Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @MatWriter
Signing Day has long been a fixture on the sports calendar as high school wrestlers make written commitments to continue their college careers. Now Signing Day has a whole new meaning, as three former NCAA Division I wrestlers -- Mike McClure, Roman Perryman, and Max Thomusseit -- are among the athletes who participated in Hendrick Motorsports very first Signing Day ceremony to welcome the newest class of NASCAR pit crew recruits at the organization's Concord, N.C. headquarters this past week.
Mike McClure tries to defend a leg attack from Nick Gwiazdowski in the NCAA quarterfinals (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)
"It's really neat to be a part of the first Signing Day ever for Hendrick Motorsports for the pit development program," Hendrick Motorsports President Marshall Carlson said. "It's a tradition in other sports. If you look at what we tried to do over the last few years really elevating our whole athletic department and these athletes -- bring them in and trying to get out to a wider range of recruits -- the investments we've made in coaching, the facilities, it's really fitting that we would start to do some of the traditional things that other sports do to celebrate the success that the coaches and the recruiting class are bringing to our company."
Director of Human Performance Andy Papathanassiou described the multi-step weeding-out process to determine the seven athletes -- including four college football players, in addition to the three former mat stars -- that would be a member of Hendrick Motorsports' fall class of 2015.
"Our classes have ranged from seven to about a dozen," Papathanassiou said. "Year after year we start recruiting, gathering 50 names, knock that down to about 30 that we see in person, and we physically evaluate them. We bring in 20 for a two-day minicamp where we put pit crew equipment, pit stop stuff in their hands and then pick our recruiting class from there. These are the winners of a very long and arduous process."
McClure, who wrestled heavyweight at Michigan State, is now a fueler/jackman for Hendrick Motorsports. A native of Holland, Mich., McClure, 25, earned All-American honors by placing fifth in the 285-pound bracket at the 2014 NCAA championships. The education major also achieved All-American honors in academics.
Perryman's position with the Hendrick pit crew is tire changer. The Springfield, Va. product graduated from West Virginia University this spring, majoring in sports and exercise psychology. Perryman was the runner-up in the 149-pound finals at the 2015 Big 12 conference championships.
Former Pitt wrestler Thomusseit will be a tire career for the Hendrick pit crew. A native of St. Paris, Ohio, the 24-year-old Thomusseit was a four-time NCAA championships qualifier at 184 pounds for the Panthers. Max is following in the footsteps of his older brother Zac, also a former Pitt wrestler who joined the Hendrick pit crew in 2014.
NASCAR pit work is proving to be a new career opportunity for wrestlers to employ the strength and skills gained on the mat ... an athletic alternative to mixed martial arts, professional wrestling, or pro football.
In August, Deven Dittrich, former wrestler and long-time coach who is also a NASCAR fan, told InterMat, "I am hoping that a by-product of all of these stud wrestlers on pit crews will be four-fold. First, that it can bring higher-quality coaching at wrestling clubs in the Charlotte area. Second, that NASCAR will bring media attention to amateur wrestling to the southeastern U.S., while a NASCAR hotbed, has been historically soft spot for amateur wrestling. Third, that USA Wrestling will find a way to piggy back off the good publicity generated by these wrestlers in mainstream media, and, finally, a new high-paying career opportunity for wrestlers so that they can help donate to fundraising efforts of their former college programs that helped them get this job."
The other four former college athletes who signed with Hendrick Motorsports last week include Spencer Bishop (tight end at Wake Forest), Ryan Cheek (linebacker and fullback at North Carolina State), Rod Cox (cornerback, linebacker and safety for N.C. State), and Matt Lehman (tight end for Penn State).