, and puts them in the right packages. At the track, his job isn't nearly that complicated. In fact, it can be summed up thusly ... car pulls in, Jason jumps over the wall and goes to the right rear tire. He takes off the five lug nuts and lets the jackman pull the tire. The tire carrier puts the new tire on and Jason puts five lug nuts on.
"Hopefully it's in the 12-second range," he said.
As the fabricator, Tim works on rear wheel tubs and special project stuff. At the track, he said his job is very similar to Jason's, although the front guy pulls his own tires. In the bragging rights of brotherhood, that's a very important distinction.
Both brothers said safety has come a long way in their on-track jobs.
"When I first came up we didn't even have to wear a fire suit ... just a team shirt and pants," Jason said. "Now we wear fire suits and helmets. Shoes and gloves also have to be fire proof now."
There is still the other guy to worry about, though. Jason said a combination of experience and awareness can keep a tire changer safer, if not completely safe.
"Experience is key," he said. "You have to develop a feel for timing out there and for safety. The drivers are pretty good about watching for guys in front of them."
The two brothers have different viewpoints on the rewards and challenges of the job. Jason said the most challenging part of the job is simply getting through a pit stop without any mistakes. Tim, who said winning is by far the most rewarding aspect, claims trying to make it to the top is the most challenging.
The one thing they can agree on is that after years of working on different teams in different shops, it's great to be working together. It's a NASCAR tradition, and one they are proud to be part of finally.