NASCAR Cup Series

How former Fayetteville State football player became one of NASCAR’s top pit crewmen

How former Fayetteville State football player became one of NASCAR's top pit crewmen

Colon Bailey is all about athletics. So much so that he majored in Physical Education at Fayetteville State University before switching to Digital Design. These days, his athletic endeavors are on a professional level as one of NASCAR’s best over-the-wall crewmen.

Bailey goes by C.J., for Colon Jr. after his father, a truck driver by trade. C.J., the third of nine children, loved playing basketball as a child, but football seemed a better match to his personality.

“I started playing football when I was 9 years old,” Bailey said. “Initially, I played basketball because it was my favorite sport. Growing up, I was kind of rough so my parents introduced me to football and that became my favorite sport. I always played both sides of the ball. On defense, I played linebacker. On offense, I played running back.”

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Bailey was part of the Manteo High School Class of 2010 and starred in both football and basketball as a student. As a senior, he scored 25 touchdowns and rushed for a school-record 2,002 yards. Last September, he was inducted into the Manteo Athletic Hall of Fame.

He went on to attend Fayetteville State, where he was the team’s MVP on offense. In a win over Livingstone, Bailey set the FSU rushing record with 288 yards in a 47-29 win — a performance that helped him earn a first-team All-CIAA berth.

Bailey was a preseason NCAA Division II All-America pick but ended up playing in only six games. A personal highlight was being able to play against some of the best HBCU football players in the nation.

“I had a full-ride scholarship to play linebacker at Fayetteville State,” Bailey said. “The cool thing was I got to play in the East-West All-Star game in Greensboro. My roommate (Michael Fogg) also went to Fayetteville State as well, so I met one of my lifelong friends there.

“I started as a linebacker, and they ended up switching me over to running back. I finished my career there in that position.”

NASCAR Cup Series pit crew tire carrier CJ Bailey was a record-setting running back for Fayetteville State football before joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2017. He joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2020.

After college, Bailey was looking for something to keep him active. He was thinking of possibly joining the military, working for UPS or maybe even driving trucks like his dad. When an opportunity to work in NASCAR came to fruition, Bailey gave it everything he had.

He was no stranger to NASCAR, as races were usually being played via radio or television in his home throughout the time he was growing up on the Outer Banks.

“I grew up watching NASCAR. My dad was a Jeff Gordon fan and a Dale Earnhardt fan. I remember when I was growing up he had an Earnhardt model. When I was in high school, he was always watching NASCAR races.”

After looking closely at a career in the National Football League, Bailey chose another route that was a bit unexpected but just as rewarding.

“I had a friend that worked on Kasey Kahne’s car at Hendrick Motorsports,” Bailey said. “I was back home moving furniture, and I got on Facebook and saw that he had all these nice things. So I asked him, ‘What are you doing now?’ He said, ‘I work in NASCAR as a crew member.’ He told his coach about me, and I came and tried out for a position in 2017 and I’ve been here ever since.”

That’s the year Bailey joined Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 team as a gas catch-can man and tire carrier. He also worked with Premium Motorsports and team owner Jay Robinson through Hendrick Motorsports and several drivers who drove for Robinson, including Ross Chastain. Bailey also worked for Roush-Fenway Racing as a jackman until an injury called for a change in position. He has been with Joe Gibbs Racing since 2019, where he has worked with various drivers. He is currently at JGR with driver Martin Truex Jr.

His role as a tire carrier has been a dream come true over the past decade, and he’s flourished. Bailey was named a 2022 Mechanix Wear All-Star pit crew member as NASCAR’s highest-ranking tire carrier. That same year at Richmond Raceway, Bailey was part of a crew that pulled off the fastest four-tire pit stop in Cup history at the time, getting Kyle Busch’s car in and out in a record-setting 8.6-second stop.

Being with the right team and the right people makes the job very fulfilling and quite exciting.

“We come to be like brothers,” Bailey said. “The more you’re around each other, the more chemistry there is between you. With that, the more you tend to know how that next person thinks and how they move. Then you start clicking at the same time. When that happens, everything starts going. If you can find some guys you can click with, that’s not always going to be the case.

“There are teams that have some really good guys, but their attitudes don’t mesh. If you can get some guys that are selfless and put their teams first and everybody can do their part, then it becomes a good pit crew. Then you’re going to win races.”

Crew members at times talk about how pit stops feel as though they slow down, even though they are often in the 9- to 11-second range for four tires and fuel in today’s world of NASCAR Cup Series racing. Each year, teams tend to find ways to make the stops quicker.

“After you’ve been in this a while, I would say yes, but no one grows up doing NASCAR,” Bailey said. “Everything is a bit chaotic at first. The more you learn what you’re doing, everything tends to slow down a bit. A good stop is more of a feeling. Hearing the air guns when they stop or when the jack is dropping at the right time is key. I know if I’ve hung the tire (on the spindle) or if the jackman is waiting on me or not. It’s kind of like a football play, you just know if it goes well.”

Bailey feels the best part of the day is when Truex goes to victory lane thanks to the pit crew having done its part.

“Going to victory lane is definitely one of the best feelings there is,” Bailey said. “When you get a group of guys together that can do fast stops, especially when you’re at a race track where pit stops are contributing heavily to the outcome of the race. You have to get the driver out in time, get out in front (off of pit road) and win the race. That’s always a great feeling.”

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: NASCAR tire carrier CJ Bailey is a former college football player

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