Former rivals Brown, Cherry connect on Penske pit crew

By now you have heard about several different avenues people have used into the sport of NASCAR.

Here's one you probably never even considered. Ben Brown, a star cornerback for his Charlotte, N.C., football team, got his opportunity from Trent Cherry, a former rival quarterback at Providence Day High School he used to heckle at basketball games

"It's true," said Cherry, the rear tire carrier for Ryan Newman's No. 12 Alltel Dodge. "We both played football, but only I played basketball and he played baseball. At their basketball games, he'd be the loudest guy heckling me in the front row."

Brown, now a front tire changer on the same team, remembers being much more subtle.

"At rival high schools, you can't help but hate the quarterback of your rival school," Brown, who attended Charlotte Latin High School, said. "I would hold up my state champiionship football ring every time he came by me."

Now they are earning victories together. They won the Daytona 500 together this year, and NASCAR's Pit Crew Championship last year.

They've certainly proven that you don't need friends to get into the sport. Sometimes a good rival will do.

"I didn't know that much about him," Cherry said with a laugh. "I just knew enough about him to know I didn't like him. But the team was looking for athletes that we could train to be on our pit crew, and he was one of the first people that came to mind."

Cherry had entered the sport the old-fashioned way. A friend of Greg Wallace, he asked if he could get an internship in father Rusty's shop one summer.

Soon he and Greg Wallace were sweeping floors together. Cherry taught himself to carry tires, and before he knew it he was working full time on a NASCAR pit crew and then he was training other people, one of whom was Brown.

"The first couple of months was all Trent showing me the basics," Brown said. "I trained for six months before getting on the road, and then spent one year as a backup where I was loaned out to other teams to get experience. I'm now in my third year as a starter."

The two men have opposite viewpoints during pit stops. Safety concerns are something both men share, though.

"The left side's the safe side, tucked against the wall," Cherry said. "On the right side, all five of us are exposed, whether it's a car pulling out or pulling in. You gotta watch yourself. It doesn't take much to get pinned up against a car."

Up front, Brown, who says his baseball experience helped him develop the hand-eye coordination necessary as a tire changer, has a different perspective.

"I can see everything that's coming my way," he said. "The only scary part of the job is what you can't see. When your back is to the action, if you're plunked, you're going down."

Working together is something that has brought the two men close. When Brown thinks about the old days, he can't help but laugh.

"It was a lot of fun looking back on it," Brown said. "It puts a smile on my face. The last time we had talked to each other we were telling each other, 'You suck.' When he contacted me six years later he said, 'I know this sounds kind of goofy, but I'd like you to check out this opportunity.' We had grown up a lot at that point. We weren't 17 anymore. We still like to talk trash to each other, but we're not serious like we used to be."

Except during pit stops.

"I knew if I could get him in and train him, he could be a good tire changer," Cherry said. "It's been a source of pride seeing a couple of the guys like Ben ... guys I brought up and trained ... in Victory Lane."