NASCAR-WCUP: Troy Cole: From Firefighter to NASCAR Gas Man
3 June 1998(Mooresville, N.C.) -- When the Pennzoil Monte Carlo and 40 NASCAR Winston Cup cars roar down pit lane for four tires and fuel each weekend, most pit crew members admit hearing their heart pound or feeling the adrenaline rush through their veins. They know time in the pits means positions on the track and a miscue might lead to personal injury.
"There's a rush you get during a pit stop that's hard to explain," said Pennzoil Gas Man Troy Cole.
He said the rush is almost like that of a fireman who charges into a burning house late at night with the hope of saving a child amid the flames. Few have experienced either feeling, but both are constant emotions in Cole's professional life.
Each weekend when the Pennzoil Monte Carlo visits pit lane, Cole is there to dump two 80-pound cans of fuel into the car before teammates change four tires and send it back on the track. When the race is over, Cole drives the Pennzoil hauler back to North Carolina where he joins colleagues at Charlotte Fire Station #27 fighting nature's most deadly force.
It's been Captain Cole's job for almost 25 years.
"There are a lot of similarities between my two jobs," said the 6'2" Cole in his deep, slow Southern drawl. "In a pit stop you are working together to do everything possible to get the Pennzoil car out of the pit as soon as possible. At the fire you are doing everything you can to get the fire out as soon as possible to save lives and property."
Cole's career with the fire department began in 1973 when the then 21-year-old thought fire fighting "would be a neat thing to do" and the time off would allow him to operate his own tree trimming business. Through the years Cole learned most of the jobs in the department mastering everything from driving the pumper truck to emergency medical procedures as well as ladder rescues.
He's also suffered some of a fireman's worst nightmares. A backdraft once dealt him second-degree burns and a fire he and others couldn't extinguish turned out to be Agent Orange. Cole also tells stories of the late night calls in the dead of winter to burning houses.
"If you were the first one there you would rush in not knowing if anyone was still in there, but if they were in there you didn't know if they were alive or dead," Cole said. "All this time, you are relying on back up companies to get there and start extinguishing the fire."
Cole recalls firefighters dodging exploding drums at a chemical fire and climbing a rescue ladder to save a man from a tall silo. Not all of the station's 60,000 runs were as dramatic. Some included false alarms like the call from a local race shop in 1990 when someone pulled the fire alarm as a prank.
After a stern lecture, Cole told the team he was qualified to drive the race hauler and if they ever needed a truck driver to give him a call. A few days later the team asked Cole to drive a truck to the wind tunnel in Detroit. Cole used vacation time for additional trips for the team as well as others in the area. It became a second job.
When Dale Earnhardt Inc. started its Winston Cup team in 1997, Cole drove the team as it raced a limited schedule. When the team went full-time with driver Steve Park in 1998, it selected Cole as the truck driver.
The rigorous demands on a truck driver in the Winston Cup Series made juggling the fire fighting duties back home more and more difficult for Cole. After some long thought he has decided to permanently trade his firefighter's coat for a Pennzoil safety suit and concentrate full time on driving and refueling. Cole's last day with the fire department will be June 29 -- his 25th anniversary.
"When I started this job at the fire department I wanted a good career and something that would let me do what I wanted to do," reflected Cole. "But as I spent more time in it I started seeing how important the job was to everyone. It isn't a job where you are going to hear a lot of thank yous, but it is a job with a lot of self-satisfaction."
Cole's wife Linda and his daughter Elisha, 27, and son Troy II, 25, aren't going to buy the man of the house golf balls and a hammock for his retirement. Cole or "Fireball" as he is known on the CB radio is on the road more than 30 weekends each year logging more than 50,000 miles with long hours and little time at home. But, the rush will remain in his life.
"I wanted something challenging and exciting. Refueling the Pennzoil Monte Carlo as fast as you can in the middle of a race with 40 cars around you is about as exciting as I want to get," Cole said. "And, it's a little safer than going into a burning house at night, I can tell you that."
DEI Team Manager Ty Norris sees an added benefit of Cole's presence.
"It was hard for us to turn down someone like Troy," said Norris. "I think anyone who has done what he has done for 25 years at the fire department has the kind of life experience and skill level we want for people on this Pennzoil team. Plus, we tease him now that he's going to be getting a pension from the fire department we won't have to pay him as much."