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Whitley finds racing isn’t the pits

By By PETER WILLIAMS, Staff Writer
Some kids dream of being on a NASCAR team.
In the 1980s in Chocowinity, George Whitley was not one of them.
But computers helped Whitley stumble into the world of NASCAR. Today the 40-year-old is one of those guys on national television in a pit crew where seconds, or fractions of them, decide the difference between winning and losing.
When he’s not fueling Ryan Newman’s No. 12 car, he’s in the high-tech world of maintaining computer systems in a racing operation with seven teams, 300 computers and 380 people.
But it started in Chocowinity.
He is the son of Charlotte Cox, a Chocowinity native, and George Whitley Cox Sr. of Douglas Crossroads. As a teen, Whitley worked with artist Whiting Toler painting the image of an Indian on the wall of the gym at Chocowinity High School. Back then, he tagged along with his uncle Ottis Cox who taught math at the high school and also held computer classes at Beaufort County Community College.
As a 15-year-old, Whitley would sit in on the classes.
His family moved to Snow Hill and he finished his high school education there. At 6-foot-2 he played a little basketball and tennis, but didn’t consider himself an athlete.
He went on to Pfeiffer University near Concord and got a degree in computer information systems. NASCAR still wasn’t in his future and he took a job working on computer systems at a bank in Stanley. That in turn led him to a career working with Morningstar, a computer firm out of Albemarle.
His first taste of NASCAR came in 1993. Hendrick Motorsports became one of his computer clients.
In 1995, Rusty Wallace asked Whitley to do some work for him.
Part of Whitley’s job was to program computers that could convert a block of aluminum into a machined race car part. In 1997, he got a taste of the gritty side of the sport.
When Newman’s team was being formed in 1999, Whitley was given the chance again to be the gas man.
Whitley had found his niche in the pits and Newman was winning. Newman would win the Winston in 2002 and picked up eight wins the year after that.
A pit crew has seven people. There are four tire men, a jack man, the fuel can man and the fuel man, Newman’s team trains twice a week. The fuel can Whitley lugs around can weigh 92 pounds and it can take two cans in one pit stop. That’s 23 gallons of gas in the span of about 12 seconds.
This week, the team will be in Indianapolis. Newman has had one top-five finish there and three top-five finishes this season.
Whitley said his sons, Adam and Chase, love the fact that Dad is on TV each week. Whitley pulled himself off the crew when he and wife Mandy started having kids at their home in the Piedmont.
Whitley admits he likes the travel part.