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By Paris Goodnight
Salisbury Post
Salisbury native Mitch Lash, the jack man for Dale Jarrett, was a big winner at the Nextel Pit Crew Challenge as NASCARs All-Star week activities kicked into high gear.
He picked up $10,000 Wednesday for completing his task with the jack the fastest, a blistering 5.93 seconds, which was four or five tenths faster than the second-place finisher. Thats a pretty big margin when most of the decisions come down to hundredths of seconds.
He topped the jack men for 25 other teams in the single elimination event at Charlotte Bobcats Arena that saw his teammates go out when the gas man left a little too much in the can and was penalized five seconds.
Such are the breaks in the racing business, which Lash has also seen. The 1993 West Rowan High School graduate had two injuries on the job since starting out about five years ago. Hes had his right foot run over twice, including once in 2006 by his good buddy Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Youve got to be aware of whats around you but focus on what youre doing, said Lash, 32. The jack man is sort of like the quarterback on the team. The stop starts when I go over the wall and jack the car up and it ends when I drop it.
You be as careful as you can (but) injuries are to be expected.
Lash already knew Earnhardt before the foot accident and Lash now lives in a duplex on Earnhardts property in Mooresville. That got him in on Juniors XM satellite radio show that comes on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
He had a studio built above his late-model garage with a good mixing board, Lash said. That means he and Earnhardt and a group of guys can sit around on the couch and chat about whatever they want at the Tuesday night taping sessions for the 30-minute show.
Guests like Indy driver Danica Patrick, actor Burt Reynolds and Bud dragster driver Brandon Bernstein help liven up the conversation, either by joining them or calling in to the show.
Lash is a regular on Jarretts crew and also does jack work with one of Michael Waltrip Racings Busch series cars.
That means hes flying out with the NASCAR stars each weekend for 36 weekends out of the year.
Its a lifestyle, he said Thursday.
His team flies out of the airport in Statesville when the races are going on farther away than driving distance.
He also said he practices about three days a week for his Busch and Nextel Cup teams at the shop in Cornelius. If hes got other time to spare, he has a private investigators license and works with his father, James Lash at Jan-Lee Detective Agency in Salisbury. His mother, Jane Barlow, works in the Salisbury Posts prepress department.
Things havent been all smooth this year for Michael Waltrip Racing or the Dale Jarrett team, especially with the move to Toyota cars.
Its been a struggle, Lash said, noting his team used six past-champion provisional starts in eight races just to qualify. Weve got to work the kinks out.
Their next shot is the all-star race this weekend, with qualifying that includes one pit stop and three laps around Lowes Motor Speedway. Then the big race is next weekends Coca-Cola 600.
Lash said he and his fiancee, Pam Peoples, have set a wedding date for Dec. 8. Thats not expected to slow his life in the fast lanes down.
If I stay healthy and injury free, and in shape, I can see 10 more years of work as a jack man, he said.
n n nWednesdays Nextel Pit Crew Challenge ended with Ryan Newmans seven-member pit crew beating Bobby Labontes team for first place. Newmans crew changed four tires, filled the car with gas and pushed it 40 yards in 24.66 seconds to collect the $70,300 first prize.
The event also included other individual prizes of $10,000 each to crew members for completing their tasks the fastest in the opening round.
Those awards went to: Nick ODell and Jason Gay, front tire changers for Kasey Kahne; Daniel Rankin and Bryan Rockwell, rear tire changers for Labonte; and Jeff Patterson and Brian Larson, gas man and catch-can man for Tony Stewart.Contact Paris Goodnight at 704-797-4255 or pgoodnight@ salisburypost.com.

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