SPEEDWAY, Ind. – A former defensive tackle in the Big Ten now has a different target. He’s tackling pit crew duties as a fueler in the NTT IndyCar Series.
Quinton Washington has always had a passion for speed.
“It’s in you, it’s something that’s in you,” he said. His experience in racing began with his friends while they were growing up in a small town in South Carolina. Together, they built and worked on cars, and tested them out through drag racing.
Racing wasn’t the sport he had in mind to turn into a career though. He was a football star, ending his high school career as the Mr. Football runner-up in South Carolina his senior year.
From there, he took his talents to the University of Michigan, where he was coached by Ball State alumnus, Brady Hoke. He says Hoke taught him a lot about taking ownership and stepping up to the plate.
“Working with Brady Hoke was amazing. He was a great influence in my life. He was like a father to the team. We learned a lot from him.”
Washington was a four-year letterman at Michigan. He played in 49 games, starting in 16 of them. The Wolverines made it to three bowl games when Washington was on the team, winning the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech at the end of the 2011 season. He was also part of the team’s historic 900th win, beating in-state rival Michigan State. After he graduated, his days of playing football ended at NFL training camp. That’s when racing crossed his mind.
“I knew NASCAR was looking for ex-football players, NFL players, so we drove that direction.”
Looking for a team environment like the one he had with the Wolverines, Washington found it with Team Penske. When thinking about the team dynamic, “You always have someone to rely on, always,” he said. “The team atmosphere, you have someone you know is going to be accountable to get the job done, so that everyone is successful in winning.”
Winning came often for him when he worked his way up to join the pit crew for Will Power after Penske expanded its IndyCar team from three to four cars. He experienced thirteen victories with Power during his time at Penske, but one stands out more than the others.
“I’ve had a lot of wins, went to a lot of bowl games, and winning the Indy 500 is next level… It’s a high you can only experience after you’ve won it.”
It’s something he is absolutely certain will happen again now that he’s on Alexander Rossi’s team, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion.
“We’re gonna win,” Washington insisted. “It’s not ‘think.’ We’re going to win.”
He’s already excited at the thought of giving the bricks another kiss.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be able to kiss those bricks after a win. It’s an amazing feeling,” he emphasized. “I’m kissing the ground after a win, yes, I will do it every single time.”
With his own experience winning the 500, as well as two Indy 500 champions with him at Arrow McLaren for the 107th running of the race, Washington says it helps build confidence for the team.
“It’s a calming feeling to know you have that experience.”
Gaining experience influenced Washington to move to Arrow McLaren three years ago.
He now drives the truck, sets up the pit box, makes sure everything is ready for the mechanics, fuels Rossi’s car during the race, and tears the pit box down at the end of the day.
The crew practices for race days every day, going through drills, and 90-minute workouts. He considers the physical demands similar to playing football.
“When you have a seven-second pit stop, a football play is typically ten seconds, so we’re actually going a little faster than one football play, so it’s the high intensity, and we train that way to be able to take the pressure.”
For those who may think that racing is not a sport, and drivers and crew members aren’t athletes, Washington has some advice: “Try it,” he said. “Try it, honestly. Coming into racing, I never knew what a driver goes through. I never knew what a g[-force] was until you felt one, ‘til you actually felt one g. You have to be a different breed of person. Just like a quarterback has to be a different person to be able to take a hit from a 300-pound person, you have to be a different person to be able to take gs in a corner at the Indy 500.”
As for what’s most important to him about being on the team, Washington uses a football analogy to explain it. They are like offensive linemen to a quarterback. They look out for each other.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to win, but we’re trying to work on each other as well… We educate, and we grow together.”