Unlike many of the drivers and team members competing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, Angola native Chris Heroy never much dreamed about a career in motor sports when he was a kid.
Sure, Heroy competed a bit in club racing and dabbled in the technical aspect of the sport, but after graduating from Angola High School in 1996, he headed to Colorado College to major in physics.
But come Sunday in the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard, Heroy will be atop the pit box for the No. 42 entry driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, his second year as crew chief with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
Yup, it has been an unlikely journey for Heroy.
“I didn't race much as a kid and I really didn't decide to get into auto racing until my junior year of college,” Heroy said. “I just liked the competition that came with motor sports.”
While attending Colorado College, Heroy took physics classes and worked with the U.S. Geological Survey, a long way from calling race strategies and forming pit crews.
“I was working with carbon transfers and really wanted to be a professor,” Heroy said. “But it all changed.”
The career route took a turn when he was offered the chance to be a vintage mechanic in California, which then turned into an engineering position in the Toyota Atlantic open-wheel development series.
There, he honed his skills in racing, from car setups to balancing and downforce.
“Being in Atlantics was tremendous in that it was a good way to understand the dynamics of a car and a race team,” Heroy said. “IndyCar seemed to be the route I was going to take after joining Atlantics.”
But open-wheel racing was not in Heroy's future, with NASCAR jumping into the fray. In 2004, he joined powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, serving as the lead engineer on the No. 5 car for six of his seven years with the organization.
In 2010, he held the same position for the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Among the drivers whom Heroy assisted while with the No. 5 team were Kyle Busch, Casey Mears and Mark Martin.
Further helping Heroy grow on the technical side of things was Alan Gustafson, who served as crew chief for the No. 5 car and is currently the crew chief of the No. 24 car driven by future Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon.
“Alan was a great help with me in making the adjustment from IndyCar to stock cars,” Heroy said. “In the end, a race car is a race car, but there definitely was an adjustment period.”
Several Hendrick Motorsports employees took notice of Heroy.
“(Earnhardt Jr.) gave me an opportunity to be his crew chief in a couple Nationwide Series races in 2011,” Heroy said. “Getting those opportunities helped me get my name out there.”