WATKINS GLEN – After last season, Rodney Fetters was pretty much ready to retire and take his place on the porch in motor racing’s rocking chair.
It’s a good thing he stayed around. On Sunday, the veteran NASCAR crew member from Niagara Falls landed in victory lane in his home state for the first time.
“Winning back in New York, it doesn’t get any better,” Fetters screamed as Marcos Ambrose crossed the finish line. “I knew we had the best driver, we had really good pit stops and this road crew just gave him a great car. He did it! He did it!”
Fetters is the pit stop jack man for the No. 9 Ford of Richard Petty Motorsports and driven by Ambrose, who prevailed in a crazy finish to win Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International.
“I [said] this morning that [Ambrose] is worth a half a second and it shows,” Fetters said. “This is my first Cup win here and this is cool. Local boy makes good!”
Fetters, 43, has been involved with many NASCAR teams over many years. He was employed the last few seasons at Roush-Fenway Racing, handling the same pit stop services for the No. 16 Ford driven by Greg Biffle. At the conclusion of 2011, Fetters thought he might put away his car jack for good until an offseason opportunity arose.
“I was retiring at the end of last year,” he said. “I’m 43 years old. I’ve gotten to the point in my career where I think it was time to step away. We have some really good talent behind me and for them to get a chance I was going to have to walk away or have someone tell me that it was done. I really want to leave this sport as a pit crew member on my terms.
“When word got out about that, [Ambrose crew chief] Todd Parrott found out about it and said we’re going to have an opening on the No. 9. He said, 'I want you to come jack my race car,’ and I told him that I really had to think about that.
“He and I had about five years together on the M&M’s team with Elliott Sadler on the No. 38 car at Robert Yates Racing. Those were some of the best years of my career. So I told him I’d do it.”
After the win, Parrott spoke highly of the pit crew’s performance, including that of Fetters.
“The pit crew picked up 2ø seconds on pit stops compared to what we did last year, so that was a gain,” Parrott said. “They all did a good job. I heard they were shuffling things around over at the Roush group and I needed a jack man – I knew Rodney was a good one so I swept him up. He does a good job.”
According to Fetters’ strength and conditioning coach, Les Ebert, dedication and keeping himself physically fit have been keys to Fetters’ long career.
“Rodney gives good effort and one of the things you look at in this sport or the NFL or a lot of other sports is the guys that train hard and work hard are the ones that can do it for a long time,” Ebert said. “Rodney’s been doing it for a long time and one of the reasons is he keeps himself in great shape.”
Even before Sunday, Fetters was having a grand weekend.
On Saturday, he stood in victory lane at The Glen to congratulate a crew member whom he coaches, Houston Stamper of Carl Edwards’ Nationwide team, which won the Zippo 200.
“I coach three of our Nationwide teams,” Fetters said. “Normally, our two teams are the No. 6 Nationwide team of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and the No. 43 of Michael Annett. We’re partners through Ford with Richard Petty Motorsports. Then our third team is with Carl Edwards. Carl’s normal No. 99 [Cup] guys pitted the car yesterday with one other guy. We have an injury on the No. 99 with the rear tire changer so one of my development guys, Houston Stamper, filled in for him. It was very special for me.”
The start of the weekend saw Fetters returning home to Western New York to spend some precious time with family.
“I was in Sanborn and spent the day with my mom and two nephews, Alex [age 8] and Sammy [4] Hoover. We went to Tonawanda to play Lasertron and video games and get ice cream and spent quality time with two little guys that I don’t really get to see a whole lot. So when Uncle Rodney comes to town I really spoil them.”