WATKINS GLEN – There are a few different paths that pit crew members have taken over the years to reach the top levels of NASCAR competition. In recent years, several have taken advantage of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Crew Member Development Program to turn their racing dreams into reality. One such individual is Buffalo native Jorden Paige.
Paige, 26, was at Watkins Glen International Saturday, serving as a jack man in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Zippo 200 for the No. 52 Extreme Kleaner/Escape RV/Whataburger Chevrolet driven by David Starr.
Starr finished 33rd in the Zippo 200.
NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Crew Member Development Program is designed to give career opportunities to minorities and females interested in entering and advancing in the sport.
Paige is a former football player at Clark Atlanta University. As a fit and well-trained athlete who stands 6-5 and weighs 220 pounds, he is well suited for his role as a jack man on pit stops.
“The diversity program gave me the opportunity and people like minorities and people who don’t actually know anything about NASCAR,” Paige said. “I didn’t know anything about NASCAR before, other then I knew who Jeff Gordon was and who Dale Earnhardt was but that’s all I knew.
“Once I got into the program, I learned a lot about the sport and actually became a fan of the sport. I admire everything that goes on at the track. So it definitely opens a lot of people’s eyes. It opened up my eyes. I think it’s a good way to get talented, new people into the sport. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Paige grew up in Buffalo and attended St. Francis High School until he moved away from Western New York following his sophomore year.
“I lived in the downtown area of Buffalo off of William St.,” Paige said. “I left when I was 16, around 2008 or 2009 and moved to Florida. I was born and raised in Buffalo. I played little league football in Buffalo and went to high school at St. Francis for two years until I moved.
“I left St. Francis because my father wanted to live in Florida and that’s who I was living with at the time. He wanted to pursue other opportunities.
“I went to Clark Atlanta for my masters and I did one year of my masters and that’s when I ran into Phil Horton who is the director of the Drive for Diversity program. Phil talked me into actually learning how to be a pit crew member and that’s the program I came though.
“Phil actually came to Clark Atlanta at the end of the football season and I did a tryout. I did a couple agility drills, lifted weights, he tested my body fat and did a lot of stuff like that. That’s why I knew it was something serious. He was serious about trying to recruit good athletes for NASCAR. I said that I need to listen to him and see what he has to offer. I kind of went through an NFL-like combine to get to NASCAR.
“I went to two combines. The initial one was at Clark Atlanta and then he (Phil) invited me to the national combine in which there was about 19 other candidates that he wanted to put in the program. He was selecting only 10 people so me and my roommate at Clark Atlanta, we both made it into the top 10. That was 2016 and I then moved to Charlotte.”
Paige does not work specifically for any one team but is employed by Xcalibur Pit School and is sent to different teams each week on a “as needed basis.” Therefore Paige has the immense challenge of blending in with the chemistry of many different teams during the season. He brings his own jack to the track with him each week.
“I’ve pitted David Starr’s car numerous times this year,” Paige said. ” I pitted for Cup Series and Truck Series teams also this year. Wherever the demand is and whoever needs a pit crew member, that’s where I go. Sometimes it’s not the same people the majority of time. You get familiar with some people that you work with. But it’s not always the same people every time. You have to learn people’s strengths and how they like to position themselves or how they move – what their speed is. You have to adjust as you go.”
Paige still has family back in Buffalo.
“A lot of my family is still back there,” Paige said. “My sister, my niece, my nephew, my brother and someone who I consider like my mother because she raised me from the time I was about 5 until I left Buffalo and many aunts and cousins are still there.
“I’m happy in NASCAR and I have a promising career. This is my second season here and I just want to continue to grow and get on with one of the bigger teams and make big money.”